Janetta Mackay: Passion for perfume

By Janetta Mackay

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Unscent, a boutique fragrance fair held at Milan's luxury department store Excelsior. Picture / Supplied
Unscent, a boutique fragrance fair held at Milan's luxury department store Excelsior. Picture / Supplied

Boutique fragrance is quite the trend these days, but as with many things designer this and that the label is not necessarily a guarantee of originality. What you can generally bet on though is a price tag that leaves mass-market mixes and even some prestige perfumes well in their wake.

But are boutique perfumes worth paying for? Without a doubt some are at the cutting edge of the craft, but others are merely vanity projects or marketing drives whereby a designer or a store comes out with their own scent in a brand extension exercise.

Nothing wrong with that, especially if they smell good, but let's not pretend - as too many press releases I see do - that the creation has all but reinvented the wheel of perfumery. A similar thing occurs in the skincare sector where many start-ups talk about their hand-crafted approach, when in reality they simply commission a laboratory to make their products within well-worn parameters, before picking fragrance and packaging.

Often the research and development that allows this, comes out of the large companies they deride. This is not to knock those true pioneers who have struck a chord with consumers to the extent that the move to natural or at least transparent ingredients - and an interest in boutique fragrances - is spreading across the beauty business.
You just need to sniff out the difference.

Every year, I get to smell hundreds of new fragrances from the thousands that are made. Not that many are especially memorable, many though are perfectly pleasant. This is probably all most people are after, particularly if you treat fragrance like fast fashion, meaning you'll soon be ready to move on to the next thing that gets up your nose.

If you're a classic dresser, chances are your approach to fragrance is similar to your shopping habits, with a small carefully edited wardrobe of old favourites and the occasional update. The boutique or designer type seeks out what is different, but whether this is try-hard or trend-setting comes down to individual style.

In Viva this week, two local champions of boutique and heritage fragrances write a diary from Milan where they were attending trade fairs. I'm envious of the experience. Francis Hooper and Benny Castles take readers on a fascinating trail. Their passion for perfumery has brought shelves full of rare scents to New Zealand.

Whatever your favourite fragrance, exploring more is always a treat. That's why in Viva we regularly feature new fragrances and speak with their creators, so look out in the weeks ahead for more scentworthy stories.

What I love about perfume is how it opens the olfactive memory. It's hard to think of anything more evocative.

- VIVA

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