Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg: Skins Cosmetics, Luminance, Dis-Chem Bedford Centre

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Nasomatto Absinth

This post has been on my must-do list for several months since the opening of the Dutch niche brands retailer, Skins Cosmetics, in Johannesburg. As I am a bit of a Christmas Grinch, I didn’t want this post to be specifically about Christmas gifting (naff!). This is not a comprehensive list of all the fragrance shopping options in the city, but it’s a start for locals and visitors alike. I will update it over the course of 2018, with other South African cities to follow, too.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Skins Cosmetics

Suffice to say, fragrance shopping in Johannesburg is an increasingly mixed bag. While designer fragrances still dominate the scene, niche fragrances are at last getting the attention they deserve in the economic capital of South Africa.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Penhaligon's Much About The Duke

PERFUME PORTRAITS: Penhaligon’s Much Ado About The Duke is one of the niche fragrances available at Skins Cosmetics. You can read my review of this EDP here:

We’ll start in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. As this is the wealthy part of the city, most of the fragrance shopping is to be found here, particularly in shopping malls. Oh, we do love our malls in Johannesburg!

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Luminance

DELUXE DESTINATION: Armani Privé, Tom Ford and Frédéric’ Malle are some of the perfume brands to be found at Luminance in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. All store pics supplied. Fragrance pics my own.


Don’t be put off by the intimidating shop front. Once inside this store, you will find top perfume brands among the designer clothing, including Tom Ford, Armani Privé, Frédéric’ Malle, Comme des Garçons and Diptyque. As far as I know this is the only place in South Africa that stocks the venerable Santa Maria Novella range, since the dedicated store closed in Cape Town. These fragrances caught my eye and nose during my most recent Luminance visit.

Frédéric’ Malle Carnal Flower

An exceptional take on tuberose (and other white florals) from Dominique Ropion that casts a sensual (but never suffocating) spell. It also features an utterly gorgeous coconut note.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Frederic Malle Carnal Flower

Comme des Garçons Black EDT

A smoky (almost burnt) composition that intrigues from start to finish. Black pepper, incense, olibanum, leather, liquorice, pepperwood and vetiver are among the stand-out notes.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Comme des Garcons Black

Armani Privé Rose d’Arabie EDP 

Damask rose, oud, patchouli and vanilla get the Middle East treatment. Even if oriental perfumes are not your thing, this top-notch scent is one to be explored and adored.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Armani Prive Rose D'Arabie

Luminance, Hyde Park Corner, William Nicol Drive, Hyde Park, Johannesburg. Tel: 011 325 4765.

Skins Cosmetics

The Dutch niche brands retailer is the newest addition to the Johannesburg fragrance shopping scene. It stocks an impressive selection of heritage and experimental brands. With 36 fragrance brands, it’s easy to get greedy here (guilty as charged).

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Skins Cosmetics

You’ll find the following fragrance brands here: Abel, Aether, Antonia’s Flowers, Atelier Cologne, Boellis, By Kilian, Comme des Garçons, D.S. & Durga, Diptyque, E. Coudray, Escentric Molecules, Ex Nihilo, Floris, Frédéric’ Malle, Heeley Parfums, Keiko Mecheri, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Le Labo, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Memo, Nasomatto, Nomenclature, Orto Parisi, Penhaligon’s, Sabé Masson, Terry de Gunzburg, 27 87 Perfumes, Vilhelm Parfumerie, Widian and Yvra 1958. Roja Dove recently arrived in the store, so even more choices, choices…

“The staff are very helpful and enthusiastic. For serious buyers a personal consultation, refreshments and a generous supply of samples are part of the package.”

The staff are very helpful and enthusiastic. For serious buyers a personal consultation, refreshments and a generous supply of samples are part of the package. It’s also home to a variety of niche beauty and homeware brands, including Marie-Stella-Maris, Algenist, Eve Lom, Fornasetti, MenScience, Molton Brown, Susanne Kaufmann and Verso.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Skins Cosmetics

With so many brands to explore, Skins Cosmetics demands several visits. These are just some of the fragrances I sniffed out during my expedition earlier this month.

Floris Patchouli EDP 

Hmmm… Curious! Although whisky is not an officially listed note, the opening is drenched in it. When the whisky runs dry, notes of coconut milk, iris, patchouli, cedar, amber and myrrh come to the fore.

Widian Delma EDP 

A soft floral (jasmine, freesia, geranium) and spicy (nutmeg) scent from this Abu Dhabi perfume house founded by Ali Aljaberi. Although on the sweeter side (peach and marshmallow notes alert!), it’s surprisingly subtle.

Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi EDP By Kilian

I tried this one because of its ooh-la-la name and seductive notes (ylang-ylang, tuberose, Bulgarian rose, gardenia, sandalwood, cedar). While it doesn’t quite live up to the promise of it name, it’s still a well-executed Alberto Morillas creation.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi EDP By Kilian

Orto Parisi Brutus EDP

Perfumer Alessandro Gualtieri turns up the ante with three notes – bergamot, mandarin orange and patchouli. It’s potent, statement-making stuff.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Orto Parisi Brutus

Nasomatto Absinth Extrait De Parfum

Another Alessandro Gualtieri creation. Deliciously deep and earthy, with wormwood, vetiver and green notes, it’s one of those love-or-hate fragrances. Either way, you’ve got to admire its chutzpah.

Fragrance Shopping In Johannesburg - Nasomatto Absinth Extrait De Parfum

Skins Cosmetics, Sandton City, 163 5th Street, Shop U80, Upper Level, Sandton, Johannesburg. Tel: 011 883 1350.

Dis-Chem Bedford Centre

Let’s not forget mass market retailers for fragrance shopping in Johannesburg. This branch of the nationwide pharmacy chain is my local spot where I go for a catch-up on all the new designer fragrance releases. What I like most about this store is the friendliness and knowledge of the staff. They actually want your business and don’t treat you like a potential shoplifter if you’re just browsing!

Dis-Chem, Bedford Centre, G6 & G7, Bedford Gardens, Bedfordview. Tel:  011 417 2600.


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 ( 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.


“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 (

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 (


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 ( 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