c.2013 New York Times News Service<
PARIS — "Try this," said the perfume salesman behind the beauty counter at Colette, with a flick of a spritz on a rectangular slip of paper, handed over with all the ceremony of a Japanese man offering his business card.
Sniff, sniff. Ooh la la!
It smelled, at first whiff, of strawberries mixed with salt, along with hints of baseball mitt and hair spray. And tuberose, yes. And licorice and fresh paint. And musk and rotten peaches and honeysuckle and basil and soap.
It was awful.
It was, as the name on the bottle said, Everything.
It is true that the number of fragrances introduced annually by the ever-more-competitive and fragmented beauty industry is increasing at a startling pace, as manufacturers seek to tempt shoppers with blends engineered for daytime or nighttime or bedtime or summer or fall, or just to suit whatever music is playing on your iPod. Nearly four new scents are born every day. More than 1,000 perfumes were introduced in 2012 alone. These included not only major new titles from Chanel and Jean Paul Gaultier, but also Fame by Lady Gaga and Girlfriend, l'eau de Justin Bieber.
It is becoming hard to tell them all apart, which is exactly what two men, the Amsterdam artists Lernert Engelberts and Sander Plug, known as Lernert & Sander, were trying to say with Everything while spritzing amid the chaos of Colette. Everything, they claim, is everything: a tiny sample of each little scent and spinoff fragrance that was new in 2012 and that they could obtain was poured into one large 1.5-liter bottle and allowed to marinate. A single bottle of Everything costs 30,000 euros (about $39,000).
''Our point is, why do you need nearly 1,400 new scents in one year?" Engelberts said, using a figure cited by Basenotes, an online fragrance forum. "When we walk into a department store, we don't know how to choose anymore."
Indeed, the ingredients of Everything read like the diary of a beauty business that is desperately, perhaps madly, longing for its bygone lovers: Amor Amor Summer 2012 (Cacharel), EVAmour (Eva Longoria), Marry Me! Love Edition (Lanvin), Like a Day in a Candy Shop (Essence), Lovingly (Bruce Willis). By mixing them all together, you could hope that Lernert & Sander had stumbled onto the formula for love eternal, or that at least one scent would stand out amid the chaos.
Alas, customers, mostly fashion people in town for the shows, wrinkled their noses.
''Hmm," said Emanuela Schmeidler, a Milan publicist who happened to be shopping. "I prefer Chanel No. 5."
All that fragrance hits you at once. The scent is so overpowering that some people said it smells like Chanel, others like Shalimar. That might suggest many fragrances today use the most historically successful ones as reference points, Plug said. In fact, as the scent dried down, it did begin to smell familiar.
Sarah Lerfel, the creative force behind Colette, hit it on the nose.
''It's like going to Sephora," she said.