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What is niche perfumery anyway?

As a turbulent child of the world of perfume production, niche perfumery is gaining popularity year after year. But what makes it different from the major brands found in the majority of neighbourhood perfume shops?

Published on
September 10th 2020

by
Samuel Fillon

Credit: Le Grand Musée du Parfum

What is black and white, gives off aggressive fragrances and is located every two hundred metres in the city centre? Answer: A Sephora! (Simply change the colours and you’ll get Ulta or Boots as well). 

These so-called selective perfume chains have become a must in the European olfactory landscape and sell a lot of fragrances with glamourous muses and perfect launches. After all, with glitter, luxury, and silver, what’s the problem? 

Unlike other beauty products, the composition of perfume is identical whether it is sold in France, Asia or the Middle East. Therefore, for major brands who are seeking to maximise their sales across the globe, the equation is simple. Create consensual fragrances, without taking any risks, that will please everyone, regardless of their cultural customs or differences in climate. To ensure they are aiming for the right target, the best weapon for brands is the ‘consumer test group’ and this written recipe:

  1. For French, Japanese and American (etc.) test groups to smell 10 different scents. 
  2. Measure the score given for each scent, by each group. 
  3. Select the fragrance that gives the best average results. 
  4. Stir and discover… 95% of the fragrances available in selective perfume shops’ shelves are perfumes that lack originality and all smell the same.

Niche perfumery is one that takes a risk in potentially displeasing you, but also surprising you beyond your expectations. Cleavage, originality, and quality are the key words of this trend which took off in the 90s with Serge Lutens, Frédéric Malle, L'Artisan Parfumeur and The Different Company. What was initially a fringe group of brands is becoming an increasingly popular movement. Using noble raw materials and top-of-the-range compositions, these fragrances contrast with the dull routine of the incessant variations of the major brands within the selective circuit. 

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To continue the exclusive experience, niche perfumeries and corners in department shops are pleasant places to visit, where the staff are usually competent and welcoming. Completely contrasting this, selective perfumery sales tactics mostly commissioned by the brands to sell certain products more than others, for example "25 Y-brand Z perfumes sold in a month and you'll get a bonus and a free skincare kit". It is easy to imagine what becomes of the personalised in-store advice under these conditions.  

There are exceptions that run both ways, including for the products - there are pearls sold in selective perfumery - but as you will have understood, your quest for the olfactory grail will no doubt lead you to push open the intimidating doors of unknown places. But I promise, your nose, unlike your wallet, will return it one hundredfold.  

Le parfum idéal est à votre portée.