Finding Your Niche Fragrances

Niche Fragrances - Penhaligon's Much Ado About The Duke

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

The rise of niche fragrances - Boss Bottled Tonic

RETAIL BLUES: Designer fragrances aren’t the guaranteed hits they used to be.

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 Fragrances - L'Artisan Parfumeur Au Bord de L'Eau

THE ARTISTRY OF NICHE FRAGRANCES: L’Artisan Parfumeur Au Bord de L’Eau, inspired by Claude Monet.

“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.

Niche Fragrances - David Liss Fabulous Men

DAVID WHO?: The joy of new fragrance discoveries.

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.”

Niche Fragrances - Budget Buys Have Their Place Too

BARGAIN SHELF: Budget buys have their place too.

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.”

Niche Fragrances - Nasomatto fragrances at Skins Cosmetics

GOING DUTCH: Let Skins Cosmetics introduce you to Nasomatto fragrances.

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.

Niche Fragrances - Penhaligon's Much Ado About The Duke

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.

Niche Fragrances - Etat Libre d'Orange Like this

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!

Niche Fragrances - Atelier Cologne Vetiver Fatal

 

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH MASTER PERFUMER BERTRAND DUCHAUFOUR

Bertrand Duchaufour 470

MASTER NOSE: Bertrand Duchaufour

Born in Nancy, France, and trained in Grasse, the home of French perfumery, Bertrand Duchaufour is widely regarded as one of the masters of modern perfumery. In a career spanning over three decades, the highly sought-after nose has worked with some of the most prestigious names in the biz, including Acqua di Parma, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme des Garçons, Penhaligon’s, Eau d’Italie, Givenchy and Dior.

The creator of modern classics such as Comme des Garçons Series 3, Incense: Kyoto, L’Artisan Parfumeur Timbuktu, Penhaligon’s Sartorial and Amouage Jubilation XXV took time out of his busy schedule to talk about his creative process, success and current projects.

What fragrance are you wearing today? I don’t wear any fragrance. I try to keep the most distance possible with fragrances and scents. If I can work in a pure way of abstraction, I will do it.

What’s your guiding principle when you create a fragrance? To keep distance and to let time act as much as I do. I am driven by imagination, but that is always driven by an idea or an image. Conceptualisation is important. It’s impossible to have any input without it.

I never know. A success is always a surprise. There is no recipe.

Do you ever take trends into account in your creative process? No, never. I try to be completely free regarding that, even if I go wrong!

Is being a nose a gift or a skill? Both. It’s a gift as soon as we want to do something with it. It’s a skill as soon as we work hard and constantly to improve it.

How do you know when you have created a winner? I never know. A success is always a surprise. There is no recipe.

Nuit-de-Tubereuse-100ml-High-Res

SPECIAL PLACE: L’Artisan Parfumeur Nuit de Tubéreuse

You have created well over 100 fragrances. Is there any particular fragrance that has a special place in your heart? Yes, maybe two or three of them, such as the original Eau d’Italie and L’Artisan Parfumeur Nuit de Tubéreuse.

What projects are you working on at the moment? I am working on different fragrance collections for brands such as Phuong Dang and Pont des Arts. Those brands are unknown at the moment and I have developed global collections for them. It is very exciting! I continue to work for other brands like Enchanted Forest, Grandiflora, Neela Vermeire and many others in the same way.

6x4_PhuongDang_PackShot

PASSION PROJECT: Phuong Dang fragrances.

What smell is the most evocative for you? The smell of earth. It’s the biggest and deepest one!