To niche or not to niche?


“So, what exactly are you writing about?”a friend asked me directly. “With so many great perfumes coming up in a year, what’s all that niche buzz?” And more: “If my sales lady at the XY store knows all about the newest perfumes, why would I need you?” and “Niche? That sounds so snobbish to me!” I love questions, there’s no wrong question. This conversation greatly helped me with QandA’s for my blog: here are some of the A’s:

The word niche is becoming very present: niche perfume brands have grown in number and in the past few years, their constant growth lessening the market share of mainstream brands, has risen rapidly: 60% since 2005. Which, of course, means that mainstream brands made less money. When you think about billions of the Euro’s worth of a pie, oh yes! – niche is cutting seriously in it.

When did all this niche jazz start? Actually, you may say that niche perfumes existed long before mass production: kings and queens had their olfactory signatures, their own specially designed formulas. Nowadays, you don’t have to be royalty to have your very own special perfume. I think that niche is a counter action to mass, the result of the growing population of olfactory connoseiurs after the economic shock of 2008. and focus on individuality. As with, for example, wine, chocolate or coffee, consumers are now increasingly keen to learn about composition and provenance, fair trade included.

Definition(s)

The Fragrance Foundation (TFF, NY) once categorized fragrances as “niche” or “mainstream” based on the number of doors they were supported in (that is, the number of retail outlets stocking a specific scent or brand). This would generally mean that the majority of scents you find in large retail franchises and department stores are classed as mainstream or “designer” scents, such as those launched by fashion houses.

The Fragrance Foundation now categorizes Niche Fragrances as Indie Fragrances, the smaller, successful, entrepreneurial brands not supported by a large company. The Foundation defines an Indie brand as “one that has been on the market for at least two years and is distributed in 1 to 25 doors.”

Niche perfumes provide an interesting and special kind of scent that is difficult to find, using higher concentrations of perfume extracts. Yes, they usually come with a high(er) price but nevertheless, perfume lovers find great value in every drop. You also might say that the purpose of niche perfumes is to tell a story and evoke memories through scents.

Basic niche brands principles: 

– They have own perfumer in charge of the fragrances of the house, just like it used to be.

– A selective approach to the distribution of products: no mainstream retail stores.

– No advertising, apart from chosen magazine articles and interviews with prominent media. Independent bloggers are welcome. For them, good reputation is the best way to promote their perfumes.

One step further…

Niche, indie or artisan? I don’t want to confuse you, but here comes more terminology:

Niche: everything that is not designer. Niche originally implied something different than what you find at department stores, but the term has become less meaningful as the niche market has exploded.

Indie: niche, but are smaller, independently owned brands.

Artisan: A subset of indie that refers to brands that produce artisan-made products – artisan means handmade, in-house. The best artisan products are original and creative, and they contain a piece of the creator, a touch of the artist’s hand. Creators matter.

Why Niche? 

Niche people often argue that boutique perfumes offer the consumer the opportunity to reward oneself with a scent that is both uncommon and individual. Many might reason that niche equates to quality; in that greater attention to detail has been given to the construction of the perfume, and that components are of the highest calibre. Many prefer to pay more for the privilege of not smelling like someone’s ex-husband or mother-in-law… Also, they want to know the person behind their perfume, the artist of scents, the composer. Last but not the least: the point is to express yourself.

Why Designer? 

The designer brands also have an edge. What they lack in terms of exclusivity, they make up for in price and mass appeal – the consumer buying into the lifestyle that these designer brands represent. More and more designer brands are creating their own niche brands. In some of their high-end boutiques you can also use the services of a personal fragrance adviser.

What’s In It For You?

As consumers, we win. Not only do we have full access to our designer scents in any and every mall, but niche perfumes, thanks to the internet, are now becoming more accessible.

Sales people are getting more and more perfume-educated. To sell. Designer brands provide them with precise how-to instructions, which is great. But what advisers like me do is something different. Personal. Holistic.

I believe that your fragrance is an expression of who you are, your personality, your feelings, passions, emotions and how you present yourself to the world.

The Plum Girl
Photo: © Kornwa Dreamstime

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