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Why are some perfumes or cologne so expensive?

clive christian imperial majesty

The world’s most expensive fragrances typically have the world’s rarest and priciest ingredients. However, this isn’t always the case and when you buy a perfume or cologne, you might be paying for one of a few things:

Agarwood tree

The rare Agarwood oil is extracted from the Agarwood tree in Southeast Asia.

1) The unique ingredients

Some fragrances contain rare flower petals or the essence of a rare root or tree which are difficult to obtain. The same is true for most essential oils and the more essential oil a perfume or cologne contains, the more expensive it usually is.

3 of the world’s most expensive ingredients are:

  • Ambergris at ~$5,000/kg. A secretion produced in the digestive system of some species of sperm whales. This substance has a “marine fecal odour” at first, which later ages into a sweet earthy scent. Besides its unique scent, Ambergris is also used as a fixative to boost a fragrance’s longevity. 
  • Oud at ~$3,000/kg. A dark fragrant resin emitted as a defence mechanism to starve mould infection on the most expensive wood in the world – the Agarwood tree, native to Southeast Asia and South America. The Oud note is a musty woody-nutty, rich scent that is very popular in the Middle East. The cost to extract the oil from this resin embedded wood is very high because of low yield from plant material, in addition to the slow process of extraction which is very labour intensive.
  • Orris at ~$3,000/kg. This is the scent of the Iris root that is reminiscent of the smell of violets. Orris can be described as soapy, sweet, powdery, floral and earthy. Extraction of the oil, also known as orris butter can take three to five years as the root must first dry and age. Due to the volume and time required to produce the oil, pure orris is considered one the most valued and expensive ingredients in perfume making.

2) Marketing/Branding

The most expensive perfumes come from the most exclusive high-fashion brands. Some companies spend millions to market a perfume and getting celebrities to endorse a particular scent.

3) The Packaging

Perfumers know that it takes pretty packaging for a product to stand out. And this can be costly.


clive christian imperial majesty

Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty’s bottle is made of a material so difficult to work with that one of every three attempts breaks during the production process. The neck of the bottle is made of 18-carat gold inset with a five-carat brilliant-cut diamond. The listing price? A whooping $435,000.

Unfortunately for us, there is no way of telling exactly what we, as consumers, are paying for.

A key indicator would be the ingredients. The more expensive perfumes would have several levels of fragrance, i.e top notes, middle notes and base notes.

Fake perfumes are much cheaper to produce because they replicate mainly the top notes of a fragrance. Try comparing a fake with the real thing after 3-6 hours, and the cheap perfume may smell bad or have no smell at all.

Similarly, cheaper perfumes that aren’t fake may have only a single note or top note. If they do have medium or base notes, they won’t be as pleasant or as sophisticated as the more expensive fragrances.

Common base notes include patchouli, vanilla, sandalwood or musk which gives perfume its lasting impression.

Note however that no two people smell things the same way and no two perfumes or colognes will smell the same on your skin as it will another! Choose a scent that suits you and your personality. Bring your own uniqueness to a scent and make it yours!

The Fragrance Vocabulary

fragrance wheel

Fragrance is one of those things people usually appreciate, but very select few truly understand. And to be perfectly honest, I cannot remember the number of times I’ve blindly nodded in agreement when someone spoke ‘fragrance’. It feels like a whole different language!

Therefore, to help you in your search for the best perfume or cologne, we’ve covered the commonly used terms every fragrance aficionado should know – from ambergris to ylang-ylang!

Fragrance notes

fragrance wheel

Fragrance notes are scent compounds used to make up the perfume or cologne, and can range from flower to synthetically created molecules. These are usually grouped into the key fragrance families below:

  • Floral – Scent produced by flowers such as roses, lavender, jasmine etc
  • Oriental – Scent produced by spices such as cinnamon, resins etc
  • Woody – Scent produced by wood such as sandalwood, oakwood etc
  • Fresh – A combination of scent produced by fruits, herbs and marine or aquatic scents

Some other more unique fragrance notes are also described below:

