A lot of food for thought here. Thanks for sharing your view.
Oops, lost the original text in an edit.
The gist (it was a long one, be glad it's gone ) is that the definition of niche doesn't seem to fit a lot of houses called such, imo. And to have a fragrance specific definition would be great, but there doesn't appear to be agreement on what it would be. Price, availability, mass appeal, quality, pedigree of ingredients, etc
To say that designer is the opposite of niche doesn't really fit if Serge Lutens, Clive Christian, or Tom Ford have niche offerings. Those houses design other things, sell other things, and are known for other things.
A company may make only fragrance, but then isn't considered niche because the fragrances exclusive in price, ingredients, scent profile, or amount on shelves.
Last edited by maricle; 14th November 2013 at 04:13 AM.
A lot of food for thought here. Thanks for sharing your view.
Remember that while it is perfectly acceptable to criticize the content of a post - criticizing the poster is not.
Mean spirited, nasty, snide, sarcastic, hateful, and rude individuals on Basenotes don't warrant or deserve other Basenoters' acknowledgement or respect.
Interesting insights. At the same time, speaking strictly from my viewpoint, I have noticed also a reverse but also comparable phenomenon. It may happen that fragrances mostly labeled as designer are somewhat difficult (at least for my nose) to tell apart from niche. Not just their exclusive lines, sometimes even their regular fragrance lines too.
The term is almost meaningless. It was apparent from other threads that it meant different things to different people. To my mind if it doesn't apply to a company who only make fragrances there is no point in using it at all.
I take the word "niche" to refer to it's distribution - the "doors" or businesses selling niche are much fewer than the businesses selling "drugstore" or designer fragrances. Not only is there a limited number of businesses selling niche, but the products ("niche" can refer to any type of product, not just fragrance - Ferrari and Rolex are niche, for example) themselves are aimed at a much narrower segment of the population. I would say that niche does not necessarily have anything DIRECTLY to do with higher quality or even higher cost except that those characteristics are usually the result of THE limited distribution and/or more narrowly intended clientele. One tends not to find most of those fragrances referred to as niche in drugstores or KMart, or WalMart. Even the more exclusive department stores will specialize in designer scents and have limited numbers of niche products.
At least that was the way it was before the internet. The availability of "niche" (and designer as well) had been increased tremendously through the internet. I know I would have a difficult time knowing about, finding, and/or buying even something like Bleu de Channel if it weren't for the internet.
Last edited by foetidus; 11th November 2013 at 02:07 AM.
To me, niche implies a fragrance that is NOT something I can typically find in the department store. At least where I am from, the department stores are pretty limited. (I understand that is not the case in larger cities though) In my, admittedly limited experience, the fragrances from Niche houses use combinations of notes that aren't even pleasant necessarily, to the general public.
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So uniqueness is a significant factor in what makes niche to me.
Maricle, you have made many valid observations.
The definition of "niche" has been debated many times on Basenotes.
I don't think there has ever been unanimous agreement on any particular definition.
In my time as a fragrance enthusiast, I have made some simple observations:
1. It is often claimed that niche houses use higher quality, or more natural, ingredients. I have seen no proof of this as a general proposition.
The ongoing CCC trend (Calone-Code-Clone) is probably responsible for this misconception.
In fact, designer fragrances like Jean Patou Joy have a history of being very costly to produce.
2. I see no proof that niche fragrances are more masterfully blended than designers. In fact, emphasis on a single note suggests that many niche fragrances are far less complex in structure. The designer fragrance Esencia by Loewe used to advertise that their blend was made from over 100 ingredients. I doubt many niche fragrances have such complexity.
3. Many "niche" houses have sidelines to add to profit. Selling T-Shirts does not change the fragrance.
So... there is no universal definition.
In my head, I have rationalised it this way: there is no such thing as a niche house, but there are niche fragrances.
When the fragrance is designed to be as widely popular as possible, this is what I call "designer" (Creed may claim to be a niche house, but as far as I am concerned, the great and deliberate popularity of GIT makes it a designer fragrance).
When the fragrance is designed to appeal greatly to a small niche of people, this is what I call "niche" (Lalique may be a designer house, but their fragrance Encre Noire appeals to a narrow group making it an obvious niche fragrance).
So, when you wear a fragrance that you love, but won't have great popular appeal, you have gone "niche". If you wear a fragrance that has great popular appeal, you have gone "designer", regardless of the claimed niche status of the house.
I accept that my argument is full of holes and that many will disagree... but this is how I have rationalised the definition of "niche".
No doubt, other rationalisations are equally valid.
There was once a very knowledgeable Basenoter here called "Scentemental".
