Why commercial perfumery is more interesting than niche

07th September, 2015

Let me start by saying that this article is intended as a celebration of commercial (mass-market) perfumery and not an attack on niche brands. Most people agree that creativity and quality are some of the essential aspects of a good fragrance product, and with the explosion in privately owned and highly priced perfume companies in recent years (over £1000 for a single bottle! come on…), I think it’s important to keep asking yourself whether what you’re paying for is really worth the money. Ultimately, much of the enjoyment of a fragrance lies in the very subjective experience you can gain from it, so I think it should stay that way. That said, commercial perfumery has a bad rep at the moment and I want to open up discussion and try to set the record straight…

I used to be a complete ‘niche-head’ - a self-confessed Perfumista with a capital P. As Angela from Now Smell This quite accurately documented, many with a serious interest in perfumery go through similar stages as their knowledge, exposure and, consequently, olfactory tastes develop which in general means a transition from easy-to-find, big brand, commercial perfumes to rarer, more unique, so-called niche fragrances. I believe the plethora of reasons why the niche / luxury / artistic perfumery market developed and splintered so rapidly over the past 10 years are very complicated, but some of the most important include:

  • A renewed interest in personalised unique brand experiences in response to the digital revolution (sorry for the cliché but I think it’s apt here)
  • A powerful contemporary zeitgeist for self-awareness and self-fashioning, inspired by social platforms
  • In general, the uncreative low quality products from perfumery companies in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s 
  • A rise in industry figures (often with their own agendas) then responding to the above by degrading commercial perfumery and selling a story to the public that rich chemists are manically laughing over their beakers in thick lab glasses at the stupid consumers buying their cheap chemical compositions 

Michel Almairac's Joop Homme
First thing’s first – the latter point is just not true. Despite what many people may think (as I used to) most fragrances on the market, whether they be £5 or £500 a bottle, were and are made by the same cohort of Perfumers. Not devious scientists that mourn the days of the 19th century ‘aromancer’, but well-educated, passionate, creative Perfumers! There are countless examples: IFF’s Bruno Jovanovic who created both Fierce by Abercrombie & Fitch and Dries Van Noten by Frédéric Malle; Givaudan’s Calice Becker of Marc Jacobs Lola fame as well as Amber Oud By Kilian; or Michel Almairac from Robertet who made the infamous Joop! Homme and Fire Island by Bond No. 9. In fact, the truth of it is that many niche houses cannot afford to employ the biggest and best houses and Perfumers, and therefore make a compulsory turn to juniors who are just making their first perfumes. Suddenly the specialist discourse of niche is infused with irony. 


Marc Jacobs' Lola ad featuring Karlie Kloss


There are very few companies in the world with the expertise and facilities to create finished perfumes, and their Perfumers go through rigorous training that promotes creativity, innovation, as well as artistry. A Perfumer from one of the large houses once told me he saw himself as a ‘neo-craftsman’ which I thought was a fantastic description of the job – a half-way between artist and designer. There are some independent Perfumers out there that work with small houses, but in general they’re getting the juice from the big guys for the reason that they have the experience to design thoughtful quality perfumes. I mentioned quality earlier – for many, this doesn’t just mean plonking a whole load of natural bergamot into a bottle and selling it as luxury, but is reflected in advanced fragrance design that combines naturals with cutting-edge synthetics to create a product that works. It lasts; it projects; it smells great. And the difference for the Perfumer working on commercial and niche? The brief

The challenges of perfumery

Each sector of the market faces different challenges when developing a new product. Yes, when creating an artistic perfume aimed at selling into cool concept stores and independent luxury fragrance boutiques, the salient brand owner has to consider his connoisseurial customers and huge expectation to deliver something totally novel – something that will blow the buyer away. However, other than that, there aren’t too many other considerations or constraints. I’m not saying it’s easy! It is undoubtedly difficult to capture the hearts and minds of luxury consumers, especially when the market is now so flooded. 

