Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Exclusivity Issue- Let's Talk About It

One of the most common kvetching topics among the perfume-obsessed crowd is the Unobtainables. The stuff you can't just walk into the store/call/order online. It drives us crazy and leads to some creative muling arrangements as well as the endless whining on message boards and blogs I mentioned above. Part of it is the fact the world has become smaller and more accessible. We shop online and buy items from all around the globe. Smart retailers accept PayPal, ship worldwide and provide us with our desired makeup brushes, jewelry, perfume and other pretties.

Except for the ones who don't.

Serge Lutens non-export bell jars and Le Labo city exclusive perfumes are probably the most coveted and frustrating items of this category. Of course, there are other lines that are of very limited availability, but in many cases you can call a boutique and order them by phone, as long as you're willing to fork the money for shipping (Dior La Collection Privee, JAR perfumes, Caron urn perfumes). It makes sense in our age of nearly instant gratification and we've come to expect this kind of service. So why doesn't Uncle Serge allow us to get our fix of Iris Silver Mist?

As a rule, I'm firmly in the camp of "please take my money and let me buy your stuff". But I've noticed something interesting during my Paris vacation.  When visiting a foreign city I look to buy items I can't get anywhere else. That's such a big part of the fun, after all, and there is a special magic in finding and obtaining that rare gem. So much so that when visiting Guerlain locations in Paris I was quite disappointed not to see anything I couldn't get 30 minutes away from my house (or by placing a quick phone call to Jason and Marilyn at Bergdorf). I'm not talking about a full line of Unobtainables, more like a single perfume or a flagship-only lipstick shade. Just that one thing that makes you really really want it. This is why I was very happy to shop at the duty-free shop in Paris CDG airport. There were a bunch of travel edition palettes and other items you can only find in such locations. It's just a little more special this way.

It leads me to think again about the Lutens bell jars. How would it feel if our favorite uncle had relented and made all but one of the non-exports available online outside of Europe? Wouldn't we still flock to the Palais Royal to sniff and buy The One? And what about Le Labo? I understand the idea behind the city exclusives a little better, but I maintain that they should have stuck to one or two cities at most, because what are the chances that most of us would visit each of their locations? I can think of at least a couple of Le Labo boutiques I'll probably never see, so why limit my perfume horizons artificially?

How do you feel about the exclusivity issue? Do you think that our small world and easy access have taken away some of the magic and mystery or would you prefer an even easier access to world treasures? Let's talk about it.


  1. Exclusivity drives me bonkers on many levels, mainly that one day I will not be able to afford or have access to the coveted item. At the same time, the last thing I want to do is smell or look like everyone else (perfume is really the biggest one for this). I'm very picky and not having access to an item to touch, smell, etc. doesn't bode well for me in the end. That said, many of the items I've accumulated or had the pleasure of consuming overseas were about 100x better simply because of every other sense that was engaged in a different way during the obtainment than had I enjoyed it here.

    I think too many companies are cashing in on the exclusivity of their name, access to it, etc. It turns me off and reignites my love for very basic, often overlooked pleasures right under my nose.

  2. Sophia, you raise an excellent point: is overseas shopping so special simply because it *is* overseas and we're so stimulated and engaged in the experience? Is the eclair one eats in Paris that much better than at the French bakery in Nyack, or is it about the experience of sitting in the Parisian cafe?

  3. As you know, Gaia, it was only through your kindness that I was able to acquire the NYC Le Labo exclusive Tubereuse 40. I adore it, and don't know how I would have lived without it. What if it had been in a city I never visit? I would have been denied the pleasure entirely. That would have been a shame.

    The business person in me says that someone should make a business of buying and reselling the exclusives, without charging too much to make them truly unobtainable. It could be better than clipping coupons. :)

  4. Exclusivity is part of the viability of the stores. The stores need to exist because there are many consumers who need to test before they buy or just enjoy the service in a store.

