The fragrance market ain’t what it used to be and niche fragrances are on the rise. The steady decline of the celebrity fragrance category is gathering pace. Designer fragrances that used to fly off the shelves are increasingly being discounted.
The numbers below speak for themselves. These figures are for the world’s largest fragrance market, the USA. But these are international trends, according to industry analysts NPD Group, The Business of Fashion and Perfumer & Flavorist. Amid all the number-crunching, there’s a discernible shift to niche fragrances. They have added almost $250 million to the fragrance market since 2014.
66% – the decline of the celebrity fragrance market in department stores from 2011-2014
6% – the drop in overall fragrance sales from 2015 to 2016
1% – the sales growth of prestige fragrances
Even South Africa, a land of mass market and designer fragrances, is not immune to these changes. Hence the recent arrival of Skins Cosmetics, the renowned Dutch niche beauty and fragrances retailer, in Johannesburg (www.skins.co.za). Skins Cosmetics strikes a good balance between big-name niche fragrances and more experimental niche fragrances. You’ll find everything from Aqua di Parma, Creed, Diptyque, Floris, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Penhaligon’s to Aether, Escentric Molecules and Le Labo at this upmarket store.
While it’s pointless to get bogged down in definitions, it’s always good to know what we mean when we use a buzz-phrase like “niche fragrances”. And why exactly are niche fragrances showing such growth. I asked two of my favourite bloggers for their thoughts on the above and this is what they had to say.
DEFINING THE VALUE OF NICHE FRAGRANCES
“If I were being really ‘black and white’ about this, the only honest, accurate answer is ‘nothing’. ‘Niche’, as a descriptor, does not signify any particular style or aesthetic. If the term has any value, it is only as a method of describing limited and/or independent production/ distribution. I would concede that the best so-called niche perfumes possess a clear reflection of the visions of their creators.” – Dariush Alavi of Persolaise (http://persolaise.blogspot.co.za)
“Niche perfumery is a very creative arm of the industry. Most of the trends that have become prolific in commercial perfumery started in niche. It’s an important place for generating and testing new ideas. Niche is a good incubator for creativity. Its audiences are genuinely interested in unusual or forward-thinking fragrances. They don’t want to smell like every second person on the street.” – Clayton Ilolahia of What Men Should Smell Like (http://whatmenshouldsmelllike.com)
BEWARE! THE SNOBBERY OF NICHE FRAGRANCES
These insights from Clayton and Dariush pretty much sum up the role and nuances of niche fragrances. I would also like to add that we need to beware the snobbery of niche fragrances. Just because it’s a designer/mainstream/commercial fragrance doesn’t mean it’s inherently crap. I have come across a fair amount of that snootiness online. Equally, just because it’s a niche fragrance doesn’t mean it’s better quality or more deserving of the cash you’re about to splash.
For me, perfumery should always be about the joy of discovery. The joy of discovering the classics of perfumery. The joy of discovering new variations on seemingly exhausted themes. And also the joy of discovering cheap and cheerful bargains. Ultimately, niche fragrances should increase our options, expand our knowledge and pleasure. So yes, be a discerning and savvy consumer, but snobbery is so self-limiting.
“Perfumery should always be about the joy of discovery. So yes, be a discerning and savvy consumer, but snobbery is so self-limiting.”
Clayton offers very useful advice to those who are just starting their discovery of niche fragrances: “Buy from a retailer who specialises in niche fragrances and let them help guide you in the beginning. With experience, most people will see common threads, maybe an ingredient or note they like, or a perfumer whose work they like, which begins to influence their buying.”
Fragrance is such a personal and mood-influenced choice, so I hope niche fragrances bring you much joy. These are are some of my favourite niche fragrances:
Penhaligon’s Much Ado About The Duke EDP (2016)
British heritage brand Penhaligon’s has been in the fragrance biz since the 1870s and is one of the most celebrated companies in niche fragrances. From its recent Portraits collection, Much Ado About The Duke is an unapologetically sparkling rose, with notes of pepper, leather, wood, gin and tonic adding to its irreverent appeal. It was created by Daphne Bugey, the nose behind Jean Paul Gaultier Scandal, Le Labo Bergamote 22, Mugler Aura and Valentino Valentina Pink.
Etat Libre d’Orange Like This EDP (2010)
While the company founded by South Africa-born Etienne de Swardt is sometimes better known for its shock-and-awe tactics, it also produces top-notch niche fragrances. You can read my interview with Etienne de Swardt here (http://fragroom.com/2017/04/20/etat-libre-doranges-etienne-de-swardt/). This collaboration with Tilda Swinton captures the English actress’s idea of home, with cosy and comforting notes of ginger, immortelle, pumpkin, tangerine, vetiver and heliotrope. Created by Mathilde Bijaoui, it won the Fragrance Foundation France Award for Best Niche Fragrance in 2011.
L’Artisan Parfumeur Tea For Two EDT (2000)
One of the best tea fragrances around. It conjures up spicy-aromatic intimacy with notes of tea, tobacco, cinnamon, honey, ginger, star anise, gingerbread and vanilla. This treat from L’Artisan Parfumeur, one of the pioneers of niche fragrances since the 1970s, was created by Olivia Giacobetti. This nose also created Diptyque Philosykos, Frédéric Malle en Passant, Hermès Hiris and several other L’Artisan Parfumeur beauties. This is a vintage bottle below. So if you’re looking for Tea For Tea, it’s to be found in the company’s newish grey bottles.
Atelier Cologne Vetiver Fatal (2012)
Founded in 2009, this Paris-based company has made its mark in the niche fragrances industry with its cologne absolues. These cologne absolues combine the traditional citrus character of eau de colognes with longer-lasting natural materials. I am a big fan of vetiver fragrances and Atelier Cologne Vetiver Fatal is a gentler interpretation of the usually earthy theme. It features notes of Calabrian bergamot, Sicilian lemon, Tunisian orange blossom absolue, fig, Grasse violet leaves and Texan cedarwood. A super-fresh summer in a bottle!