Why are some perfumes or cologne so expensive?

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!