Good things come in small packages. Mother knew that when you were delivered to her all new and fresh and wrapped up in a pretty blanket. It's hard to top that gift, but every Mother's Day we try to find something to tell her any gift less than life is just a gesture.
That's why perfume is such an appropriate present for Mother's Day -- it's a small package and a lovely reminder of you that clings and stays with her through good times and bad.
Mother's Day is second only to Christmas in generating perfume and scent sales. The $4.8 billion industry generates more income per square foot of retail space than any other product, according to Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation trade organization.
Traditionally, spring is the high season for introducing new fragrances. Call it a breath of pretty air or commercial good sense. According to the Fragrance Foundation, we are more receptive to fragrance in warm weather, which increases the impact of odor and intensifies fragrances.
"The range of products is wider than ever before, and scent doesn't have to be extravagantly expensive," says Ms. Green. "For example, Elizabeth Arden's new Sunflowers fragrance falls into the refresher category, it's lovely for summer at the price and can be bought in the $25 range."
On the pricey end of the curve, you have the exclusive Lalique fragrance. The house of Lalique has been designing the most beautiful scent bottles for perfume houses for the better part of the 20th century. Now the bottlemakers have launched their own scent -- $575 for 1.3-ounce perfume in a crystal bottle. There is a giant 20-ounce version at about $2,750 -- a bargain if you multiply that by the one-ounce price, but over the moon for real earthlings.
What can make perfume so precious? Acres of flowers and natural ingredients are reduced to droplets of scent, making perfume one of the most expensive price-per-ounce luxuries out there.
"Perfume is the strongest, most concentrated form of fragrance and therefore most costly," says Ms. Green. "Second in strength is eau de parfum, or toilette water. Cologne is the weakest form of scent and is used more as a splashy refreshant."
Another big factor in cost is packaging and promotion. Some perfumes are launched with all the hoopla of a coronation. There are little gifts for the peasants in the malls, but the privileged get invitations to the ball to kiss perfumed air and rub elbows with celebrities. Why, Giorgio Armani's launch for his new fragrance, Gio, drew the TV news magazine cameras and the status fashion press.
And Gio was only one of many debuts. New this year are Aro, Bulgari eau Parfumee, DNA from Bijan, Krazy Krizia, Rosebud, Solitaire, Tuscany per Donna, Wild Heart, Wings, Cristalle from Chanel, Womenswear by Alexander Julian, Catalyst by Halston, Donna Karan by herself and on and on.
Selecting a scent
A flip through the profusion of scent strips in the May fashion magazines leaves one reeling in a perfumed daze.
Lucky the gift shopper whose mother or wife has a signature fragrance. There's no need to choose something, only to replenish.
Ann Anthony, owner of La Parfumerie at Cross Key, says many of her gift shoppers are buying a favorite fragrance for mother, many of them classics.
"Men tend to buy what they've bought before, women will try something new," says Ms. Anthony. And she says that men, when they look for a new fragrance, will lean to a more feminine, floral perfume.
She does try to guide shoppers. "When it comes to gifts, we ask them if they know what their wife or mother has liked, to try to get a sense of their preference and then try to steer them into related families," she says.
One thing Ms. Anthony has noticed over the years is that no matter how much men like a particular fragrance, they will never buy their wives and their mothers the same scent. Some things just cannot be shared.
So men spray and spray and sniff to find the right differences. Wrong.
The rule from experts is no more than three spritzes per shopping trip. That means a test on each wrist and inside the elbow. Any more and the nose and brain become confused.
"As a rule, your lighter and softer fragrances -- most of the florals -- are meant for office wear and would be perfect for a working mother," says Ms. Anthony. "The heavier spicy and Oriental blends would be too intense for work or play, but a luxurious gift for those special evenings."
She says the safest way to shop is to look for something on the light side. "There are those love/hate fragrances because all perfume personalities are different."
A smart woman who receives an unfamiliar scent would do well to ooh and aah without opening the package. She can then return to the store for a sniff test to see if it's a keeper.
We know a darling mother, whose children have been lavishing her with a heavy luxury perfume for years. She gushes, displays the bottle prominently on the marble bathroom vanity, then flushes a few drops every day.
The pretty factor
Many of today's classic and memorable fragrances were popularized by the bottle.
"There are so many variables in making a perfume a success, but essentially it's the bottle that attracts, and then hopefully someone likes the scent," says Ken Leach at Gallery 47 in Manhattan, a dealer in vintage perfume bottles.
"Old bottles have an appeal because they have a history of giving. Whether it is a mother or a lover, it is pleasant to think that a bottle has love in its past," says Mr. Leach.
He says his shop has more 2,000 on hand, dating from 1910 to 1950. "The commercial bottles with the original perfumes appeared only in the 20th century when fragrance companies discovered chemical ways to preserve scents. They looked to the great glass houses -- Lalique, Baccarat -- to design flacons to capture the eye." Those bottles became the heirlooms of the future.
What makes a bottle collectible? Beauty and rarity, says Mr. Leach. "Shalimar, the bottle and fragrance are both classics. Baccarat designed the bottle 80 years ago and it is still cherished."
Most valuable to collectors are bottles that are as close to perfect as the day they were packaged. So if there is a grandmother in your life who saved her Shalimar because it was too good and fancy to use, you're in luck. Mr. Leach says a perfect packaged specimen would be worth about $250; just the bottle in perfect shape, about $75.
Are there potential heirlooms in today's bottles? Mr. Leach has his personal favorites: Chloe Narcise, Donna Karan and Amarige by Givenchy.
He does make note of Liz Taylor's White Diamonds, which he says is a very exciting bottle and the only celebrity scent to become truly successful.
A fragrance idea for mothers who adore old and unusual trinkets is to shop antique stores for pretty old glass and porcelain bottles. They can be filled with aromatic oils and refreshers from specialty stores such as The Limited's Bath and Body Works. A one-of-a-kind present.
The best-selling perfumes in the United States, according to May Vogue magazine's poll of fragrance sales around the world are:
* Beautiful by Estee Lauder.
* Chanel No.5.
* Escape by Calvin Klein.
* Eternity by Calvin Klein.
* Obsession by Calvin Klein.
* Opium by Yves Saint Laurent.
* Oscar de la Renta.
* Red by Giorgio.
* Tresor by Lancome.
* White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor.
* White Linen by Estee Lauder.
Patti Klein, F&M;'s marketing vice president, says the top fiv sellers of department store brands at F&M; are:
JTC * Chanel No. 5.
* Red Door.
* White Diamonds.
* Liz Claiborne.