Why Artisan Natural Perfumes Must Be Expensive


When I was thinking of writing about the price which goes into creation of botanical perfumes I first thought to name the post: Why Natural Perfumes Are Expensive. But I quickly changed it since I was never going to prove my point of view but to simply state the fact and support other artisan perfumers in their beautiful creations.

A couple of years ago I learned about the famous portrait photographer, a wonderful business woman and a fabulous speaker Sue Bryce. I took her online classes with diligence and they taught me a lot of things creative people miss when they want to get paid for what they do. Self-value is something many artists, photographers, perfumers, etc. forget about when pricing their products. I have read some interesting points of view of famous critics, experts on perfumes who boldly state that perfumes cannot cost more than X. Let me just go through the most important things which are invested in the creation of pure botanical fragrances by artisans.

Becoming a self-taught perfumer is a difficult task and takes from a few months to a few years. A simple course for those who want to learn it within a couple of weeks in Grasse, France costs 2.5k euros. Learning perfumery from scratch requires a financial investment in books too. The price of a perfume is set based on a few constituents: cost of goods, equipment, design, photography, time, labour, sourcing natural ingredients, alcohol, expertise, formula, bottles, boxes, etc.

For a small artisan perfumer it might be quite a challenge to buy ingredients, bottles, etc. in small quantities since many manufacturers have a MOQ (minimum order quantity). I have found many beautiful French and Italian flacons which would really reflect the soul of my creations but I had to buy at least two or sometimes five thousand pieces. That is a big investment. Finding bottles in smaller quantities means, they might look less beautiful, have less quality, etc. A perfumer has to find a way. I went for a minimalist look since perfumes are unisex. 

Many important ingredients whether they are the key notes or not, cost much more than synthetic materials. Rose, jasmine, ambrette seed, violet, blackcurrant, etc. Those are classic botanical essences and vary by their price and quality. For example, rose and jasmine start from 100 euros per 10 ml. If you want to make a perfume which lasts longer and has a sublime aroma, you must use the best quality (=more expensive) ingredients from a reputable supplier. There is no compromise.  In fact the most difficult part is to decide whether you have to buy more of a certain ingredient and thus spend less per 1 ml or buy less= invest less and pay more per each ml. This is a struggle for many perfumers. To have a small line of luxurious fragrances, a perfumer would need a big range of ingredients to work and experiment with which is about 50-100 various oils and extracts. For bespoke options, one would need  more than 200. Natural perfumers have a more limited and much more expensive palette of ingredients.

I went for parfum extraits and they are 2-2.5 times more concentrated than eau de parfum, you have to apply much less to get the same aroma intensity, I use more exquisite ingredients for this type of perfumes, so the price is set accordingly.

I can make a simple experiment which can show how much knowledge and experience one needs to create a multi-faceted natural perfume by putting about 50 ingredients on a table and telling you to choose the ones you love, use them in the right proportions, prepare absolutes, resins and extracts for blending in a perfume, etc. and make three samples, from which at least one would smell beautiful. It may take you from a few days (sounds even impossible) to a few months to learn how to handle some special ingredients, how much to use, how to measure, re-create, and make it smell amazing.

When a perfumer starts formulating, it is always about experimenting, some formulas fail, some samples do get successful. Although we do make small samples, that all, if it fails, is a waste of precious oils.

Boxes have to fit bottles! If you have never had a business in organic skin care, you do not know that problem! Creating organic products requires more responsibility than one might think. For me it is a personal investment into environmentalism movement and I went for recycled paper boxes and filling. No bubble wrap which is cheap and looks unprofessional for this type of products.

Equipment is all about printing labels or ordering them, making nice insert cards, etc. It took me a few months to design my own labels but honestly I am still thinking of some changes but then I stop myself to focus on more important things. Perfectionism is always in my way.

Design and website. Building a website these days may sound easy but when it comes to a real thing, it does take a few weeks if you have to do it yourself or you have to pay a specialist.

Photography. Who will want to buy the best organic ingredients and beautiful fragrances if they are not represented in a nice way? A perfumer has either to pay a professional photographer or to do that all himself. Learning photography is very time consuming but I did that! Owing the right camera is important too. I think it was the biggest investment for me and my perfume line.

