Perhaps fittingly for something so impermanent, the origins of perfume have been lost to time. We know the Egyptians, Arabs and Romans all placed high value on it; that the Babylonians were producing it in the second millennium BC, and that an industrial-sized perfumery was operating in Cyprus in 4000BC. Beyond that, everything is smoke.
Such hazy origins only add to its mystique. Scent is the strongest but least understood of all our senses; capable of triggering overwhelming flashbacks, or incapacitating us. On a subconscious level it can influence our every decision, from whether we want to shop in a particular store, to how we act toward others. With something so powerful, so unknowable, it’s perhaps not surprising that myths develop. The story of J-Lo hiring someone to walk 5 steps ahead of her, spraying perfume for example, or the bestselling novel Perfume; a highbrow myth for the literary crowd. These stories show our fascination with fragrances, a fascination that extends to the luxury market, where thousands are traded for a simple bottle. Here we count down the five most expensive perfumes of all time:
Notorious (Ralph Lauren)
Retailing at $3,540 per bottle, Notorious eschewed the fancy bottle-design of most high-end perfumes to concentrate instead on a deeply refined fragrance. Created with the top set in mind, this wonderfully understated scent was exclusive to Harrods in London, and said to be ideal for wearing around Christmas time.
Bolt of Lightning (Jar perfumes)
Joel A. Rosenthal is what we’d kindly describe as ‘eccentric’, with more than a touch of genius. In a move that raised a few eyebrows, but surprised absolutely no-one, his foray into the world of fragrance resulted in the $765 per ounce Bolt of Lightning; a perfume meant to mimic the smell on the ground moments after a lightning strike. High concept and exclusive, each one ounce bottle comes hand cut from glass in an understated, visually pleasing manner. When would you wear the smell of lightning, I hear you ask. Apparently, it’s perfect for the summer.
Million, 18 Carats LUXE Edition
Designed for the wealthiest, most stylish of men only; LUXE edition comes in an exclusive golden pack with its own diamond crown. With a bottle designed by Noe Duchaufour-Lawrence, it retails at a cool $57,000, ensuring its status as a product for the cream of high society only. Reports describe the smell as ‘powerful’ and ‘strong’, typical masculine features given a robust and knowing overhaul. It may be traditionally thought of as a women’s interest, but LUXE reminds us that guys understand the importance of fragrance too.
Named ‘perfume of the century’ in 2000, Henri Almeras’ famous 1929 scent remains a perennial favourite, retailing at around $800 per ounce. Initially created in response to the Wall Street Crash (the ‘Joy’ of the title refers to its ability to bring joy back into the shattered lives of Patou’s customers), this one-off turned out to be the most durable of all; continuing to light up the lives of its wealthy clientele well into the 21st century. Perhaps best of all, it remains relatively democratic; it’s price tag putting it firmly into the ‘luxury’ category, without rendering it inaccessible to the middle class connoisseur. A sure contender for perfume’s greatest ever innovation.
Imperial Majesty (Clive Christian)
From the relatively accessible, to the utterly exclusive: Clive Christian’s Imperial Majesty is a limited edition run named by Forbes as the most-expensive fragrance in the world. Forged from white diamond, with an 18 carat gold neck, the bottle alone is enough to break the banks of most consumers. Add in the perfume, a heady mix of cardamom, bergamot, carnation, jasmine, benzoin and lemon said to be striking and utterly unique, and you begin to see why only a mere 20 bottles were created. At $215,000 on release (doubtless more now as a collector’s item), this scent is exclusive to the very richest.
How much would you pay to smell beautiful?
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Bolt of Lightning
Millionaire, 18 Carats, Luxe Edition