1-minute quick read:
The fragrance you won’t find in large retail stores is a niche fragrance.
- Origin of inspiration
- Difference in ingredients
- Product coverage
In my opinion, there is no absolute answer to which is better; what matters is your personal preference.
- Less output
- More expensive ingredients
As long as you find one you truly love, it’s worth the price.
Now let’s dive in.
In In recent years, the term “niche fragrance” has been popular among all perfume fans. Login to Instagram, Twitter, or other online communities, you must have read or heard this buzzword a lot of times from the latest reviews or comments. So what is a niche fragrance? What’s the difference between niche and designer fragrances?
What does niche brand mean?
The word “niche” literally means “a specialized segment of the market for a particular kind of product or service”. In perfumery, the term “niche fragrance” was first come up with by The Fragrance Foundation, the organizer of the FIFI Awards, with the purpose of distinguishing it from “mainstream” fragrance houses including Chanel, Gucci, Hermès, etc.
What is a niche fragrance is categorized based on the numbers of retail franchises selling them. Let me clarify: the fragrance you won’t find in large retail stores is a niche fragrance (we’re not talking about the cheap, low-end fragrances).
So “niche perfume” is a relative concept to designer/mainstream perfumes. If one day it grows bigger and even outsells some designer fragrances, it won’t deserve to be named as “niche”.
The best niche perfume brands include Acqua di Parma, Amouage, Annick Goutal, Atelier Cologne, Byredo, CB I Hate Perfume, Creed perfume, Diptyque, Frederic Malle, Jo Malone, Le Labo, L’artisan Parfumeur Paris, Maison Margiela, Miller Harris, Penhaligon’s, Serge Lutens (one of the long lasting niche fragrances), etc.
What the designer perfume brands we see at Sephora utterly pursue after is the market share. They want their scents to be smelt in 9 out of 10 people! So fragrance companies must work best to cater to the majority of people.
But niche fragrances, created by the professional perfumer from niche perfume houses, smells unique or even bazaar. And my personal answer to “what does niche fragrance mean” is that perfumers tend to use exquisite ingredients to express their ideas rather than caring about the market demand.
Niche fragrance brands seldom advertise, nor do they appear in magazines or other media like many designer brands. A good reputation is the best way to advertise.
What makes a fragrance niche?
The most important reason why many people wear a niche parfum is that they don’t want to smell the same as others. After all, there are always perfume bonkers who:
- feel shame to “share” the same perfume with 50,000 people around the world;
- just genuinely love the scent of gasoline, bacon, oil paint, or garlic;
- love looking for the ultimate olfactory stimulations on purpose, smelling whatever is dramatic;
- whose various bazaar tastes cannot be met by designer perfumes.
Over the centuries, European perfumers have taken administrative commands from the royalty to create their exclusive scents. That is why the niche fragrance dared to break through in creating new scents.
Thanks to perfumers’ continuous breakthrough and experimentation to scents, we can find more bazaar scents among niche fragrances. For example, CB I Hate Perfume Fire From Heaven smells like a fire-burning dry wood, very powerful. Compared with celery, coriander, or garlic perfumes, this smoke smell is more striking.
The rich and varied scents tend to isolate the designer fragrance persons. So if you want to find a favorite niche fragrance, please be patient. And you might need a bit of luck: after trying a dozen, the perfect one is still not there. It usually takes longer to decide a niche signature than a designer one.
By adding synthetic fragrances, designer perfumes obviously distinguish the scent into the top, middle and base notes. However, just as all colors will mix into black, so will the scents of most designer perfumes converge in the end. Regardless of the top note, you would find their drydown smell almost the same.
In niche fragrances, on the contrary, there is a vague transformation among three notes; some of them smell linear, and some have just top and base notes. Below are the ones I’ve tried and loved:
- Penhaligon’s Lavandula: soft gentle lavender
- Penhaligon’s Peoneve: feminine peony
- Byredo Inflorescence: floral fresh lemon but removes the pungent part
- Jo Malone Basil and Neroli: green note and neroli
- Jo Malone Red Roses: 100% rose
Besides, their names usually manifest the main note. Think of Jo Malone, seeing Wood Sage & Sea Salt, Nectarine Blossom & Honey, English Pear & Freesia, Peony & Blush Suede – there isn’t much guesswork to know how it smells like.
Though niche fragrance fans constitute the minority of perfume consumers, this group is growing rapidly. While designer fragrances are almost at their wits’ end creating new scent configurations, niche fragrances have opened doors to bottle design.
The annual FiFi Awards also reward “Best Packaging of the Year” in addition to “Fragrance of the Year”. But consumers who uphold simplicity and minimalism may not recognize the criteria judging luxury perfumes – the exquisite engraving and gemstone seem too dramatic.
In 2016, Byredo launched Unnamed, an eau de parfum with a blank name label on the bottle.