He wrote a number of posts challenging the status of niche fragrances.
I believe he labelled them as "false Gods" and made very strong arguments to back up his well considered opinions.
If these posts are still in the database, they are well worth reading.
I tend to go along more with the Fragrance Foundation's previous definition of what makes a scent niche (or luxe, or indie or designer or whatever). Using a definition of what makes a house niche just doesn't work well for me.
The categories, and their definitions, have changed over the years. Now the Indie category states "...The “Indie” Award recognizes a fragrance launched by a brand not distributed or owned by a large company and sold in under 50 stores in the U.S.
In 2012 it broke it down like this:
"INDIE: sold in 1 to 50 doors (actual # of stores) in the U.S. including online
LUXE: department and specialty stores - more than 250 doors
NOUVEAU NICHE: artisanal brand that is distributed/owned by a large company – up to
BROAD APPEAL: mass merchandisers—drugstores/chains
SPECIALTY BRAND: one retailer and/or brand name in one retailer
DIRECT TO CONSUMER: on-line/catalog/door-to-door "
Before that they called niche scents that were sold in up to 500 doors and there were no categories for Indie or Luxe iirc. That is how I still think of niche. The brand has less to do with it than where it is available for sale.
Last edited by socalwoman; 11th November 2013 at 02:52 AM.
I always thought of niche fragrances defined by this merriam-webster entry:
Niche - the situation in which a business's products or services can succeed by being sold to a particular kind or group of people
So a lot of times I consider specific houses to have both designer and niche fragrances. Take Hermes for example. When you go to a department store, you will be exposed to fragrances like Terre d'Hermes and Voyage d'Hermes. What a common fragrance buyer wouldn't be exposed to is the Hermessence line. I consider that line niche because even if a common user was exposed to that line, they would be baffled by the price point. But a lot of Basenotes users seek fragrances that are unique pieces of art and are willing to pay that price. That's why I think a lot of Basenotes users are the niche that some companies can survive and even prosper on.
This is a question I raised a few months ago..
no real direct answer
Not sure why people worry about the fragrance house's "designation"
Seems like people want to say Armani is designer - unless you talk about the Privé line. Same with Chanel, and Dior.
If we have such a need to classify for no apparent reason, it would be more beneficial to do so at the fragrance level, not the producer level. If Chanel suddenly made a fragrance that smelled like feet an feces, that would be more niche - even though the still sell Bleu de Chanel. I think more and more you will see fragrance houses develop fragrances for widespread acceptance, and other fragrances for a limited group of people who have a sort of scent-fetish for the bizarre or less widely accepted).
A scent is just a scent - we should focus on it rather than the type of business structure in place where it was made.
It's a very fluid term.
The industry seem to go by 'the door count'.
I have tended to consider a niche perfume company to be a business that was established primarily to make and sell fragrances and fragrant ancillary products. Historically the 'niche' companies emerged post 1960's - Diptyque, Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Annick Goutal, Creed (altho they adopted the name of what was formerly a tailoring business), Parfums de Nicolai, Lutens, Amouage etc.
The 'second wave' included The Different Company, Editions de Parfums Fredreric Malle, By Kilian, Mona d'Orio, Maison Francis Kurkdjian and has since blown apart with a gazillion overnight start-ups with a ready made line, many ordered en masse from the majors and run by people with little or no seeming knowledge of perfume.
These days I would be wary of using 'niche' to in any way suggest an originality or quality that is somehow higher or more refined than the quality of perfumes that can be purchased from so-called 'designer' brands, many of which have a history of creating perfumes that goes way, way back and also have in-house perfumers and creative directors with a serious and respected portfolio - Dior, Chanel, Hermes, Comme de Garcons spring to mind.
I guess there will always be 'niche vs. designer' discussions and arguments but ultimately I think they are pretty pointless - in the end it comes down to quality control and creative direction and that usually rests with a handful of individuals, if not one person, who define the output of the brand. To that end, it's worth doing your homework and seeing who is Creative Director and who is Perfumer on any given release and also factoring in the packaging and marketing involved etc.
There is another designation worth considering, that I would call 'Artisanal Niche' which might include La Via Del Profumo, Andy Tauer, Vero Kern, Slumberhouse and some of the newer, sometimes quite radical, one person operations. These smaller 'owner operator' companies seem to be operating in much the same spirit as the first wave of niche companies in the 70's.