  • Absinthe – Is a potent green aniseed flavored liquor made with the shrub of wormwood. It smells like licorice, slightly dry, bitter and medicinal.
  • Algae – Is a kind of seaweed which smells like a blend of seawater and fresh leaves.
  • Amber– Is an aromatic resin produced by forest trees and smells like warm caramel.
  • Animalic – Refers to animal-derived notes which smell primal and seductive.
  • Aquatic/Water Notes – Refers to the smell of ocean breeze that is a blend of fresh, dewy, and salty air.
  • Bergamot – Is a tree of the orange family which gives a citrusy scent that is crisp, refreshing but slightly herbal.
  • Cardamom – Is a kind of spice made from aromatic seeds of a plant from the ginger family which smells slightly earthy, minty and sweet.
  • Cedar – Refers to a type of timber with smells like fragrant wood.
  • Civet – Is a nocturnal mammal of the cat family found in parts of Asia and Africa. This animal produces a pungent scent in its anal glands which can be extracted to give a sultry, musky and warm scent.
  • Clover – Is a plant in the pea family which smells of freshly cut grass.
  • Cypress– Is a kind of coniferous tree like pine or fir which smells like the forest, green and woody.
  • Daffodil – Is a kind of flower that is usually yellow which smells like spring. Fresh and sweet.
  • Driftwood – Refers to wooden pieces which have been washed ashore. Hence it smells like a blend of dry wood and seawater.
  • Frankincense – Is an aromatic gum resin of the Boswelia tree which is usually burned as incense. Hence it smells smokey and woody, but is also slightly sweet and citrusy.
  • Freesia – Is a floral African plant of the Iris family which is fragrant, green and slightly peppery.
  • Green Tea – Refers to unfermented leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant which is pale in color, slightly bitter and smells earthy.
  • Herbal – Refers to the smell of herbs like basil, rosemary, tarragon.
  • Honeysuckle – Is a kind of shrub which smells like spring and sweet florals.
  • Incense – Quite similar to frankincense, it is smoky, slightly sweet, deep and rich.
  • Lily-of-the-Valley – Is a kind of flower of the lily family which smells fresh, sweet and dewy.
  • Metalic Notes – Refers to the scent produced by metal or minerals which smell slightly earthy, cool, clean and sharp.
  • Musk – Refers to glandular secretions of the male musk deer which smells sensual, warm, rich, deep and slightly animalic.
  • Neroli – Is an essential oil from orange peel which smells fresh and citrusy, but can be slightly bitter.
  • Oak Moss– Is a kind of fungus found on the floors of mountainous damp forests which smells earthy and can be slightly bitter.
  • Patchouli – Is a bushy herb of the mint family which smells sweet but earthy, and can be slightly pungent.
  • Saffron – Is a kind of reddish-purple flower native to Eurasia which smells leathery, warm, rich and intimate.
  • Sage – Is a kind of herb which smells hazy, woody and slightly peppery.
  • Sandalwood – Refers to a kind of timber from the Santalum tree which gives off a woody, warm and earthy scent.
  • Tonka Bean – Is a black seed of a South American tree which has a vanilla-like scent but is slightly nutty.
  • Vetiver– Is an essential oil extracted from the root of an Indian grass, giving it its slightly musty, woody and earthy scent.
  • Wisteria – Is a climbing shrub of the pea family with blue-ish flowers which smells sweet and rich, but can be slightly spicy.
  • Ylang-Ylang – Is a kind of flower native to the South East Asia region. It is a tropical plant which smells sweet, fragrant and slightly fruity.
  • Yuzu – Is a citrus fruit from Japan which smells like a blend of sweet, sour and floral notes.

Top notes, Middle notes, Base notes

fragrance notes period of evaporation

Just like how a combination of musical notes make up a song, fragrance notes are blended into 3 note scales to create the perfume’s or cologne’s fragrant accord. The purpose of each level if explained below:

  • Top notes are sometimes referred to as opening, or head notes and consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. The top notes represents a fragrance’s first impression. Citrus, berries, lavender and ginger are common top notes.
  • Middle notes are considered the heart of the fragrance which appears after the top notes evaporate. The scent in a fragrance’s heart is usually pleasant and ‘rounded’ and lasts anywhere between two minutes and one hour after application. Common middle notes include rose, lavender, ylang-ylang, nutmeg and jasmine.
  • Base notes mingle with the middle notes to bring depth and solidity to a fragrance. It consists of large, heavy molecules that evaporate slowly and is typically associated with the dry-down period. Base notes are usually deep and rich, and provide the lasting impression. Common base notes include sandalwood, vanilla, patchouli and musk.

Hopefully you’ll now be able to navigate the perfume or cologne aisles like a pro!


How And Where To Apply Perfume

best perfume spots

best perfume spotsFragrances are instruments of attraction and it’s a great way of tempting someone you fancy and getting them to do what you want them to.

Where you want to be kissed

Coco Chanel

The best spots to apply fragrance are on your pulse points – where your heart rate can be felt – i.e on your neck, behind your earlobe, inner wrists, inner elbows, behind your knees. These points radiate the most heat, allowing the fragrance to be emitted from your skin into the air throughout the day.

Simply spray, dab or swipe. Do not rub your wrists together as the friction may alter the scent.

The ‘spray-and-walk-through’ method is also a great way of misting your hair/torso, leaving a gentle whiff in your wake as you move through your day.

A few key pointers to remember:

    • Less is more – do not overspray, pick one or 2 key places, spray from 5 to 7 inches away and let the scent develop
    • The best time to apply perfume is right after you shower – try to use a fragrance-free body wash to ensure the perfume’s scent is not altered
    • Perfume lasts longer on your skin when your skin is hydrated
    • Apply perfume onto your skin to avoid staining your jewelry/clothes
    • Alternatively, if your skin is highly sensitive, the lining of clothes/jacket is a good option
    • Store your fragrance in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight – Keep it out of the bathroom as the heat and humidity from showers could damage and alter the scent