Monday, 4 February 2013

Gordon Bennett! Bonkers Is In The Daily Telegraph Again!

Last Monday I was approached by Bryony Gordon, a feature writer and columnist with The Daily Telegraph, who wanted to know my thoughts on baby perfumes for an article she was writing that day. This is the third time(!) someone from the paper has come through to me like this, so I feel it behoves me to have a view on the topics they are investigating. Consequently, I bought myself a couple of hours' time so I could research the subject myself and marshall my thoughts. For though I was dimly aware that there were perfumes targeted at babies, their mothers and/or small children - Bvlgari's Petits et Mamans rang a bell, for example - it is not a subset of the fragrance market to which I had given much thought. Hey, I am not even a mother! But after digging around I found that there have been, if not a whole slew exactly, certainly a dozen or more baby and children's perfumes on the market over the last 30 years, including this latest launch by Dolce & Gabbana, which prompted Byrony to write her piece.

And following my research I found that I did indeed have something to say about the matter. In her article Bryony quotes a director of the children's charity Kidscape on the commercialisation of children generally, followed by me and a lady from the parenting website Netmums - we are both basically saying that a baby smells fine as it is. You can read the online version here:

Baby perfume? The idea stinks


This time round I submitted my comments by email, and was not aware of the overall slant / tenor of the article, but it seems that I was very much in step with the journalist herself and the other contributors.

So here are some of my other thoughts on the subject:

Babies don't smell of melon

D & G say their perfume "smells of baby" yet it has notes of citrus, honey and melon. Well, babies don't naturally smell like that and if they did smell of melon, I am not sorry I didn't have one now, as that way lies L'Eau d'Issey, my "melon-scented-freshly-exited-shower-cubicle" nemesis.

The helicopter scenting angle

The baby perfumes of Bvlgari and L'Occitane are predicated on mums and babies wearing the same fragrance. This strikes me as twee at best, and at worst as the olfactory equivalent of helicopter parenting. Let the baby have its own scent and identity, rather than imposing a mum and baby uniformity like those goofy couples who wear matching jumpers. I mean, you wouldn't catch a mother wearing a babygrow to be like her offspring. Hold on, that's a onesie, so maybe she would at that!

Maclaren buggy syndrome

At the higher end I think snobbery may also play into this: witness the blurb on an ad by Le Labo for its baby version of Ambrette 9:

"A baby perfumed by Le Labo? How cool can you get!" (this one costs a cool 110 euros for 50ml I note).

And of course that baby will be about eight and on its fourth iPad before it uses up 50ml of scent, though that probably isn't an issue to the mother who is happy to drop that much money on such an item.

A recent survey found that it costs well over £200k to bring up a child from 0-21 (without private schooling). So if what is after all a relatively expensive item was to become a must-have accessory, this would imply that unfragranced babies are in some way less acceptable, just adding to parents' financial burdens. So for me baby perfume is an example of gratuitous product segmentation that plays into the fact that modern parents are more of a soft sell than in my youth. For instead of today's Chelsea tractor buggies for offroading to nursery, we were just stuck in prams in the snow, for anyone to pinch us who was so minded.

The safety angle

As far as any safety issue is concerned, I don't doubt that these perfumes will have been made to the same exacting standards as any other baby product - using a non-alcohol formula. And you could argue that there are already numerous scented functional products on the market for babies, but I still don't like the idea of spritzing a very tiny baby with perfume.

I am, however, all for small children developing an appreciation for fragrance (of any kind indeed) at an early age, so if companies are going to target the very young, I'd say at least wait until they are old enough to say no.

Are you a mother? How does your baby smell? (When freshly washed, obviously.) And where do you stand on the baby perfume issue?

NB The keen-eyed reader may spot that in this latest article, I am described as a "fragrance expert" as well as a blogger. I would just like to point out that I didn't describe myself in those terms, but that the newspaper kindly saw fit to award me a titular upgrade.

Photo of Dolce & Gabbana baby perfume from, photo of Joshua Reynolds painting from Wikimedia Commons, photo of L'Eau d'Issey from Ebay, photo of coordinated mother and baby from, photo of McClaren buggy from


olenska said...

Well with a title upgrade like that, the next thing MUST be an offer for you to write your own bylined weekly column! Whoooot! :D

Vanessa said...

Hi olenska,

Not sure they would need a perfumista columnist as such, but a girl can always dream... : - )

Olfactoria's Travels said...

Congratulations on your third newspaper mention!

As for the subject at hand: I take extra care to avoid any kind of fragranced product on my children, no need to sensitize them with unnecessary scent. They smell just fine on their own. Applying perfume on a small baby or child is stupid at best, dangerous at worst in my opinion.

Blacknall Allen said...

Really not sure about this business of perfuming babies and young children, but I remember when Guerlain got in on the game with Petit Guerlain. By their estimation babies and toddlers smelled of...mimosas? That Le Labo does this now is simply scary-whatever has become of baby powder?

Tara said...

The Telegraph know a fragrance expert when they find one! It's a wonder you didn't get a call on the recent ambergris story.

I found the whole idea of perfume for babies thing pretty replusive. I understand that they use eau de cologne on baby clothing after changing quite regularly on the continent but these designer baby scents are different. I think the article is right about it being a sort of status thing and further commercialising babyhood.

