While Chanel and Elizabeth Arden have done well in the Chinese fragrance market, a native fragrance has captivated super-rich consumers.
According to People Daily, Chen xiang, or agarwood, is an ancient Oriental fragrance that played an important role in religious rituals and was lauded for its healing properties for thousands of years. Now, with agarwood endangered, only the savviest, well-to-do Chinese can collect it.
Wang Yinan, a famous TV host, is also the director of the National Chen Xiang Research Association and a fanatic about the fragrance. “The reason is clear. If you buy a house, antique or jewelry, they remain as concrete items,” Wang says. “But chen xiang is different. It is burned for its fragrance, the fleeting moment of enjoyment. Nothing is left, but the fragrance, the temporary fragrance. Isn’t this the most luxurious thing on the world?”
“Sweet,” “rich,” and “earthy” are the adjectives most often ascribed to chen xiang. The term means “wood with mellow fragrance.” What’s most ironic is that this sought-after sign of affluence comes from rotten wood – agarwood is a dark resinous heartwood that forms in aquilaria and gyrinops trees that have been infected with a particular fungus, which accounts for the discharge of the resin that produces the scent. These large evergreens, though native to Southeast Asia, have been cut down, meaning trees must be farmed and domestically infected to create a supply of chen xiang. This accounts for the very high prices.
Wang adds, “I would say that 90 percent of the chen xiang in the market is faked or artificially/commercially produced. Because there is no physical way to judge the authenticity of real chen xiang, the only reliable tool is your nose. I’m not opposed to commercially produced chen xiang, but the fragrance is a thousand miles away from original one, which could only be distinguished by the nose.”
High-quality chen xiang outstrips gold in terms of cost – it is 10,000 yuan per gram, whereas gold is currently 260 yuan per gram. Unlike gold, once the scent is used, it is gone in a fleeting moment, leading many Chinese to quip that money spent on the fragrance is going up in smoke.
image credit: victor wong