Even Fragrantica doesn’t sort it into any note group. But interestingly, the package comes with a sticker paper printed with letters, numbers, and punctuations that gives people the right to name the perfume.
The ending, of course, makes both parties happy. Netizens share their stories on the blog, image, and video, which help Byredo again hit the news headline. That is not surprising, since the booming niche fragrances well ingratiate what today’s consumers love: personalization and simplicity.
What’s the difference between niche and designer fragrances?
Origin of inspiration
- Niche fragrances: from the perfumer’s need for artistic expression
- Designer fragrances: from market demand
Difference in ingredients
Compared to designer perfumes, niche perfumes will pay more attention to the ingredient themselves. Sold at the same retail price, they use much more natural ingredients including Rose Otto and natural musk — you know, which have limited output.
- Niche fragrances: self-produce
Niche brands seldom share the whole process including formulation, ingredients, and production with third parties except for special contract corporations.
You may think of it as a tradition over time: niche fragrances were originally custom-made for the nobles by family workshops, later handed down one generation to the next. In other words, niche fragrances well preserve the ancient craftsmanship, showing absolute respect for perfumers’ inspiration.
- Designer fragrances: OEM
Designer brands make demands on well-known fragrance companies such as IFF, and the rest formulation and production will be operated by OEMs. Perfumes made in this way are more like standard products on the assembly lines.
Generally, designer fragrances are not the main business scope of the fashion/luxury brands they’re supported in: think of Chanel’s skincare, make-up and beauty products, Bvlgari’s jewelry, and Hermès’ luxury goods.
But niche fragrance brands such as Diptyque, Penhaligon’s, and Byredo cover almost all fragrant products including bath oil, body wash, hair spray in addition to the fragrance line.
So covering the same wide range of products, is Tom Ford designer or niche? Yep, it’s noteworthy that some luxury brands also launch high-end perfumes in order to maintain their brand’s rarity, such as Giorgio Armani Prive, Hermès Hermessence, Dior La Collection Privée, and Tom Ford Private Blend.
They are made of exquisite ingredients, sold at a high price, produced on a much smaller scale with hard access, highlighted with distinctive avant-garde style, all of which make them niche fragrances as well.
Are niche fragrances better than designer?
Those who get nauseated by the aroma in retail stores might think of designer perfumes as “low-end”. But like I said, designer perfumes are made to appeal to the majority of people and makes the market its guide. Even if you blind buy one, you won’t get something devilishly terrible.
But that’s not the case for niche fragrances. Opening Pandora’s box of them will get you three results: “smells OK”“God this is damn good”“NOT ANYMORE”.
Perfumers of a niche fragrance emphasize personalization in their work, dare to spark inspiration, and seldom care about the market. Many niche fragrances we don’t even describe as “fragrant”.
Aside from mere scent lovers or perfume collectors, most people turn to niche fragrances to be different, and be remembered without being guessed what the perfume is.
If it’s considered the social etiquette of human society to wear the designer fragrance (provided it is used appropriately), well then the niche fragrance is more about pleasing yourself, enjoying life, and pursuing a better life (only when you find the right and loved one).
Designer fragrances don’t mean they smell bad, just that more people are using them. So there are more risks of smelling the same as a passer-by or recognized by a nasty colleague. In my opinion, there is no absolute answer to which is better; what matters is your personal preference.
But one thing is for sure: trying niche perfume samples before bottles will prevent you from losing unnecessary $$.
Why are niche fragrances so expensive? Are niche fragrances worth it?
Even popular niche fragrances produce about 10,000 bottles per collection every year, while Chanel and other designer brands produce over 10 million bottles. Due to such high volumes, production costs reduce greatly.
More expensive ingredients
You may need some math basics for a clearer understanding:
- Ordinary synthetic ingredients price: $50/g; ordinary natural ingredients price: $500/g (higher-end ingredients are 10 or 100 times this price);
- About 5 tons of roses yield only 2 pounds of essential oil;
- 75000 saffron flowers extract just 1 pound of essential oil. And it takes about 200 flowers to harvest 1 gram of pistil, which is the only available part of the whole flower;
- Frederic Malle Carnal Flower, known as the best tuberose perfume, uses tuberose essential oil worth $15,000/kg.
However, in the eye of the niche fragrance’s true lovers, they are worth the price. Imagine you find the one you truly love, but it seems unaffordable, so you start searching for cheaper “niche fragrance dupes”. The result? You may end up spending more money before getting the right “duplicate”.
So I’d suggest you first check your budget, and start with some cologne samples first. When you decide on a signature one, it’s all worth it. This rule works for both designer and niche fragrances. Things we insanely love are always irreplaceable, aren’t they?
Now it’s your turn:
Have you got a better understanding of what is a niche fragrance?
Do you prefer a designer or niche? Why?
Let me know in the comment.