Michel Girard, the legendary Givaudan Perfumer, once commented that successful perfume creation is about ‘evolution not revolution’
However, the job required on the mass-market side is much harder. Michel Girard, the legendary Givaudan Perfumer, once commented that successful perfume creation is about ‘evolution not revolution’. There is a huge amount of risk in projects that attempt to revolutionise, and also I believe this is not generally a tactic that works with people’s taste patterns that tend to change slowly over time with cultural shifts, rather than suddenly jump from one series of associations and values to another. Niche often attempts to revolutionise without many consequences – “who cares if not many people like my sweaty clove-heavy composition, we only need a few to rave about it and our image and bank account are fine”. If you want a big brand product to be successful, you have to find exactly the right balance between many olfactory, marketing, and retail strategies. Here are some suggestions – it has to:

  1. Be a scent that a lot of people enjoy
  2. Be a scent that not many people hate
  3. Work with the brand image and concept 
  4. Have good performance i.e. longevity, projection etc.
  5. Be part of an evolution (not revolution)
  6. Have an ‘X-factor’ about it (indefinable, really)

Very few products can achieve this, but it’s interesting to evaluate the best-sellers against this criteria and in most cases I think they fulfil them. Think 1 Million by Paco Rabanne, Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, Le Male by Jean Paul Gaultier etc. This is why it can be argued that commercial perfumery is more interesting than niche, as per the title – the challenge is potentially harder, the investment bigger, the execution extremely uncertain. 

Essentially, many luxury halls are now filled with brands that are selling the same rubbish as the bottom shelf at the discount store but by putting it in a shiny bottle they think they can sell it at astronomical prices.
The state of things now is very different from 10 years ago. The big brands likely realised they were making inferior products and, alongside the development of niche, are now creating more and more genuinely interesting juices – novelty is again very significant for the big houses! This is certainly reflected in recent releases. Take for example Marc Jacobs’ Daisy Sorbet with its bracing cold effervescence, the oddly savoury and popcorn-like hazelnut accord in Diesel’s Loverdose Red Kiss, and the saline effect present in Olympéa by Paco Rabanne (clearly inspired by Thierry Mugler’s Womanity). For me, these products are all right on the mark, innovating through evolution. Whilst high street fragrance has a revived spirit, the overwhelming number of niche brands releasing countless perfumes per year has meant that in many cases they undermine exactly what they are supposed to stand for – their artisanal vision, rebellious intention, and emphasis on quality ingredients is totally compromised by the olfactory copies that are being produced. Essentially, many luxury halls are now filled with brands that are selling the same rubbish as the bottom shelf at the discount store but by putting it in a shiny bottle they think they can sell it at astronomical prices. 

Olympea by Paco Rabanne
One possible reason for this is the (lack of) professional evaluation. The role of the Evaluators is to be the connection between Perfumer and brand owner to help them untangle technical vernacular and help realise their vision. For the newest big brand fragrance, this is an extremely important and recognised role. For niche brands, many creative directors will try to communicate with the Perfumer directly if possible because they think they know better or, if not, will be quite singular with their expectations i.e. “I want a niche 1 Million” so that’s exactly what they’re given (a virtual copy) or “I want a fragrance that smells of cherries and oud” – unique as that may be, is it really intelligent? The aesthetics and ethics of artistic perfumery is perhaps a subject for another article but I do think it extremely important to consider or else niche could end up becoming entirely irrelevant, swallowed by the big companies who are starting to understand the selective distribution market and responding with some very successful products.   

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I’d like to end on one topic that is ever-increasing in relevance – that of authorship. Okay I’ll admit, commercial fragrance marketing still isn’t great. Then again, I don’t believe many people really think that buying Boss Bottled will make them the ‘man of today’. What does that even mean? However, there is a lot more transparency regarding the process of creating perfume nowadays and even who made it. Perfumers are kind of famous now, and whilst many credit Frédéric Malle for bringing this interest in author to the fore, I believe it’s part of a wider culture for understanding product development mechanisms and ingredients so the consumer feels more connected and more in control (take the food industry, for example). It’s actually pretty cool knowing that the handsome Aurélien Guichard of Firmenich (previously at Givaudan) was the guy that made your Narciso Rodriguez fragrance. Niche has done a lot for this engagement. But again, there are indicators that the counter-intuitive direction this market is going in will end in its demise – or at least a complete restructuring for niche.

Also, let’s be honest, did anyone ever think Britney Spears actually sat in a white lab coat in Paris and made her perfume? No
For Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s first fragrance for Marks & Spencer, a video was released of her working with MANE’s Ralf Schwieger on the composition. Sure, she may have barely exchanged a word with him, but the chances are she probably did smell it at some point before its release and could even have suggested a note or two. The same with Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and her StormFlower Noir. She stated, “I met with the Perfumers in Paris and we worked hard to ensure this new fragrance was both sensual and addictive”. For me, this type of authorial presentation is both financially savvy and ethically intelligent. It works – it makes sense. Also, let’s be honest, did anyone ever think Britney Spears actually sat in a white lab coat in Paris and made her perfume? No. 

