Why Do Luxury Perfumes Cost So Much, And Are They Worth It?

A look at the process, ingredients and pricing used in the very subjective world of fragrance.
“Unfortunately, [prices are driven up] sometimes due to marketing forcing," said Paolo Terenzi, president and perfumer of Tiziana Terenzi fine fragrances.
Kristina Strasunske via Getty Images
“Unfortunately, [prices are driven up] sometimes due to marketing forcing," said Paolo Terenzi, president and perfumer of Tiziana Terenzi fine fragrances.

While a fragrance can say a lot about your personality, we’d be lying if we said selecting the right scent isn’t complicated.

With that being said, perfume pricing can vary widely — and it’s not immediately clear if there’s really a difference between budget fragrances and luxury perfumes. So we tapped three master perfumers to answer this burning beauty question.

Ahead is an in-depth look into the advantages and considerations attached to both types of perfumes, as well how they differ in terms of sourced ingredients, manufacturing process and more.

The process used to make luxury and budget scents is essentially the same.

While luxury and budget perfumes can differ greatly in the quality of ingredients (more on that later!) used in the formula, the process for making both scents is still essentially the same, according to expert perfumer and founder of Eat. Sweat. Undress Alexia P. Hammonds.

“While process and equipment may differ with smaller indie brands, essentially the perfume-making process is still the same,” Hammonds said. She explained that to make perfume, sourced synthetic and natural ingredients are decanted into large steel tanks before being weighed out. Next comes the maturation phase, which can take up to three weeks. Then, the process entails dilution in alcohol, maceration (if residual waxes from plants clump together), chilling and filtering.

But some luxury and budget perfumes can differ in quality of ingredients.

Just like award-winning chefs tend to use high-quality ingredients in their kitchens, Paolo Terenzi, president and perfumer of Tiziana Terenzi fine fragrances, said that some luxury fragrances have the advantage of incorporating high-quality sourced ingredients into their formulas.

“Luxury perfumes are more likely to use natural notes (derived from florals, spices, etc.) instead of those that are synthetic,” he explained. “These notes are then incorporated into the base, middle and top notes of a scent, which allows the fragrance to be more aromatic and complex.”

In addition to higher-quality ingredients, Hammonds added that luxury fragrances often contain a higher percentage of perfume oil than their cheaper counterparts. This allows the fragrance to last longer, as a result. (Wondering how strong a fragrance is? The terms used to describe it ― parfum, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, etc. ― indicate its concentration of oil.)

But while budget perfumes are cheaper to produce because of their utilization of synthetic ingredients, they still can be suitable for those who prefer a single-note fragrance, as the scent is more straightforward, said Terry Carter, in-house perfumer and chief formulator at Travertine Spa, Inc.

However, he added that inexpensive perfumes do not contain layers of notes, which can be a turnoff to those looking for an in-depth olfactory experience.

“In a sense, budget perfumes can be very straightforward due to a lack of complexity in scent notes,” Carter told HuffPost. “However, akin to wine, an aged Beaujolais will have [more] depth and complexity [than] a budget table wine.”

Don’t assume that luxury scents always contain natural ingredients.

While some finer scents do have the advantage of using higher-quality ingredients, it’s important to acknowledge that both luxury and budget brands both can contain synthetic ingredients, Hammonds said.

Tom Ford's Rose Prick costs $895 for 8.4 ounces.
Tom Ford/Sephora
Tom Ford's Rose Prick costs $895 for 8.4 ounces.

“People often think that luxury brands only contain natural ingredients and it’s not true,” Hammonds explained. “Musk is now a synthetic ingredient, since it was banned from sourcing it from the animal.”

Yes, luxury perfumes can be overpriced.

Terenzi said that fragrance price is usually based on the rarity and cost of the raw materials composing the perfume, whereas only a small component of the price is based on the materials used to make the bottle or the box.

However, he affirmed that there are instances when perfumes cost more than they should be valued.

“Unfortunately, it happens sometimes due to marketing forcing, along with campaigns entrusted to very expensive testimonials,” he explained. “These extra costs are unjustifiably charged to consumers, and is a sad law of the market.”

Budget brands may opt for to use inexpensive ingredients to keep costs down. However, Hammonds said many indie brands have developed cheaper scents that are just as potent as expensive ones.

“Budget brands have created some of the most popular and cult-worthy followings due to the quality of their product,” she added. “Fragrance is so subjective.”

Which is the better perfume choice?

Because this is such a subjective topic, it depends who you ask. Beauty is in the eye (or rather, nose) of the beholder.

On one hand, Terenzi said it’s best to choose quality over quality when selecting a fragrance. “I have always preferred quality to quantity, and perfumes are no exception to this rule of quality,” he added. “It is much better to have a fragrance of excellent quality, great power and long lasting rather than a hundred mediocre creations. Let’s not forget that a quality perfume persists on our body for at least ten hours, whereas most commercial products have already vanished and must be sprayed again after less than two hours.”

However, while luxury perfumes can boast fancy packaging and a brand name, Hammonds believes pricing does not make one fragrance reign supreme over the next. Instead, she advised looking for a fragrance that speaks to your own individual wants and needs.

“It is always a matter of preference and what suits your individual needs,” she said. “What factors into why a fragrance can be extremely expensive is its lasting power, the percentage of oils versus alcohol, packaging and brand power.”

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