the hidden stories of the world's six-figure fragrances

These are the world's rarest, most elusive perfumes.

by Briony Wright
24 July 2017, 7:58am

via Instagram

Perfume goes back as far as human history itself. As beings with noses, we're instinctively drawn to things that smell pleasant — that's a given, but our connection with scent goes deeper. From a physiological perspective, we process smell in the same part of our brain that deals with memory, which not only helps to explain why we're so into it, but also why certain smells can bring back weirdly vivid memories and precise past emotions. Long before measured amounts of smelly liquid packaged in fancy boxes lined shelves, people were distilling flowers and wrenching the glands from deer to make musk, all because it made them smell great and helped their chances of attracting a good looking partner.

Over the years, the craft has evolved into a sophisticated global industry that's expected to be worth 50.6 billion dollars by 2021. There are so many perfumes made right now that it's par for the course to wade through the bad to find one you like. It's actually very difficult to make a well rounded, balanced perfume with harmonious base, middle and top notes and in such a competitive market, the lure to make a profit necessarily leads to cost and corner cutting, resulting in fragrances that miss the mark.

But what would you smell like if money was no object? What are the most expensive perfumes in the world, and where would you find them? How are they made, how much do they cost and (above all) how much better do they smell than the kind of perfume you can actually afford?  Here we look at these scents, the stories behind them and the noses that made them.

Francis Kurkdjian's Sillage de la Reine, $11,000
Like many perfumers, or noses as they're sometimes called, Francis Kurkdjian is a true eccentric. Born in Armenia, he attended one of the most famous fragrance schools in France but only after failing an audition for his first life-goal: ballet dancing. Graduating in the early 90s, his first fragrance was the global best-seller and industry-disrupting Le Male, which he made for Jean Paul Gaultier. Following that very impressive start, in 2009 he co-founded his own luxury fragrance house Maison Francis Kurkdjian, with a mission to create an "olfactory universe, a motley mix of the notes I encounter every day, from jasmine and lavender to hot dogs and Grindr".

Besides creating fragrances for many other major houses as well as huge, elaborate scent installations for brands and events, Francis Kurdijan is also responsible for one the world's most pricey perfumes. It's a recreation of a perfume worn by Marie Antoinette based on the scribblings of the Queen's own perfumer from the early 17th century — otherwise known as a ghost fragrance. The story goes that in 2003, Francis met a historian who was writing a biography about one of Marie Antoinette's perfumers. They found the original formula and set out to recreate Marie Antoinette's favourite fragrance, called Sillage de la Reine, or In the Wake of the Queen. For inspiration, Francis spent a lot of time in Marie Antoinette's private chambers at Versailles. The fragrance features amber, essence of jasmine, orange blossom, tuberose, iris, cedar and sandalwood and has been described by a reviewer as seeming to "contain and exhibit the perfumery paradox of life contained in death, that of the flowers used to make a perfume. I have never felt so genuinely this impression of wearing on my skin the last breath of a flower, its very soul." Ten bottles that were made come in a Baccarat crystal bottle and cost over $11,000 each. 

Lyn HarrisPersonal Bespoke Scent, $24,000
Lyn Harris is a meticulous artist and the only classically trained female perfumer in the UK. She has a unique style and is known for her unorthodox approach to blending. For instance, one of her fragrances might combine a flowery note with some birch tar and a dash of asparagus — and it would still smell amazing. In 2015, after running her perfume house Miller Harris for fifteen years, Lyn started Perfumer H, where she developed a three-tiered system for customers.

The first involves Seasonal Edition fragrances which can be bought off the shelf for in 100ml bottles. The second tier, which will set you back in the vicinity of $2,500, gets you a unique formula which is registered under your name in Grasse, perfume's heartland, meaning it can never belong to anyone else. Finally, the third tier is a bespoke, personal experience which matches a scent to your sensibility. The cost of acquiring your personality-based fragrance in a hand-blown glass bottle customised with your initials starts at an impressive $24,000.

Roja Dove's By Appointment, $120,000
Roja Dove is a British perfumer and fragrance historian who has the rare ability to identify over 800 scents in a blindfold test. Rumour has it that on his 21st birthday, Roja visited the Guerlain boutique in Paris and was so taken by the experience that he hounded the company until they gave him a job. It was at Guerlain that he learnt his craft and ultimately became the first non-Guerlain family member to be given the role of company Global Ambassador.

In 2004 he opened the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie on the fifth floor of Harrods in London. This was a store within a store and a luxurious environment in which to consider spending more than most people earn in a year on a perfume. Roja's most epic offering is By Appointment, named because you need an appointment with him to try it. By Appointment is $120,000 and only one bottle exists. It contains some of the most rare ingredients in the world as well as flecks of gold leaf and the bottle is capped with almost 500 diamonds and amethysts and is delivered in a custom-made alligator case. Roja himself has called By Appointment "somewhat paradoxical; it has enormous volume and sensuality, but due to the quality of the materials I have used, it is soft. It's enveloping and cocooning; it transports you to your own, private, olfactory nirvana." Not overly surprisingly, the one and only bottle of By Appointment is still available for purchase. 

Clive Christian's No. 1, $230,000
Clive Christian is a fine furniture maker who bought the British Crown Perfumery in the 90s, which had been founded some 135 years earlier. As the new owner Clive set about reviving the company that was once one of Britain's top perfume houses. His scent, No. 1, is the world's most expensive perfume and contains all natural ingredients including a mix of jasmine, cardamom, carnation, lemon, bergamot, rose oil (which requires at least 170 blossoms for a single drop), orris root and Indian jasmine. While a batch of this liquid gold takes around six months to reach the perfect stage of spice, it has been described as smelling, "very pleasant, unisex and kind of safe, a nice blend of powdery flowers, woody notes and a hint of spicy citruses." If that doesn't necessarily sound like excellent value for over $200, 000, perhaps the crystal bottle studded with gold and diamonds might help add a little more value.


Text Briony Wright
Image via Instagram

clive christian
roja dove