Joy, an Expression of Hope when there is none to go around

It is in times of darkness that we are in most need of light. One fragrance became the expression of hope by breaking the mold of gloom, in a world in need of a spark.

Joy, or an Expression of Hope when there is none to go around

Life is an impressive and resilient thing…

Life is an impressive and resilient thing. I am always amazed when I see a green sprout breaking through a cement sidewalk, a spring of hope shooting out from grey bleakness. Hope comes in many shapes and forms. It can be as simple as taking a walk around the park or spraying a new scent; a statement, to say, “I will prevail.” 

‘The Big Virus Crisis’ is the calamity of our generation. Our great trauma. In addition to serious public health implications, we are barely 4 months into the new reality, and unemployment rates are soaring through the roof with an unfortunate number of companies having filed for bankruptcy.

In many ways, and given its extreme economic impact, 2020 is already being compared to the 1929 Great Depression. It is under these dire circumstances that visionary designer Jean Patou decided to launch Joy, the most expensive fragrance in the world.

“Only the Best”

Only the Best

I remember seeing the elegant art deco bottle of Joy on my mother’s vanity as an 8 year-old girl. When asked about it, my father explained that he had purchased this perfume on Champs Elysées as a gift to mom, because she deserves “only the best”. He then went on to quote the running ad story at the time, recalling that “each bottle has 10,000 jasmines in it”.

And indeed, it is a big floral bouquet – the kind that smells like never-ending field roses and jasmine masterfully blended with simplicity and art.

In many ways, Jean Patou was ahead of his time. From being the first French designer to employ American models, to first introducing his initials as a monogram on his sportswear, he had a certain visionary flair, bridging communities across borders. 

Truly, it takes a lot of flair and guts to launch and market “the costliest perfume in the world” one year after the Wall Street crash. What a financial risk… but also, what a statement!

At a time where the commercialization of a fragrance was a cost driven affair requiring heavy front-loaded resources, Jean Patou and perfumer Henry Alméras unexpectedly turned a disadvantage into a new value proposition. Too expensive? OK, then, let’s own up to it! ... We will use the highest quality raw materials, increase the concentration… and then some. Nothing was too good for this composition. From the purest Jasmine from Grasse to the hand molded bottles, no efforts were spared in creating a fragrance that was bound to stand the test of time. And they weren’t shy. Not in marketing, distribution or claim. And the rest, as they say, is History.

Scents of Renewal

Scents of Renewal

Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps is another historic launch, intended as the scent of rebirth and renewal after WWII. Its soft, powdery carnation with green touches of life was in direct contrast to the smell of gunpowder, sadness, and mortality which filled the streets following war.

At a time where brands are more cautious than ever, there is a learning here. Perhaps a reminder that beautiful, memorable, and purposeful creations are borne to counter darkness? As art, fragrance can transcend the moment and transport us to a space and time where things are better, albeit for a mere instant….

What made Patou’s Joy a success at a time of financial strain, was a very counterintuitive approach. I like to think that the secret ingredients of this recipe are both the shocking price positioning (proclaiming to whomever wants to buy that, YES, we are alive, YES we are stronger than this, and YES we will see you on the other side), and the name (it is, in fact, in the most difficult of days that we need JOY!)

Let Legends Lie

It takes a lot to create a memorable fragrance. No one knows the replicable secret formula, but in my opinion, there are a few things brands must maintain to maximize their odds of achieving legendary status: Intent. Purposefulness. Brand Consistency. Relatable icons are created by tapping into emotion in a genuine believable manner.

Joy is no longer the sole property of Jean Patou. In recent years, and after acquiring the rights to the name, Dior has launched its own “Joy”. With a different story, message, muse and fragrance altogether, the new Joy simply does not channel the same energy as its predecessor.

My take? Sometimes it is OK to let go. Let legends lie.

With my father’s own recent health scare, I realize that the little joys in our life, whatever they may be, make lasting imprints on us. The small things matter, and as Dad taught the little 8-year-old me, sometimes, they are worth the splurge, because memories are forever.

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