When perfume houses choose to discontinue a fragrance, they’ll rarely tell you the reasons why. Unless they do, or you happen to have trustworthy insider information, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what happened to your favorite fragrance when its production gets staunched.
A perfume can get discontinued if it fails to find commercial success, its perfume house gets acquired by a beauty conglomerate, or one of the key ingredients gets banned by a government regulator.
Suppose that happens, and you want to stock up on a few bottles before they become hard or impossible to find. Good places to get started are mom-and-pop perfume shops with less foot traffic.
When a Scent Turns Out to Be a Commercial Flop
It’s unfortunate when you fall in love with a fragrance, but not that many others share your feelings. If and when that’s the case, its perfume house will sooner rather than later declare it a flop and discontinue it.
Scents can get discontinued for commercial reasons when they fail to gain a loyal enough following and don’t bring in the revenue that the perfume houses behind them originally aspired them to.
This is a classic case of Darwinism, a.k.a. survival of the fittest, in the world of fragrances. But hey, you know what they say: a short life well lived is better than a long life wasted.
As frag heads, we assign a great emotional value to the scents we wear every day. We associate them with the people we love, the places we go to, the brief moments in life that stick with us.
In doing so, it becomes somewhat easy to forget that, at the end of the day, perfumes are products created by perfume houses. And perfume houses, as much art and craft as they put into creating them, are businesses aimed at growing and making a profit.
A Key Ingredient Could Get Banned
Even the sweetest and most innocent-smelling scents can contain ingredients that you can hardly describe the same way.
Sometimes, regulators such as the Food and Drug Administration in the United States and the European Commission in the European Union may deem a certain ingredient to be harmful to humans—and issue a ban for it.
Sometimes, these ingredients are synthetic. Musk ketones, a lab-made alternative to deriving musk scent from the glands of the musk deer, was a common ingredient in perfume formulations in the 1900s until its toxicity to humans was discovered and it fell out of use.
But, contrary to popular belief, natural ingredients are not immune to controversy: oakmoss, a fungal lichen formerly used in Channel’s No. 5 and Miss Dior, was put on a blacklist by the International Fragrance Association (IFRA) when the European Union restricted its use because it could irritate allergies.
When a key ingredient in a scent gets banned, this presents a dilemma to the perfume house behind it: do they update the formulation, which takes time and costs unforeseen money, or do they discontinue the fragrance?
It’s a tough choice to make, especially if the perfume house considers that this money could be better spent developing a new fragrance. And, even if the perfume house has the money to invest, the original perfumer may be busy working on something else, or the house itself may no longer be working with the in-house perfumer who created the fragrance.
Suppose that this ingredient is deeply rooted in the scent’s character. In the case that there are no close substitutes for it—or the substitutes that exist don’t mix and match well with the other ingredients—updating that scent could be nothing short of Mission: Impossible.
Change of Hands on the Ownership Side
To survive and thrive as an independent perfumer is no easy task for more than one reason.
First, you can’t make much profit because, even if you sell really pricey fragrances, you don’t have the same bargaining power with your suppliers as beauty conglomerates do, so all of your ingredients and materials are costly.
Second, even if you pique the interest of the fragrance community, make a name for yourself, and gain a loyal following, you’re likely to face many obstacles as you try to get your boxes in stores and respond to growing demand without compromising on consistency.
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that quite a good few niche fragrance houses tend to get gobbled up by the big players in the industry in the likes of Estee Lauder, Only The Brave, Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
When the ownership of a perfume house behind one of your favorite fragrances changes hands, it’s not uncommon for the new owners to make changes to the product line.
Depending on what they decide, that may (or may not) mean good news for you and your choice of perfume.
What to Do When a Fragrance Gets Discontinued
Even if you’re the first to learn that a fragrance is about to get discontinued and you stock up on it like crazy, keep in mind that most perfumes have a shelf life of anywhere from two to five years once opened.
Spraying perfume lets air into the bottle, and air causes some of the ingredients to oxidize, which leads to discoloration and the gradual loss of notes over time. An opened perfume, no matter how well kept, will eventually turn.
In case it’s not too late, head on over to mom-and-pop perfume shops in your town (or stores in less-popular malls) and ask if they still have a bottle or two of the fragrance in question.
If you’re eyeing a bottle of vintage perfume, that’s a completely different story. Some people prefer to hunt for them themselves on Etsy or eBay, others scout at antique stores and estate sales. A few online retailers also offer vintage fragrances, but our editorial team’s experience with shopping from them has so far been a hit or a miss.
Not Every Scent Is Meant to Last Forever
Imagine if Apple still made iPhone 4S, the last iPhone before Steve Jobs’ passing, or if Volkswagen still assembled the iconic Type 2 hippie van.
Perfumery is one of those few industries where the same product can be made over, and over, and over again for decades, without needing the occasional reformulation or facelift to keep up with changing times.
Some of the oldest scents that are still in production are Santa Maria Novella’s Acqua di Colonia (since 1533), 4711’s Original Eau de Cologne (since 1792), and Murray & Lanman’s Florida Water (since 1808).
Still, that doesn’t mean that every scent is meant to last forever, and, in reality, few scents do.
The only thing that you can do is to be philosophical about it and cherish every single whiff of the fragrant juice in that gorgeous bottle as you remember that life is meant to be lived—and only diamonds last forever.