Cheryl Fernandez-Versini's StormFlower Noir
Do people think that many niche brand owners and creative directors do so when they call themselves Perfumers? Or self-professed Master Perfumers? Yes. Be savvy – most (not all) niche brands that have a story like this are just lying. This is where the mistake lies. Niche was all about regaining legitimacy over an industry that was said by many to be debased – aside from the claims of higher quality ingredients, and lack of marketing, one of the key requisites of many niche brands is their perceived transparency and authenticity, particularly to do with the process of creating perfumes, and often with stories of ‘in-house’ Perfumers. This is not clever marketing but just deception and a very dangerous strategy in my opinion – it humiliates and cheats the consumer who is duped into paying ten times the price of a normal perfume because they are seeking an experience that is the antithesis of the mass-market myths they have been sold. Brands taking this route are short-sighted. The point is that they’re selling to an educated consumer base and the danger is once this customer base learns even more they could just stop buying the brand’s products all together.
Niche tried to take away the smoke and mirrors but I fear that it’s just going back into the smoke.

Niche tried to take away the smoke and mirrors but I fear that it’s just going back into the smoke. 

Ultimately, categories and authors and novelty don’t really matter in the slightest - it’s all about the powerfully subjective, dare I say existential, experience one can glean from smelling a perfume that is meaningful to them. However, I hope this opens readers’ minds to the creativity to be found in mass-market fragrances and helps people strain the real from the fake. 

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About the author: Eddie Bulliqi

Eddie Bulliqi is a writer and speaker that analyses what people want from their senses, specialised in the interpretation of tastes and smells, with a background in musicology and history of art. He has worked with Coty, the Estée Lauder Companies, Esxence, the Institute for Art and Olfaction and the World Perfumery Congress. Writing scent poems for fun on Basenotes.


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      • artlin | 7th September 2015 14:06

        Thank you Eddie, that article is most enlightening. As a consumer who mostly chooses mainstream products it is nice to know I am on the right track.

        I will look at niche products and even buy one or two but, for the money, they have to be very special and they have to be right for me.

      • LearnToSwim | 7th September 2015 19:00

        Interesting read.

        "Essentially, many luxury halls are now filled with brands that are selling the same rubbish as the bottom shelf at the discount store but by putting it in a shiny bottle they think they can sell it at astronomical prices."

        Very true. The high status symbol is a big factor I bet.

      • hednic | 7th September 2015 19:10

        Interesting viewpoint expressed.

      • Carl57 | 7th September 2015 19:11

        Read and enjoyed the article. I personally buy whatever my nose enjoys most. For the most part that tends to be niche.

        Designers that are unique are few and far between.

      • Unregistered 10 | 7th September 2015 19:58

        Challenging and insightful, thank you.

      • xoxoMyke | 8th September 2015 05:48

        This was a wonderful read.

        When I first browsed Basenotes in 2012, I thought buying $150+ bottles was a bit extreme. I had no interest in that, and I was only interested in "smelling good" and "feeling good" and not wasting my money.

        People who are "niche only" are very dedicated and seem passionate, but I truly hope that's what they want. I hope they aren't doing it so they can brag about it on the very small subculture known as "frag heads" and their small circle of friends.

      • Le vagabond | 8th September 2015 10:38

        I would love to join you and celebrate what are now called 'designer' perfumes (before they were just perfumes). Unfortunately, I don't find much to love any more. I definitely don't blame the noses though, I'm sure they have some great ideas.

        Did 'niche' fragrance come about because of a drop in standards in normal perfumery? Or was it supposed to be an addition, catering for the daring few who needed something unconventional? I would have loved it to have worked out that way: two distinct families but with quality choices in both.

        To me, both camps have failed (scent-wise): classic fragrance house perfumes (designer) are frequently overtly synthetic smelling and brash. And many 'niche' perfumes aren't unusual enough to be qualified as such.

        For my older tastes, I feel like the whole thing has been shifted downwards (generally speaking): designers now smell like teenage deodorants, high-end designers now smell like cheapo designers, and 'niche' is all over the place.

        One of these problems was highlighted in the fascinating BBC documentary on perfume (part 1, on youtube). The creation of Tommy Hilfiger 'Loud' shows the talented young perfumers having to pander to various non-experts' whims and their ideas must have suffered greatly in the process.

        Maybe it is just me.