Time and labour are all included in that work done to get the final result. But since perfumers as any other business owners work for free the first few months many hours of work combined with their day time jobs get unpaid.

Branding is something which is not always seen by consumers but it creates an overall impression when you see the bottles, photography, social media posts, a website. It took me a few months to understand what I like and want but everything is still in the state of progress.

Insurance and cosmetic safety reports for selling in the EU. That is a big topic but requires quite some investment, reports go for each formulation.

Marketing. The most difficult part for many artisans. Giveaways, bloggers, promotions, magazine articles, etc. - all costs something and for some can become the biggest investment and challenge. People will never know about the beautiful fragrances if they cannot find you online and see other people's opinion about you.

Transparency is an essential component. Knowing what goes into your perfume (not the full INCI formula since it is protected) is something I am always looking for in other organic skin care brands. I have to know that they use sustainable, pure natural ingredients. I hate greenwashing, remember that the word 'natural' is not regulated anywhere.

And while you are enjoying your incredible perfume samples or whole flacons and maybe complaining a bit that this perfume is in fact too expensive, I would recommend to think whether it is your product at all, because perfumes are considered a luxury industry, and if you would like to support genuine purity in the ingredients used and the passion which stands behind each design. 

From what I have seen, many natural perfumes are not perfumes but aromatherapy blends, since using three ingredients/notes does not make it a perfume yet. But there are a few perfume brands and perfumers who do create beautiful fragrances. Most of them are self-taught. It is the vision, the expertise, the ability to embody the senses into accords, the formulas created, the response a perfumer gets from customers that make the overall price worth that.

One may say but I see that successful brand of all natural perfumes and they have a nice pricing too. Why is that? When you own or start a business it takes from one to three years to start getting revenue. It is a constant circle of selling and re-investing to grow. If they price their perfumes too low, either they will end up working for free or they will have to stop their business. Selling perfumes wholesale is an option too. But only if you succeed in everything above and if you really want to sell wholesale. Some want to stay small and exclusive keeping the best customer service through personal contact. But as they say some retail shops can sometimes drink your blood because they get the biggest piece of cake asking 50% off a perfume retail price. And this is normal. While some exquisite natural oils can cost a few dozens euros per 1 ml, some perfume brands seem unviable to me.

BUT: there is an important detail consumers must know, some perfumes are made only of natural essences, some of natural essences and natural isolates (which are approved in natural perfumery, some are cheaper than their whole original versions and require less amount in a perfume since some are much stronger), some use only natural isolates. The bad thing for a consumer is that some brands do not disclose what exactly and in what proportion is used.  Natural isolates can add better nuances but can also help cut the costs but it depends on an ingredient and its quality. In my humble opinion truly natural fragrances can still use them but not as the key or main notes. This is not what botanical perfumery is all about in the end.

Taking into account the above said I can only wish natural perfumers charged the price not based on the overall average market price of perfumes but on the real cost of their labour, time and goods. I simply cannot compare a well-made botanical perfume containing all natural quality oils and absolutes with a mass market perfume whose real cost of goods can be much less. There are just two different categories for me: synthetic/mixed media (since they still use lab made ingredients) and natural perfumes. And pricing, reviewing, comparing and trying to imitate the scent is absolutely ridiculous. But I never deny that synthetic fragrances are beautiful in their own way and there is a market for them but I am simply one of those people who will not wear ingredients which can disrupt my health.

There are, as I call them, in-bottle and out-of-bottle costs involved in the final price of a perfume. In-bottle include material costs, formula, expertise, uniqueness. While out-of-bottle costs include marketing, packaging, other costs such as paying staff. Artisan perfume prices are based on in-bottle costs, I would say 80-90%, while mass market perfumes have the opposite.

Natural perfumes encapsulate not only the movement against the synthetic age we are having but also the artistic aspirations of certain perfumers, their view of the sensuous world of aromas. I wish one day talented perfumers as many other artisans and designers put a real price tag on their beautiful all natural creations  by simply separating artisan natural perfumes from the world of conventional synthetic aromas.

Kamila AubreComment