Excellent replies. The Fragrance Foundation categories are quite nice. musky_monkey's post rather highlighted what I think my issue is with the term niche, and that is the way it is used as an antonym for designer. Having broad appeal wouldn't necessarily mean designer, but it ought to mean "mainstream", which seems a much more suitable opposite for niche. IMO, there wouldn't be an issue in having a niche designer release and a mainstream designer release, perhaps like Bleu de Chanel and Chanel Cuir de Russie. This could relate back to the doors/stores of availability, and even the market segmentation that the pricing creates, but still acknowledges that being a Chanel release, it is a "designer" house that controls this "niche" fragrance. But this may be more confusing than some are comfortable with, as it seems there are collectors and wearers who segregate bottles based on the houses themselves being niche or designer, and further delineation would require more shelves Delineating between scents that have mainstream appeal and those that are "challenging" is another option, but again very subjective, and things like smell-alikes could really muck up the works.
In the end, it's just a word. For some, it means expensive and/or limited distribution. To others, it's a technical definition that means the perfume house only makes perfume rather than perfume, clothes, etc. And I'm sure others have their own definitions.
My opinion is that none of it matters, but that's easy for me to say since the only thing I care about is how a scent smells and how it wears. One of my all-time top 5 is a niche that costs nearly $300 a bottle. Another is a bargain bin designer scent that can be found online for $25 or less.
Niche is just a word. It isn't a scientific term with easily definable parameters. Ask 100 people here on basenotes what niche is and you may end up with 100 definitions, but that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is how does the perfume smell and how does it wear on your skin.
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I stand by the definition of Designer houses are the house that main activity is fashion (hence the world designer) and fragrance it's just one of their side activity (i.e. Chanel, Tom Ford, Dior, etc). And niche would be the houses that main activity is fragrance with side activities are beauty/personal care related products such as cosmetic, toilettries, etc (Guerlain, Serge Lutens, L'artisan, etc)
I think people usually mess-up the "designer vs niche" definition and "mainstream vs niche" definition which IMO are completely different
Interesting thread OP.
I have a question for basenoters and would love to hear everyone's take on it : Is 'Scentstory', the house behind 24 Gold, considered niche? I mean they seem to concentrate only on making perfumes after all....
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My definition is not inline with Fragrance Foundation's, but I simply prefer to think of "niche" fragrances as those who mainly cater to people who are really into fragrance. If you're having trouble figuring out why Tom Ford or Serge Lutens can be considered niche, think of who would buy them. I'd think 99% of buyers of Armani Code wouldn't consider themselves as particularly interested in fragrance, while most people who end up with, say, Creed's Royal Oud or Tom Ford's Italian Cypress may be, despite the fact Creed is available worldwide, Tom Ford makes shiny suits and Serge Lutens sells eye cream.
One can sell eye cream or suits and still be "niche" - after all, Serge's $150 eye makeup is probably niche compared to $10 Cover Girl, and Tom Ford's suits are niche compared to Kenneth Cole's $150 polyester-and-glue sacks. Artistry can, and does, go into their other products. This teardown of a Tom Ford suit shows how handmade and "niche" a suit can be, and it's something that someone who would only buy a Mens Wearhouse suit would never care about. Considering these brands have access to the same quality ingredients and perfumers that perfume-only houses work on, I'd say that here it is about intent - who they're catering to. They're customers who, in my honest opinion, expect better or more exclusive than something widely available (whether or not the widely-available stuff is good or not - which we see all the time in fragrances with some cheapie classics).
At the same time, though, "niche hardly seems applicable to most fragrance houses" - well, yes. Otherwise, they wouldn't be niche, right?
"No elegance is possible without it...perfume is a part of you." Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel
I think the problem here is the same faced by genre theory: too much time is wasted on questions regarding labelling the container (niche, designer, mainstream etc) when it's largely irrelevant. I don't care what label people apply to a fragrance. Only the smell counts and whether or not it's great or terrible.
If I were to use the word 'niche', and I avoid it as much as possible, I would also include amongst the many concepts tied to it (availability, affordability): the actual smell. Although availability and price can often ensure that only a small group of people can obtain certain fragrances, thereby automatically limiting certain fragrances to a very small audience, the actual smell is often forgotten in the equation. Thus I find that there are many fragrances that appeal to very small groups of people, and to these I would apply the label 'niche'.
Whether the company that produces the fragrances makes other things besides isn't of importance either.
Last edited by chopwet; 11th November 2013 at 10:25 AM.
Niche used to mean:
A company dedicated to making perfumes. And usually when you've taken the business risk, time & effor to do this.
Your product will definitely be of high quality ingredients, composed by a skilled perfumer without considering mainstream or fashion trends.
By definition it was termed niche because it catered to a small group of people and was not a coproration and therefore had one or two branches not franchises.
These days niche perfume companies have now become corporations with branches and online availability. Some have even started catering to the mainstream market.
