This March, Belgian magazines Knack Weekend, Le Vif Weekend, FEELING and GAEL once again handed out the Belgian Beauty Awards. Besides make-up and personal care, there was also a category called Niche Perfume. But are the three nominated perfumes really 'niche'? Time for an analysis ...
Just to be clear, this is about the annual Belgian Beauty Awards. Why perfume is considered 'beauty' is still not entirely clear to me. Perfume is not make-up and a skincare product even less. Rather, it is an invisible accessory that underlines your personality, makes you feel a certain way or puts you in a certain mood. In that respect, it's more of an accessory, like jewellery or sunglasses, with the big difference that you can't see it. Even on facebook, there is no category 'perfumery', so we were forced to label our business 'beauty, cosmetics and personal care'. As far as I am concerned, perfume deserves a category on its own.
Why in 2023 the full jury consists exclusively of women is also a mystery to me, especially for the 'Niche Perfume' and 'Men's Perfume' categories. But that is another debate. What I want to talk about here is the term 'niche'.
Three perfumes were nominated for the Belgian Beauty Award of best Niche Perfume: Paris-Paris by Chanel, Rock the Myrrh by Dries Van Noten and Royal Tobacco by Amouage. The latter was eventually declared the winner.
Looking at the list, I wonder (again) what actually defines 'niche perfume'. After all, there is no official, objective definition. If you search around on the internet, you come across different definitions, which use different criteria, such as:
- ... Niche perfumes are produced in small batches and can only be found in a select number of shops
- ... Niche perfumes are more creative, complex and artistic than more commercial fragrances and contain more exclusive, higher-quality ingredients.
- ... Niche perfumes have a higher concentration of perfume oil and last longer on the skin
- ... Niche perfumes do not try to please everyone
- ... Niche perfumes focus on the perfumer and the ingredients used and do not try to present you with some ideal image (the successful man, the seductive woman, ...). Nor do they invest in expensive marketing campaigns
- ... Niche perfumes are made by smaller, independent companies that have perfume making as their main reason for existence (and thus do not consider perfume as a 'by-product', alongside other products such as clothing, jewellery, handbags or shoes)
These different definitions have one thing in common: they are quite subjective.
What is a 'small' batch? Does a perfume that is successful and therefore produced in larger quantities suddenly become no longer niche (think of the successful Aventus by Creed or Le Labo's Santal 33)? Is every perfume launched by a niche perfume house necessarily more creative and original? And what exactly is the definition of 'creative' or 'original'? Are only a few people allowed to like a niche perfume? How many fans does it take for a perfume to cease to be niche? Do all niche perfumes last longer than more commercial ones? And how many hours must a perfume be detectable on your skin to be labelled 'niche? These are questions I couldn't find answers to, perhaps because they simply don't exist. Most of these definitions sound more like marketing talk to justify the often more expensive price of a perfume. It is the main reason why I don't really like the term 'niche perfume'. The criterion 'made by a smaller, independent company that only produces perfume (or fragrance items)' is still the most 'objective'. Although that definition also directly implies that if such brands are bought over by larger conglomerates, they are instantly no longer niche (such as Frédéric Malle, Jo Malone and Le Labo, now owned by Estée Lauder).
Back to the Belgian Beauty Awards. Do the 3 nominees meet the definition(s) of 'niche'? In any case, the judges do not reveal what criteria they used to nominate the three perfumes in that category, nor what elements they considered to designate the winner.
Paris-Paris by Chanel
Chanel can hardly be called a small brand. It is not a perfume house either, but a luxury brand that sells clothes, make-up, jewellery, handbags, shoes, glasses, etc. in addition to perfume. It is still one of the few independent luxury brands, though. Paris-Paris belongs to the exclusive 'Les Eaux de Chanel' line and is only available in Chanel boutiques, so it is more exclusive and probably produced in much smaller quantities than, say, Chanel N°5. They also explicitly highlight their in-house perfumer Olivier Polge, which in turn highlights the creative process and the quality of the ingredients used (such as damask rose).
Rock the Myrrh by Dries Van Noten
In 2018, Puig, a Spanish family-owned group that, among others, also owns Paco Rabanne, Jean Paul Gaultier, L'Artisan Parfumeur and Penhaligon's, became the main shareholder of the Dries Van Noten brand. The perfumes were launched only after that takeover, so not exactly by a "small independent company". The brand is also still primarily a 'fashion brand', which presented its first (men's) collection in 1986. Exclusive it certainly is. You can only find the perfumes in Dries Van Noten boutiques and some exclusive department stores such as Selfridges in London. They probably are produced in smaller quantities. Each perfume was created in collaboration with a (different) perfumer. The perfumer is listed on the brand's website and focuses on the scent notes used when describing the perfume. So no use of photo models or actors trying to sell you a certain ideal image.
Royal Tobacco by Amouage
Haute Parfumerie house Amouage was founded in 1983 at the request of Qaboos Bin Said, the Sultan of Oman. His goal was to put Oman back on the map as a luxury perfume producer with a rich perfume tradition and history. At the same time, he also wanted an exclusive gift he could give to world leaders visiting Oman. No expense was spared to realise this dream. After all, a Sultan has more resources than the average perfumer or entrepreneur dreaming of his own brand. Renowned perfumer Guy Robert created the first pair of perfumes: Gold Man and Gold Woman. They were presented in luxurious, fully gold-plated crystal flacons and were described by the press as 'the most valuable perfume in the world'. A whole series of perfumes followed, each created by renowned perfumers or emerging talents in perfumery and using exceptional ingredients. Consequently, you quickly pay more than EUR 300 for a bottle of Amouage perfume. Amouage is an independent brand, and meanwhile counts some 45 different fragrances, mostly launched as 'pairs', with a version for men and a version for women. The house describes itself not as niche, but as the ultimate in luxury. In any case, their exclusivity and expensive price tag mean they are not available to everyone.
I perfer not to comment on the fact whether these three perfumes excel in terms of originality and creativity. After all, that is rather subjective. If you take the time to read reviews about them, you are guaranteed to come across different opinions. Whether they effectively stay longer on the skin than more commercial perfumes I do not dare to say either. For that, I would have to be able to do scientifically correct analyses.
Depending on the definition(s) you use, you could describe each of the nominated perfumes as niche or not, but it is far from self-evident. What they do seem to have in common is that they were released by companies with significant financial resources, which can more easily attract the attention of press and media. The fact that the perfumes target a very specific segment of the market (the real meaning of the word 'niche') has not so much to do with the product itself, but rather with a clever strategy of distributing the perfumes only in their own shops or by putting a premium price on them. This automatically makes them exclusive and only accessible to a select few.
Royal Tobacco most closely fits the various definitions, but Amouage positions itself as a luxury brand and not a niche one. In short, the term 'niche' is pretty fuzzy. Perhaps it is time to shake up that term and look for better terms and definitions that are more unambiguous and easier to understand, also for those who do not belong to the select club of "perfume connoisseurs". Or maybe we should just completely stop trying to pigeonhole brands and perfumes, because there will undoubtedly be exceptions to every rule.
Do you have the answer? I'd love to read it.
You can find the full list of winners of the 2023 Belgian Beauty Awards on: