I have been visiting this site on and off for several years (my original screen-name was Carlos3), and have sampled a broad range of designer and so-called niche scents, if not quite as broad a range as some. Early many of us are consumed by the idea that "niche" = superior, and likewise with experience most of us do not find this to be the case. I've been wondering at this whole idea of niche fragrances.
A lot of the justification for niche pricing is the idea that niche fragrances use superior, more expensive formulations - though I have seen no documented evidence of that. Most insider comments of quality or relatively expensive formulations have been for standard releases by Chanel and Guerlain, not niches. As we become price insensitive in this hobby I think we tend to forget that even a common designer fragrance at $50 a bottle is very expensive, and heavily marked up at that price.
Indeed the more I watch prices climb, the more I suspect that we are watching a market correction upwards birthing a new upper class of what should properly be called prestige perfumery. I think that the fragrance industry has long underestimated the price that the market will bear for fragrance, and they are now climbing to discover that new level. Given that most people who wear designer fragrance cannot afford to wear designer clothing, those more affluent consumers of designer clothes can be drawn into equally exclusive and more fashionable prestige fragrances. Fragrances that are not better, but merely more expensive with intentionally limited distribution. I recently read an article interviewing Lyn Harris who was blatant in her determination that Miller Harris products remain "aspirational" (read: expensive) with limited availabilty. Having tried Fleurs de Sel recently, however pleasant there was nothing in that juice justifying $220 a bottle. I am inclined to loan the emperor a bathrobe.
Likewise trying ELO Antiheroes, a simple and enjoyable cheap lavendar, probably meriting $20 a bottle priced well over $100 for 50ml. Absurd. Newborn houses springing up on this new prestige bubble like Killian make the whole trend only more transparent, as does the calculated exclusifying (if that is a word) of the previously common. Guerlain takes things like Derby and re-release them as exclusives at three or four times the price, as is Chanel. The whole terminology of the phenomena centers around the word exclusive, across several languages.
As basenoters I suspect that we are the unintended consumers of these prestige products. As connoisseurs I think we try to see more and hope for more in these products than is really there in most cases. Even cases where one may typically make arguments for non-mainstream artistic merit (Lutens, et al.), pricing and distribution is again deliberately aspirational and heavily "Exclusive."
As an occassional buyer and frequent wearer of these prestige fragrances I begin to feel like a party crasher at some society ball. How exactly did I get here, and where are my clothes?
"When he shook hands with me my nostrils were assailed by all the perfumes of Arabia."
- W. Somerset Maugham