Niche fragrances: clichés or product reality?
Niche perfume, high perfumery, confidential perfume or author's perfume: these are all terms used to describe the alternative to "mass perfumery". And when we talk about the niche, the clichés are numerous: extraordinary raw materials, original and sometimes importable juices, extravagant prices... But what is it really? Should you be interested in niche perfumery, or is it just another marketing concept? And if you are already convinced, how to choose your niche perfume?
Let's study together: "What is niche perfume? "
Let's go back to the basics: the term "niche" simply means a small market segment, which meets a very specific demand.
Originally, niche perfumery therefore responds to the demand of a small group of connoisseurs looking for differentiating, daring and rare perfumes. But beyond the desire to "smell like no one else", in order to understand niche perfumery, it is necessary to know the reasons that have favored its incredible growth.
THE LOSS OF BREATH OF THE MAINSTREAM PERFUMERY
Let's go back to the 80's, when perfumery was going through a period of unprecedented standardization.
In a now globalized market, the big perfume groups limited their risks and created relatively uniform juices, supposed to please everyone. The unbridled creativity of the beginning of the 20th century is over, the main thing for brands is to make more and more turnover and gain market share.
To do this, large-scale market studies and olfactory tests with large panels are used to ensure that the next perfume will convince customers on all continents, disregarding local culture. It's a bit like if everyone started cooking exactly the same flavors all over the world. The most striking example of this is Lancôme's Trésor, the fragrance of the same name: Lancôme's Trésor, the best-selling perfume in the world in the 1990s, and as a temple to this standardization, the Sephora chain! As Jean-Claude Ellena, a famous perfumer, summarizes: "Before there was a perfume, a bottle, a story. Now it's more like a story, a bottle, a perfume."
Beyond the now famous "storytelling" of brands, it is the muses who carry the communication and no longer the ingredients or the juice itself:
- Chanel N°5 with Nicole Kidman or Marion Cotillard and Coco Mademoiselle with Keira Knightley
- Dior Eau Sauvage with Alain Delon or Sauvage tout court with Johnny Depp
THE BIRTH OF NICHE PERFUMERY
At the beginning of the 90's, some independent perfumers decided to go back to the basics: to put back at the heart of the process the know-how, the creativity and the exceptional raw materials. The objective? To offer unique and singular fragrances that allow each person to assert their identity.
WHAT IS A NICHE PERFUME ?
This so-called "confidential" or "artistic" perfumery offers you unique fragrances that carry emotions.
It is characterized by :
- A total freedom of creation leading to a strong olfactory identity
- An originality in the agreements around raw materials of the highest quality and often cultivated in "reasoned"
- An ultra-selective distribution : internet on the brand's website, small independent perfume stores, carefully selected, high-end concept stores and ideally a store of its own
- Prices sometimes much higher than in a classic perfumery: it is inevitable, the use of noble raw materials has a cost
- Marketing in the background: little advertising and mainly broadcast on social networks with main messages on the authenticity of the materials and a sometimes offbeat communication (see the insolent concepts of État Libre d'Orange / I Am Trash or Sécrétions Magnifiques).
- Mixed perfumes (gender-specific perfumes being -as we know- a 20th century invention).
WHAT IS NICHE PERFUMERY TODAY?
- More than 1,000 launches per year (vs less than 40 in the 1970s)
- After the precursors...Serge Lutens, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Dyptique or Annick Goutal, new French brands have joined the ranks: By Kilian, Juliette Has a Gun, Memo paris, Sylvaine Delacourte... and since 2015 BINET-PAPILLON.
With the growth of this market, more and more new players are arriving, some of whom are simply surfing on the trend by developing concepts that are above all marketing, sometimes disappointing from an olfactory point of view, and thus moving away from the niche...
To fight against this new competition, big brands like Guerlain with "L'art et la Matière", Dior with its "private collection" or Hermessence d'Hermès.
We are also witnessing numerous takeovers of niche brands that have proven themselves and found their audience by large groups: Frédéric Malle, Atelier Cologne, Dyptique, Penhaligon's, Joe Malone, By Kilian, Le Labo... have been bought by large groups such as LVMH, Estée Lauder or L'Oréal, and are now less and less niche in their approaches (sometimes even distributed at Sephora)... It's almost confusing!
To complete the confusion, some brands refuse the term "niche" and assert themselves more as "experimental" brands, playing with unexpected concepts and materials. One example is Comme des Garçons and their Rouge fragrance, whose star is... beet. Here is what their artistic director says about it:
"What we do is different. Many people think that we do a niche perfumery, a word that I now find overused. I would say that we do experimental perfumery". - Christian Astuguevieille
Finally, some brands play very well on the 2 tables of the niche and the mass market. Tom Ford, for example, perfectly bridges these two worlds with qualitative juices sold in selective distribution, and a successful private collection (Private Blend).
In summary: The market has undergone so many transformations that it is now difficult to say with certainty if a brand is a niche brand. This evolution of perfumery is an invitation to widen the field of possibilities... everything you like... you just have to choose well.
HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR NICHE PERFUME ?
Think about YOUR priorities:
- Stand out with an original perfume
- Look for the nobility of the raw materials
- Favoring brands with more ethical approaches or highlighting the French artisanal know-how...
- ...But above all, trust your nose...