Whereas at the same time companies that make perfume on the side of thier own core function (whether clothes or cars) have made perfumes that qualify more to niche perfumery per historic definition than current "niche perfumes".
I cannot think of a single perfume house that has not not succumed to the mainstream cashcow. Even msr. Lutens has given up.
We in Singapore are lucky in that we are a bit of a shoppers' paradise, with many luxury brands available, but even then, we had few niche brands represented. Most of those that are available are carried by a multi-label store specialising in niche brands (Diptyque, Amouage, Creed, Annick Goutal, L'Artisan Parfumeur, Miller Harris, Serge Lutens, Le Labo). Even those, this store prefers to bring in well-established brands; it is all about sales after all. Almost everything else is designer, and readily available in the many departmental stores and brand boutiques around.
But what that means is for the fragrance lover in Singapore, we get to know what is niche, what is designer simply by what is available here. After having sampled through the readily available designers, the next step is to look for niche. How can 'niche' not be a useful label then? I am not talking about the associated and presumed qualities of niche, but simply the availability of such brands (i.e., brand business structure and distribution).
Sometimes the only thing that is "niche" is that the prices are out of most buyers range, and they are carried by less stores.
The fact that they are new exciting / interesting / avante garde or just run of the mill perfumes seems to be irrelevant.
Designer = wide distribution, easily found --> found in departmental stores and boutiques in my country
Niche = narrow distribtuion, not easily found --> not found in departmental stores and boutiques in my country
Since almost every well-known designer is represented in the retail market here, it would be safe to say the lines not easily available in my country are the niche lines. Therefore, whenever we local fragrance-lovers want to discuss 'niche' perfumes, it refers to such unavailable brands.
Such a classification scheme has nothing to do with the juice inside the bottle and it therefore means nothing to me. Hell, there have even been enough disagreements about whether a given fragrance should be pigeonholed as fougere or chypre for me to know that the usefulness of that scheme is waning in accuracy for all but some of the classics. Classification endeavors are useful when/if the classifying metrics can be measured in an objective manner, i.e. replicated by many, all getting the same result. When the discipline or subject matter of interest evolves to the point where enough judgement is necessary in order to classify, there tends to be a 'forcing of square pegs into round holes' and the classification scheme loses its universal ability to convey a specific description. Confusion and disagreements are a tell-tale sign.
For all the talk, niche v. designer does nothing to describe the scent. So... if you enjoy a good tomato, why care that they are technically classified a fruit yet most everyone identifies them a vegetable?
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What is the 'Exclusif' line from Dior then -- Designer Niche?
We just go round and round with this topic
The fact that Dior also makes clothing doesn't speak to the accessibility, quality, price, composition, perfumer history, or thought behind that line, so I'm happy to play loosely with the "nice" label. I'm quite sure the vast majority of houses that the pickier among us are calling "niche" are also heavily bankrolled, organized as corporations (why wouldn't you?), and have struck deals with bigger houses, suppliers, distributors, and retailers.
Consider that By Killian is organized as a corporation and is under the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy umbrella. People need to get the image of a romantic old man in a leather apron smelling small apothecary bottles in an Italian shed with a garden out back out of their head. Under this narrow definition of niche you have a very, VERY small sampling of companies like PK Perfumes and Slumberhouse. While I love these houses, this definition of niche, should one feel beholden to it, doesn't reflect reality for the perfume industry. Consider what we all do for a living - I'm sure no matter where your work is, you likely don't work as an artisan in a wooden shack. Perfumers don't either. If you are skeptical of "boardroom niche," your standards seem to impose a poor standard of living onto anyone passionate enough to try their hand in this industry. As long as expert perfumers are making good scents, who cares?
Last edited by throwbookatface; 11th November 2013 at 07:27 PM.
There have been some good discussions of this subject in the past that are somewhere in Huddler-space right now, but Tauer outlined the relative useless of the term in an interview not too long ago by discussing the way "niche," as a term, has essentially been co-opted by large corporations that are now "performing" various kinds of exclusivity once associated with true niche perfumery. Another perfumer has referred to this "boardroom niche."
It's a worthless term now as it's essentially been bought and the demarcation has largely been smashed by garbage posing as niche, and designer posing as ultra experimental. As far as price points and quality-as-demarcator go, that's also been undermined as there currently exists expensive "niche," poorly made from cheap materials, thriving on peripheral resources (advertising, hype), and niche that's absolutely inexpensive and uses some stellar materials to produce truly original work. Some of the best "niche"—totally creative and idiosyncratic, and made from a great palate of naturals and synths—can be had for around $15.
P.S. I'm going to move this one over to "general" as this is more of a unisex-concern and perhaps some of our female members might like to contribute.