Yes, he’s at it again (IMO), trying to make reality fit into his preconceptions. In a recent blog post entitled, “KL Homme And The Contrived Market For Vintage Fragrances (Not a Fragrance Review),” he tells us that he purchased a two ounce bottle of KL Homme at a local (Connecticut) store for $36.33. He then proceeds to talk about how much he apparently hates many ebay sellers (note that I have hardly ever sold fragrances on ebay and that was years ago, in an attempt to clear out the “low end” stuff that was accumulating, so I do not feel any personal offense here). By contrast, if you have been reading my blog lately, you know that my contention is that the best explanation for sales on ebay involves a “fan base” being established for these kinds of scents many years ago.
Now in the case of KL Homme, it may be that it was never all that popular – I certainly have no idea. However, having followed prices on ebay for these kinds of scents for a long time now, I can say the “masculine” Lagerfelds seem to have really lagged behind many others, though as I also said in a recent post, prices on vintage seem to have risen quite a bit, generally-speaking, over the last couple of years. The original “masculine” Lagerfeld (now called “Classic”) and Photo seem to have been reformulated for the “drug store” market, whereas KL Homme apparently was not, which certainly suggests that it was never very popular (and may at least partially explain the prices for it these days). In his post, Mr. Ross claims that the owner of that local shop in question told him that if he could sell KL Homme for twice the price, he certainly would. Apparently, Mr. Ross did not follow up with the obvious question, “do you try to sell these kinds of fragrances on ebay?”
A local used book store I used to enjoy visiting closed a few years back, but not before I was able to ask the owner why. He said that it made a lot more sense for him to sell the building, which he owned (it was in a town where real estate prices had risen quite a bit), and sell his books online instead. Clearly, not everyone has this opportunity (most rent the stores), and this owner may not be able to get enough “old stock” to “make a living” selling it online. However, this person does not even seem aware of the possibilities that exist! Specifically, and again as I’ve posted not long ago, all one has to do is to use ebay’s “completed auction” feature. Doing this for KL Homme is quite revealing !
I conducted just such a search as of about 4:30 PM EST on December 30, 2013, and the results show that 28 bottles sold recently (and only a few minis were listed), but the prices vary significantly (I only searched for sold items). For example, a 125 ml spray bottle that appears to be around 97-98% of original amount sold for just a bit more than $31 total (a new 1 ounce bottle sold for a little more than this one)! However, a sealed, splash 125 ml bottle sold for $118.99 total. A two ounce new spray bottle sold for $39.95 total. If Mr. Ross paid sales tax on his purchase the difference would be a dollar or two. In short, why can’t Mr. Ross use the completed auction feature and why doesn’t he have patience with ebay listings? That’s how I am able to get excellent deals on these vintage greats !
Mr. Ross’ notion of a “contrived market” seems to be a kind of inadvertent attack on “capitalism.” If he wants to do that, he’s entitled to his opinion of course, but is he entitled to his own facts? In this system, or in economies that are at least largely capitalistic, sellers can set the prices they wish (other than in a small number of regulated markets), and in particular, when one encounters such a small, idiosyncratic market as appears to exist for vintage designer scents, one is likely to encounter all kinds of things that may appear strange to those who don’t follow it closely. For example, some sellers seem to have an idea in their minds about what their bottles should sell for, and they won’t take a penny less. Others seem to be trying to sell at “can’t resist” prices in order to clear out their inventory. Others, like myself (though as I said, not on ebay) are in no hurry to sell and will simply wait in order not to take a loss – we are not doing this to “make a living.”
I remember back around 1990 when a similar kind of market came into existence for signed and numbered works on paper by well-known contemporary fine artists. Some people thought the price rise was ridiculous, but it was still possible to obtain “lesser” works (probably equivalent to KL Homme in this analogy) for low prices (relative to what was occurring for “better” works) at the many small auction houses that existed at the time (I have no idea how many of them survived the internet age). We don’t know what is going to happen to the market for these kinds of scents, but we do know it’s unlikely we’ll be able to buy new ones that are like them any time soon (due to IFRA guidelines). With people like Chandler Burr telling everyone that these concoctions are “works of art” in some significant way, isn’t “the handwriting on the wall,” though? And is $80, for example, so much more for a “luxury item” than $30 or $40? To many buyers of these scents, who are older and doing well financially, the answer is highly likely to be a resounding no.
I never seriously became involved in the art market because I saw that all kinds of manipulations were involved, such as one private art dealer telling a potential client not to buy a work being sold by another art dealer for one or another reason that truly seemed “contrived.” However, trying to sell an item for a price you want is not contrived. There are people who don’t have fragrance shops nearby or who simply don’t care about paying an extra twenty dollars or so – they may not even own a car and find that shopping online saves them a lot of money, relative to buying a car, paying for gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. There is nothing “contrived” about these situations, and in this instance, Mr. Ross chose quite a poor example for his notion with KL Homme. I wonder what he will be claiming if prices for vintage do “go through the roof” soon and we begin to see them in the catalogs of major auction houses !
Lastly, and this is directed to Mr. Ross in particular: I don’t know where or how you were educated, but I guess I need point out something very important about “credibility” as a researcher. The researcher does not get to “cherry pick” examples he or she thinks fits his or her notions, while ignoring other evidence. Instead, you must examine the available evidence and put forth an explanation that fits all the “real” evidence, not just the evidence you want to discuss. In this case, unless you are contending that the sales of some or all of the 28 bottles of KL Homme I found on that ebay search are fraudulent (and if so, you had better have strong evidence), the only thing you are doing is destroying your credibility in these matters. I have no ill will towards you but I truly do not understand why you don’t want to investigate such things in a reasonable way. Not only isn’t it fair to your readers, but you are not being fair to yourself either! Do you only want to impress those who are easy to mislead ?
UPDATE: I originally wrote up a few paragraphs to respond to Mr. Ross’ response to this post, though he is apparently adhering to what I regard as an infantile promise not to name my blog (or the Basenotes.net site) on his blog any longer. However, because it contained some new ideas, I decided to create a new post for it, which is entitled, “The New Internet Market and the Old Avon One,” for those who are interested.