There's no industry where the adjective 'niche' is used so often as in perfumery. But what is the definition of niche? What does it stand for? Does it equal better and more expensive? And does it matter?
What is niche?
According to the dictionary, the adjective "niche" indicates products, services or interests that appeal to a small, specialised section of people.
In other words, niche means 'different' and not wanting to please everyone. However, this definition does not make any statement about price or quality.
What does niche mean in perfumery?
It seems that the perfume industry has really embraced this adjective, making it the new buzz word for several years now. I don't know of any other industry where the adjective "niche" is used so often. For example, have you ever heard of niche restaurants, hairdressers, DJs or shoe shops?
There is no official definition of niche perfume, but commonly, a distinction is being made between :
... Designer perfumes:
Perfumes from (larger) luxury companies, especially fashion houses, which you can find in just about every department store, airport and perfume shop. These brands offer much more than perfume, which is actually only a (profitable) 'by-product'. They launch perfumes to give more people the chance to buy something from their brand and, of course, to increase their turnover. To do this, they spend huge budgets on the development of different formulas that they test in customer panels to make sure they appeal to a wide audience, and even more on marketing campaigns with famous models or actors to make their fragrances extra attractive. Launching a new fragrance is like releasing a new film: the risks are high and they want to be sure it will be a blockbuster. If they have a winner, they create endless variations (called "flankers") of the perfume and, if possible, shower gel, body milk, deo, etc... to please even more people and generate more revenue.
So you mainly pay for the packaging, the research and the marketing. The perfume oil itself only represents a few percent of the price. However, this does not mean that these are bad perfumes. After all, most iconic perfumes fall into this category. Think of Chanel n°5, Terre d'Hermes, Arpège by Lanvin or Poison by Dior.
The perfumes of these brands are mainly created by external perfumers. They can be self-employed, but are usually employed by large, international 'fragrance producers' such as Firmenich, Givaudan or IFF. The first two groups are Swiss, by the way.
... celebrity perfumes:
Perfumes bearing the name of a celebrity, such as Beyoncé, David Beckham or Ariana Grande. A kind of luxury merchandising. Actually, we can be brief about this: you could call them 'niche' because they probably find their way to just their fans, but these perfumes mainly have a commercial purpose. Whether they really give you the allure of a celebrity remains to be seen.
... niche perfumes:
Perfumes from (smaller) companies that only make perfume (and sometimes other scented products such as candles). They usually hire external perfumers for the creation of their perfumes.
... indie perfumes:
Perfumes from very small brands where the owner is also the 'nose' or perfumer. Indie stands for Independent. They are therefore not dependent on external 'noses'.
How niche is niche?
Based on the above definitions, is it easy to determine whether a perfume is niche or not? The definitions mainly say something about the type of company that markets the perfume, but they say little about what the real difference is between all those perfumes. Moreover, there are countless exceptions, and the different categories are converging.
The rise and success of niche perfumes has not gone unnoticed by designer brands. They have responded by introducing more exclusive lines, such as Armani Privé and Dior Collection Privée, in order to capture part of the growing niche market. These lines are more expensive and cannot be found in every perfumery, sometimes even only in the shops of the brand itself. But can you call them 'niche'?
What about perfume brands like Guerlain, Acqua di Parma or Tom Ford? They are responsible for highly successful iconic perfumes such as Shalimar, Samsara, Acqua di Parma Colonia and Black Orchid. For these brands, perfume is not just a lucrative by-product but their main source of income. They all belong to international luxury concerns such as LMVH or Estée Lauder. Today, you can find them in every medium-sized or large city in the world, each with 70 or more different fragrances, something for every taste. You can't call them 'designer', but are they really 'niche'?
It gets even more difficult with avant-garde brands like Comme des Garçons or Maison Martin Margiëla. It's true that their perfumes appeal to a narrower public, but both also belong to international groups. Although selective, can you call them 'niche'?
By far the best known 'niche' brands are luxurious and exclusive brands such as Creed, Frederic Malle, Serge Lutens, Le Labo, by Kilian, Maison Francis Kurkdjian or Byredo. Although we call them 'niche', each of them has released more than 40 different fragrances and are now part of an international group. They are all pioneers who then merged into a larger company to continue growing. Can you still call them niche? Or is it a convenient way for big concerns to gain access to the 'niche' segment? They brought us hyped perfumes, such as Aventus, Portrait of a Lady or Santal 33, but if 'niche' means that they are only for a limited audience, then these perfumes are probably long past that select status.
In addition to these better known names, there are hundreds of smaller brands that market perfumes. Every day, new ones are emerge and others disappear. It is difficult to see the forest for the trees. It is also quite a challenge for the brands themselves to get noticed. What they have in common is that they offer a limited number of perfumes that are made in small quantities and can only be found in a few places. But above all, they are the passionate life's work of the founder. Their company usually consists of only one or, at the most, a handful of people. If the term 'niche' means anything at all, this is what we think it means.
Is niche better (and more expensive)?
Smaller niche brands often save on packaging and do not engage in (paid) marketing. This allows them to use nobler ingredients. You pay more for the actual product and less for everything around it. That they are often more expensive is mainly due to the fact that they produce much smaller quantities, which drives up their purchasing and production costs.
Although such brands obviously have to be profitable to survive, they do have an important advantage: they only have to find a limited number of customers for their products each year. This means they can be more creative. Their perfumes do not have to appeal to millions of people. True niche perfumes are more original and contain more expensive ingredients. You get better value for money but most of all: you buy a personal and unique product made with love and devotion.
Of course, as in any lucrative industry, there are less honourable brands and you see huge price differences in the niche market. Some brands do go for very expensive packaging, or just drive up their price to make it even more exclusive while the quality of the product is therefore not necessarily better.
What difference does it make?
You have good and less good perfumes in every category and price range. Original creations and copy cats. In that respect, whether a perfume is 'niche' or not is actually irrelevant. It is a term that is confusing, misused and says little.
Because the range of brands and perfumes is so vast, choosing a perfume is no easy task. That is why we often fall back on well know brands, classics or hypes. These are safe choices. But do such choices mean you really have a perfume that suits you? A perfume that moves you and is an extension of your personality?
There is a good chance you may have never heard of the brands we offer. You could call them 'niche'. But that's not what it's about. We carefully and diligently selected brands with a story. Creations by passionate people we admire, who put their heart and soul in their brand and with whom we have a personal relationship. For us, it is not so much about the brand, but about the people, the perfumes and the emotions they can evoke.