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Everything you are about to see is fact. The identities of all parties have not been changed to protect the “innocent”

Odour – the documentary the perfume industry does not want you to see.


Most people think that the liquid inside a bottle of perfume is hugely expensive

But! What if I was to tell you that the liquid inside each of these bottles costs around thirty Rand to make.


Yes, that’s right, around thirty Rand to make.


So why do the designer perfumes and their smell alike equivalents have such enormously different retail prices?


Come with me as we reveal the workings of the perfume industry.


Making perfume is basic and very easy. All perfumes are made by mixing perfume oil with alcohol. This mixture is then poured into a bottle and sealed a with a nozzle. Ready to sell.  Watch again mix, pour, seal, then sell. You can do this in your kitchen, bedroom, the boot of your car or if you are making big quantities in a factory. This is the same for both the designer fragrances and their smell alike versions.


But where does the perfume oil come from? Interestingly enough, in most cases, the owners of the designer perfumes do not make the perfume oil themselves. To establish who actually makes the perfume oil for the designer products we travelled all the way to Istanbul in Turkey to speak to international perfumer Andreas Wilhelm.


With 18 years of experience creating fragrances, he is ideally suited to answer our questions.


Andreas can you tell us who makes the perfume oil for the designer brands? In general the main there are five multi-national companies behind the designer brands who deliver the perfume to the designer brands – they are Givaudan, IFF, Firmenich, Symrise and Mane just to name a few of them.


We looked at 16 of the top designer perfumes and found that 14 of them are outsourcing their perfume oil production to these 5 companies.


Andreas can you tell us who makes the perfume oil for the smell alike perfumes? They are actually the same companies.  What!?  The same big companies.


The same five companies that make the perfume oils for the designer perfumes also the make perfume oils for the smell alike industry.


So, Andreas are there any other companies that make perfume oils that are smell-alikes of the designer fragrances? Yes there are many.


We did an investigation, and this is what we found:


All five of the big companies named by Andreas are operating in South Africa along with 8 smaller companies.

The perfume oil for the designer fragrance One Million is made by Givaudan and so who will make a perfume oil for the smell alike version? All of them. In fact, even Givaudan makes a smell alike perfume oil of One Million. And this is not unique.


Be Delicious is made by Symrise and all their competitors will make a smell alike and so will Symrise. Alien is made by IFF and all their competitors will make a smell alike and so do they.


In fact, everyone is copying everyone.


But do they all smell the same?


To find out we conducted a smell test between an original and its matching smell alike.  The test was done with 313 people over four days.


Each participant was given two three ml bottles of perfume marked L and R. We told all 313 respondents that there were three groups.


One group would have the original Alien perfume inside both bottles, one group would have the smell alike Alien inside both bottles and one group would have the smell alike Alien in one bottle and the original Alien in the other.


But to eliminate bias there was only one group. Everyone got the original Alien in one bottle and the smell alike Alien in the other bottle.


Each morning the participants would spray R on their right wrist and L on their left. At the end of each day they had to select one of three answers that best described their experience.


  • Smells the same but stronger
  • Smells the same
  • Does not smell the same


After 4 days and 1252 smell tests the results were as follows:


All the respondents said it smelled the same and none said it smelled different.


Interestingly half the respondents said it smelt the same but stronger. Why?


Before we answer that question, let’s first establish why some smell-alikes do not smell like the original perfume. In general, lower grade perfume oils are used in personal care and household products such as fabric softener, hand soaps and bubble bath, whilst premium oils are used in fine fragrances. Because some unscrupulous smell alike fragrance manufacturers use lower grade perfume oils to keep the cost down, their smell-alikes do not smell the same as the original.


Let’s get back to the smell test. Andreas : why did half say one smelled stronger? According to the data I have seen it is because the smell alike perfume were dosed at the higher level.


What is dosage? You know dosage is actually the ratio of perfume oil in the alcohol. So if dose at a higher level the perfume will be more strong and it will last longer on the skin.


Now we know dosage is critically important to how long a perfume will last on the skin. A perfume dosed at 20% will last longer on the skin than a perfume that is dosed at 10% and a perfume that is dosed at 30% will obviously last longer on the skin than one that is dosed at 20%. This is a scientific certainty.


Once again to get our facts correct, we sent 16 original designer perfumes with their Fine Fragrance Collection equivalent smell alike to an international laboratory to establish their dosage. The results are as follows:


The average dosage of these 16 original designer fragrances is 20% and the average dosage of the Fine Fragrance Collection smell alike versions is 30%. Yes, that’s right, the smell-alikes are dosed at a higher level.


Does dosage effect the price of the liquid inside the bottle? We spoke to Andreas to establish the price of perfume oil. I would say nowadays the average price of perfume oil the average selling price of perfume oil is inbetween €100 to €120 a kilogram.


We checked 13 perfume oil suppliers in South Africa and found that the price for one litre of perfume oil matched the international price of R1800 per litre.


Now that we know that the average price of perfume oil we can calculate how much the liquid inside a 50ml bottle of perfume costs?


The average dosage in the 16 original perfumes sent for analysis is 20% and the smell alike 30%. This means that in the original perfume there is 10ml of perfume oil and in the smell alike 15ml. At R1800 per litre the cost of the perfume oil in the original is R18 and in the smell alike R27. The alcohol costs R1 in each. Add these together and you establish that the total cost of the liquid inside the original bottle is R19 and the smell alike R28.


Can this be true? We all know this. That the cost of the liquid inside a €100 bottle perfume bottle costs rarely more than €1.

So why has the press never reported on this? Actually they have. Articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Daily Mail Online, Daily Finance and Le Nouvel Observateur.


So why does a perfume whose liquid costs around R19 end up at R1275 and a perfume whose liquid costs R28 end up at R160?


Is it because the brands are unduly profiteering? Absolutely not!


It is the effect of two different business models.


At the beginning of the process the perfume oils for both come out of perfume oil factories at the same price. These perfume oils are then taken to a mixing plant and diluted with alcohol.


This is where the similarity stops. The designer fragrances use exclusive, elegantly designed, beautiful bottles and packaging and the smell-alikes use inexpensive functional packaging.


The designer brands spend millions and millions of dollars on global advertising and celebrity endorsements and the smell likes don’t. But they get all the advantages.


The designer perfume companies import into South Africa so they require local distributors and the smell-alikes don’t.


They operate within South Africa and they deal directly with the supermarkets.


The designer perfume brands spend huge money on local advertising and the smell alike brand, does spend some money, but it is very little in comparison.


The designer brands sell their products through departmental and health and beauty outlets that have beautiful exclusive counters with well-presented shop assistants whilst the smell alike products are sold off the shelf in supermarkets.


This now explains why the identical quality perfume oil that starts off at the factory at the same price, ends up in a 50ml bottle of designer perfume at R1275 and the Fine Fragrance Collection smell alike version at R160.

It is the effect of two different business models.


The original designer perfumes you saw in this film are available at selected Red Square, Edgars, Truworths, Foschini, Woolworths, Clicks, Dischem and independent outlets.


The smell alike versions you saw are available at selected Shoprite, Checkers, Pick ‘n Pay, President Hyper and Fine Fragrance Collection outlets.


We hope that this documentary leaves you better informed about the perfume industry and helps you with your purchase decision the next time you need to buy a bottle of perfume.