Thursday 26 May 2016


One of the problems with perfume, as with most other hobbies or pastimes, is that there will always be an element of snobbery from certain camps. This can be around a particular brand, certain perfumers, even the direction that companies choose to take their scents. I find the greatest cause of misinformation usually comes from this group as they wage a war against anything that classifies as "mainstream". The word that is bandied around constantly at the moment is "niche", but is it time that we finally put it to bed in favour of a different one? I know that I am sticking my head well and truly above the parapet but my heckles are raised and it's time to voice my opinion.

NICHE ... A shallow recess, a comfortable or suitable position, a specialised but profitable segment of a market. There are many more descriptions of the word, but in perfumery I feel that its true use has come to an end. What started as a small percentage of the market has now turned into a category of its own with larger houses creating their own "niche" lines. The problem that has happened is that once an opportunity for profit rears its head there is a tendency for everyone to jump on the bandwagon. Life used to be so much simpler in the world of the perfumer, but in recent years the expectation has changed.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there lived perfumers who made scents that they loved. Always striving to create something that was original and yet, at the same time, appealing, they honed their craft and challenged their customers. It was this diverse experimenting that resulted in the fragrance "families" that we have today. Companies took the latest trend and developed it in different directions, and every so often stumbled upon a new customer favourite. More recently, once a fragrance is popular the inevitable rampage of the clones begins. How many fragrances now resemble Lancôme's La Vie Est Belle?

When the big companies started to restrict their creative output the phenomenon of "niche" began. Small companies, solo perfumers, brave amateurs, they all attempted to fill the gap, that "shallow recess", that was missing in mainstream perfumery. Guerlain famously described its own development process as "creative audacity", and this pretty much summed up the original "niche" market. There was good, bad and ugly in equal proportion, but because they were operating in a different arena the perfume fans were far more forgiving.

With the big companies now including "niche" ranges within their established lines, under the guise of "exclusives", the term now seems pretty defunct. I would suggest that we now just describe companies as "independent" instead, but even that causes problems. Some companies operate "independently" within the ownership of larger organisations. So you see, even "independent" is difficult to qualify. A solo perfumer may create something which takes your breath away, but every so often a cloud of nondescript white musk is just what you need. Ultimately, be guided by your nose. Guerlain's Mon Exclusif deserves the same consideration as 4160 Tuesdays Babylon Sunset, just as Coty's Daisy Dream can sit happily next to Papillon's Salome.

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