Costly Concoctions

Some beauty products' prices are shooting off the charts. So what's the idea?

Does a fragrance for £1,260 (?1,840/$2,500) per ounce smell more sweet? Some beauty players certainly believe that their clients think so. “Uber-luxurious” fragrance and cosmetics, with price tags starting to rival those of sports cars or fi ne jewelry, are gaining momentum these days.

While still representing only an infi nitesimal share of the worldwide beauty market, the ultra-premium segment is one to watch, executives say.

“Global wealth is growing, and people are getting richer-not only in developed countries, but in emerging economies, where markets are booming and there’s a strong trend toward ‘premiumization,’ ” said Alexander Kirillov, senior analyst of London-based Euromonitor tracking fi rm. “People are happy to trade up to more expensive luxury items in this situation. And when we talk about luxury, it’s all about exclusivity.”

Such an elite positioning generally found in products sold in just a handful of stores comes at a price. Take V1, a fragrance created by London-based designer Arfaq, which has a starting price point of $170,000 per platinum, gold, ruby and diamond-bedecked bottle. Likewise, Xerjoff, a fragrance house in Turin, Italy, which manufactures scents packaged in handmade bottles carved from semiprecious stones, has prices starting at £2,000. Clive Christian, based in London, claims to sell the world’s most expensive juice, with its No. 1 fragrance weighing in at £1,260 per ounce.

Similarly, certain treatment products’ prices have recently blasted into the price stratosphere. Take Kanebo’s Sensai eye cream, at $320 per 0.5-oz. jar, and Este;e Lauder’s Re-Nutriv 50-ml. jars of day and night creams, which together sell for ?950.

“Uber luxury by its nature is only available to only a handful of people” who wouldn’t sniff at such prices, reasoned Roja Dove, who runs the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie in Harrods, which stocks Arfaq, Xerjoff and Clive Christian scents.

According to Dove, the emergence of such high-end fragrances refl ects a backlash against what he considers the commoditization of the luxury beauty market.

“The word luxury has been totally debased,” he said. “Consumers are fed up with 300 to 400 fragrance launches per year-it’s overwhelming. Staff in stores don’t offer luxury service, as they’re not trained, and consumers are totally fed up of buying products that six months later they can’t buy any more. There is a sophisticated consumer who is looking for something else.”

“Price is very important, but it has to have a reason,” continued Rita Clifton, London-based chief executive offi cer of branding consultancy Interbrand. “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”

Clifton added where genuine craftwork and high-quality or rare ingredients are used, consumers are willing to pay the price.

“But the important thing to remember about luxury is that it’s a relative concept,” she noted. “If one has no food, then having the means for a decent meal is a luxury.”

For that reason, industry watchers don’t see the emergence of astronomical product prices as impinging on the business generated by traditional “prestige” goods, available for a fraction of the cost. “A customer buying a product for $100,000 is not in the market for Armani’s Acqua di Gio or Este;e Lauder’s Beautiful,” said Sandy Beebee, a New York-based analyst at HSBC. “They want something distinctive that no one else can have.”