    I feel frustrated when I cannot buy a few things, but then, it's my problem: no company owes me anything - money is not a passepartout.

  5. I like buying the odd item I really love, too. The only problem is that if I love it that much and cannot get it again, I am disappointed! This has not happened very often.

    Yes. The eclair does taste better because it was made in France.

  6. Exclusivity is a very interesting topic. It can be so frustrating not being able to get something you want easily but it does provide a certain joy when you do manage to get hold of that coveted item. There's something to be said for the thrill of the chase!

  7. I'm going to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I think we all know by this time that the bulk of LE's, exclusives, etc. are just marketing strategies designed to get us to spend on products by making us think that we're oh-so-special because we're one of the privileged few (masses!) who have been able to acquire a unique product. That being said, I've diligently sought out my share of hard to find products but have also let many, many more go without even a cursory chase.

    Basically, I'm quite democratic and I love the notion that we all have access to the same things. Our personal taste, body chemistry, life style, élan, degree of culture and sophistication, travel experience, career, economic situation, and myriad other factors will determine what we purchase and how we carry it off. I don't worry about anyone else purchasing the same perfume, lipstick, or whatever because I know we will wear them differently and will achieve results that are unique to us.

    It is such fun to find unusual products when traveling abroad and, let's face it, it's not practical or even realistic to market all products globally, so I think there will always be those treasures and bagatelles waiting to be found and brought home. It is the artificial exclusivity that I I find wearisome.

  8. No, it drives me nuts. Some of us cannot afford to travel to Paris to buy perfumes on a side trip. I apologize if this sounds snippy, because I don't mean for it to be. It is just frustrating not to be able to get something one wants without spending exorbitant amounts of money to find it.

  9. I live in Canada, and never mind exclusivity -- we can't even get the entire regular lines of, say, US cosmetics.

  10. I have a poor opinion of the "exclusive" practice for several reasons.
    1. Most of the geographic exclusives seem that I have been able to try, seem to be less desirable than the rest of the line, as if it was an idea which did not quite development well enough for a full launch.
    2. If there is a really good product or scent, why insult your customers elsewhere by making it unavailable to them?
    3. If I ever am lucky enough to go to a world class city overseas do I really want to spend an afternoon trying to locate a particular fragrance, when I could be spending my limited time on something else. Sure, Serge Lutens would want me to add his boutique to my agenda, but those are additional hours I could be spending at the Louvre.
    4. A variation of the city "exclusive" is a Department store or other retailer claiming to have an exclusive cosmetic. In the case of fragrance, some times this is the initial launch of a product which will eventually be elsewhere. However, on other occasions, it is just a minor variation of packaging. At least in this case, the obsessed can usually call the Dept store and obtain a product to be shipped.

  11. I totally hear what you're saying about having something special when/if you do visit that place where the items are exclusive to---it's makes both the experience, and the item, more special because of the association!

    On the other hand, there are two perfumes I want from our dear Uncle Serge, and they are both Paris exclusives. I'm not going to track someone down to buy them for me, or go through any hoops, or pay a princely sum on eBay. If I ever get to Paris though, I know what I will be buying!!! Or, maybe I'll get lucky, and they'll go into export rotation... :)

  12. Lovely postm thanks. I like the magic and mystery of the unobtainable. In a few weeks I am taking a short holiday in a larger city and perfume shopping is high on my agenda. There are some perfumeries there that will have testers of things that in my home city I can only try, if at all, by purchasing samples on TPC, or grabbing them as they float by on eBay. One perfumery on my list sells Penhaligon's and I fully intend to give this line a go, and have money saved for a splurge. It will be a souvenir of my trip.

    Going on holidays is not as fun as it used to be unless you track down the small independent shops and markets. Every shopping mall in the country is the same no matter where you go. Where is the fun in that? I'm sure this is why Etsy is so big. People yearn for hand made things, and delight in the skill that goes into them.

    As for offerings unique to Paris, one day I'll get there, and it will be special. I'm a very patient person!


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