Niche is a buzz word in the fragrance industry right now – remember when we bought fragrance because of the brand and not because of the smell? We’re not like that anymore. And, because we’re not like that anymore, because we want something more individual and more interesting, the niche fragrance market is flourishing.
If you think about wine, aficionados back in the day were few and far between – expensive wine was for ‘posh’ people and the rest of us picked up a bottle of Blue Nun because we knew no different. We knew it was wine, of course, but had no idea of the variations on that theme because it wasn’t available to us. Over the years, most of us can fairly safely order from a wine menu (when in doubt choose anything that says Sancerre) and express a preference for the type and colour of wine we prefer to drink. It’s a similar path for niche fragrance; a taste developed and improved over time.
The Estee Lauder Company has bought Frederic Malle, By Killian and Le Labo which is a strong indicator that artisanal perfume is a trend that isn’t dying any day soon. In fact, Frederic Malle is held responsible for this niche trend – he bucked the trend for fragrances that had never been near a flower, cheap, thin-smelling, watery concoctions full of ethyl maltol to sweeten them up and brought back real, and expensive, ingredients. You can be fairly sure with smaller, niche brands that you are paying more because the ingredients cost more unlike high street fragrances that contain around 20p worth of ‘juice’ and that’s being generous.
The niche market is fuelled by 30+ women who no longer see themselves as Keira Knightly skipping down a Parisian street but as individuals and not as prepared to buy into a brand as they are to buy into something that speaks to them on a more emotional level. We want fragrance that communicates something about ourselves and certainly don’t want to smell like everyone else (remember Dior Poison).
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There are more female fragrances than ever before – in the past fragrance world was all about who you knew, not what you knew. And, it’s no longer the case that you need to be a second or third generation nose to be able to create fragrance. Someone with a concept and a vision can steer a brand even if they’re not actually in the lab with the molecules and raw ingredients themselves. Roads by Danielle Ryan is a good example of this, having been created ‘in collaboration with the finest master perfumers in the UK’. While it is a good example of a fragrance brand created by a non-nose, I think I want to know more about who these master perfumers are – the UK is not known exactly known for its master perfumers. Nonetheless, Danielle’s stamp is creative – names such as Neon, Cloud 9 and Bitter End can send the imagination soaring (although Neon didn’t live up to its promised olfactory colour burst).
Finding your fragrance confidence is about realising that all of the choice of how you smell is yours. Fragrance should uplift, it should make you feel something, it should leave an impression of you and not of a brand (although I cannot resist a spritz of Gucci Guilty or Chanel No.5). But, like the princess who had to kiss a lot of frogs to find her prince, you will need to be prepared to experiment, to be picky and to be patient. The ‘story’ which so many fragrances have relied on in the past is no longer as relevant. Who wants to smell like someone else’s Grandpa’s old coat (was that Lush?). Exactly nobody. You want to smell like you.
Fragrance is one of the beauty industry’s big joy givers. We’re accustomed to notes such as tuberose which thanks to Frederic Malle has been given the mother of all reinventions. That ingredient was last seen lounging with a swan’s down powderpuff on Barbara Cartland, but because Malle worked with the real flowers, rose and jasmine for example, and not molecular versions, they’ve all become key fragrance notes again. Things we can pick out that we were not able to before, just like wine. So, without even realising, you probably know far more about perfume and your preference than you ever thought you did.
Niche fragrance will always cost more than any high street perfume but because they’re more exciting, more experimental and more likely to touch some visceral nerve, they’re here to stay.
I’d love to know of your recent niche discoveries.
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