It's crazy to cover up the best smell in the world and to say the D&G perfume "accentuates" that baby smell is ridiculous!

Maureen said...

I think babies fresh from the bath with maybe baby lotion or powder smell just need for perfuming.

Vanessa said...

Hi Olfactoria,


Hmm, I find it so interesting that even dyed in the wool perfumistas like us tend to draw the line at fragrancing their infants, and prefer their natural smell. I'd be the same if I had had children, I am sure.

Vanessa said...

Hi Blacknall!

Nice to see you here and it is good to get your take on this debate. Mimosas have a bit of powderiness to them I guess, but I still think they are wide of the mark in terms of evoking a baby's natural smell - or even that of an older child. Unless it was a child who got heavily involved in Mardi Gras celebrations in Nice, say. : - )

Yes, the Le Labo venture was a little concerning - the marketing slant as much as anything. I bet the scent smells lovely - well, if it is anything like Ambrette 9 for adults, one of my favourites from the line. But we keep coming back to the fact that nothing smells as authentically of baby as actual baby.

Vanessa said...

Hi tara,

Yes, I do see it as a flagrant case of "gilding the lily" to scent a baby! And there's definitely the risk of more opportunities for oneupmanship, as if there weren't enough already in our consumerist world.

Vanessa said...

PS The whale vomit news item passed me a by last week, though several family members and acquaintances asked me on the same day to name perfumes containing the stuff, which I found a bit baffling. The penny has now dropped!

Vanessa said...

Hi Maureen,

Thanks for stopping by, and I quite agree with you - when we were babies that would have been all our mothers used, and I think we more than passed muster in olfactory terms!

Undina said...

Vanessa, congratulations on your promotion! ;)

I completely agree with all your points. And Ithink that people shouldn't scent their babies, pets and comatose relatives (unless they know that the latter enjoyed some special perfume before).

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

Thanks, though I shan't start considering myself an expert any time soon. : - ) I guess it is all relative. In the eyes of some of my friends and family, maybe I am?!

Goodness, I didn't know that people perfumed their comatose relatives - I have heard of them being played their favourite tune! I wonder if anyone has ever brought a loved one out of a coma with a scent?

Suzanne said...

Well, Vanessa, I told you recently that your mother would be very proud of you and your blogging ... and as you can see, your fellow bloggers are quite proud of you too! Congrats on being The Daily Telegraph's go-to person on perfume. I do think "fragrance specialist" fits you nicely, and I quite agree with you on all counts. The most wonderful thing about perfume is discovering it on one's own. Some of our finer memories are about those stolen whiffs we took of perfumes lined up on our mother's vanity table or in our father's medicine cabinet. It should be something one chooses, in my opinion ... and preferably after one's immune system has developed a bit. So no, I would never perfume a baby.

Vanessa said...

Hi Suzanne,

I am touched by everyone's response to my unexpected promotion(!).

And I do so agree that it is important that children be left to their own devices growing up - well, certainly in terms of making their own scented discoveries. And you make a good point about waiting till their immune systems have developed.

Unknown said...

I like the idea of "Bonks goes Broadsheet" - you'd make a fab weekly columnist; after all, isn't that what a blog is?
I heartily agree on the safety issue and on the silliness of marketing fragrance as something that a baby 'needs', or that a baby's natural scent is anything other than delightful (well, except for when said baby has a full nappy, but in honesty, even that never bothered me with my adored Small). (She wasn't much of a vomiter though. I can't imagine that's a good smell to have lingering around.)

However, I do know that in France (where baby products are scented with orange blossom, interestingly), there is a tradition of cooling and cleansing yourself with eaux de cologne between bathing. All the French homes I've been in have a large bottle of 'standard' eau de cologne in the bathroom, to splash over oneself mid-afternoon when you feel sticky on a hot day. I've always assumed that this was the main way that French people used perfume on babies - to cool and refresh them and soothe them. Though I guess there must also be an element of perfume for pleasure.

I've also heard of people splashing on edc after a bath, including on children.

I've allowed Small to use my perfumes since she was tiny - it's a nice part of 'playing grown up' for her - but I have been rather careful of what I'll let her wear. While I'm happy for her to smell of plain roses, orange blossom, or lavender, or of vanilla or candy, I don't want her smelling of Opium. And I was very tempted to buy her a bottle of Petits et Maman for herself, but then she discovered Eau de Spongebob et al and was off on a roll. (Current favourite is Yves Rocher's Christmas edt of Marrons Glacés.)

I appreciate that it's a contentious point - and I think it's a subtle difference between giving a child their own perfume that's appropriate for them (in terms of scent composition and carrier) and implying that a child doesn't smell good.

Vanessa said...

Hi Birdie,

Thanks for your detailed consideration of this topic from every angle, and I was interested to hear more about what the French do with colognes - both on themselves and their offspring. Personally, I think I would just want to wash if I felt sticky, rather than anointing myself with another product that might make me feel even more so. Though I must admit to never having tried that.

Thanks also for telling us about your daughter's early scent explorations - sounds as though these were selective and carried out in a controlled manner at your daughter's pace - still it seems she was what we might term "a very early adopter". And crucially, you never thought she was smelly - that is a key point here for sure! : - )

Vanessa said...

PS "Bonks goes Broadsheet" made me chuckle!

Lucas said...

Congrats on being in a magazine

Vanessa said...

Hi Lucas,

Thanks very much!