I read a fascinating article the other day on China and fragrances which set off my curiosity on a few issues, got me digging into others, and made me ponder a few impenetrable questions that only time will tell. The article is called, “Sweet smell of success: Foreign fragrances dominate China’s perfume market,” and it’s written by David Dodwell for the South China Morning Post. Mr. Dodwell is the Executive Director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Group and appears to write extensively on China. This time, he turned his attention to perfume after spending a day in Heathrow’s Duty Free section in Terminal 5 and seeing “a flock of fashionable mainland Chinese women scenting their way through the Jo Malone part of the fragrance section.”
That led him to the following question: given China’s global manufacturing process and the emergence of so many Chinese brands, why couldn’t he think of a single Chinese-made perfume? I have my own personal theories on that issue, but what interested me more were other points he made in passing, like Mao‘s Cultural Revolution or the role of oud (chen xiang (沉香)). I’ll be talking about all of that today, in addition to China’s fragrance history, fragrance culture, and its changing attitudes to scent over time.