      • David Ruskin | 8th September 2015 10:55

        You are quite right vagabond. I remember that programme, where far more time was spent discussing the bottle design and the advertising than was spent on evaluating the fragrance. For many companies the appearance and the launch are far more important than the fragrance. The idea seems to be to spend shed loads on the campaign, hope to re-coop plus a bit more, then when sales drop, discontinue and move on to the next.

        When a fragrance is designed by a committee it can never be good. I doubt very much if the original Opium, Poison or even Angel would be launched today by a big designer house. Niche, at least gives the Perfumers a little more freedom to be creative.

        The disadvantage of niche, as was pointed out in the article, is lack of money or facilities to compound. Buying smaller amounts of ingredients will mean that a higher price is paid.

        It is amusing that now all the big designer houses are trying to launch lines that are a little edgier, and little more "niche" in response to the perceived threat from the little guys.

        Of course there will be good designer fragrances, and lousy niche fragrances. Time will tell which ones will be successful and which will fail. What is good is that the choice has increased; and the interest in Perfumery.

      • adam090273 | 8th September 2015 11:55

        Interesting article.

        Certainly the niche lines are becoming over populated. Designer houses have the resources to bring back the real quality of the past at a more realistic price base. Niche prices have gotten ridiculously out of control.

      • Eddie Bulliqi (article author) | 9th September 2015 12:37

        That was definitely a significant documentary Le Vagabond. I have to say though I think it's a very exciting time to be around perfume so I hope you manage to get optimistic too! Let's hope there are some exciting releases this year and next ...

      • Eddie Bulliqi (article author) | 9th September 2015 12:40

        I totally agree Carl - the most important thing is just to enjoy what you're wearing and go with what makes you happy

      • WillfromToronto | 9th September 2015 14:25

        Very insightful article. I think that you are spot on about mass-market fragrances. The challenge is to create something that "a lot of people enjoy" and "not a lot of people hate". For the average consumers this is great because commercial fragrances are a low-risk purchase, they were designed this way. However, I personally like the polarization of niche fragrances. I feel like they are "edgier", some people love it, some people hate it. For me, I prefer niche, because I am no longer satisfied with discovering a fragrance that I enjoy, rather I want to find one that I love. So far, I have only been successful in niche.

        Secondly, I am someone who loves an authentic story behind a niche house because it adds to the experience. I think you're right that some niche brands may be taking advantage of this as a marketing strategy. However, the perfumers who I know are very authentic. I suppose I just wanted to point out, that even though there are some bad apples, I believe the majority of niche brands are geniune.

        Great read!

      • edshepp | 9th September 2015 14:52

        Great read.

        More like this, please.

      • Eddie Bulliqi (article author) | 9th September 2015 15:39

        Thanks for your comments, William! Hopefully new niche brands in the future will lead by the examples of the many quality ones out there.

      • michailG | 10th September 2015 07:48

        Thank you for the interesting article. Your views agree with those of many who try to figure out what the difference between niche and mainstream perfumes is. When I started experiencing niche perfumes (or what was thought to be niche) I thought ingredients, unusual composition and smaller production were the main parameters. Slowly I started reading more and searched for niche houses to sample their fragrances. This is a process that has been going on a few years now. I still cannot put my finger on how and if niche is better than mainstream commercial fragrances. I seems that smaller niche houses offer higher quality in small quantities and often unjustifiably high prices. But then again the juices themselves are sometimes such a let down! After having tried from Smell Bent to Le Galion, a few Lutens, Goutals, Kurkdjians and Heelays and many more, and while not giving up on this olfactory journey, I am increasingly aware that there are boring, uninspiring niche perfumes too. And such concoctions in fact proliferate as "niche" companies do too, seeing the potential of a product that let's face it even if its market is saturated, it continues to excite people's imagination. Is it so that the more we sniff the more blazé we become? Not entirely, because now and then there arrives a sample of a niche perfume that gives me goose bumps. As I am sure some mainstream would too alas I might never know. Thanks again for this thought-provoking article!

      • Eddie Bulliqi (article author) | 10th September 2015 12:58

        Interesting points Michail, and thanks!

      • Colin Maillard | 10th September 2015 13:24

        I agree with the article, which is quite interesting in fact. I am still firmly convinced that with all due proportions, there is and has always been more quality and creativity among designers than niche - and even when they fail, at least they're not doing it in a sea of insulting pretentiousness.

      • 4160Tuesdays | 11th September 2015 16:03

        "Interesting" is a tricky word.

        As someone who spends her days making perfume - actually creating it, mixing it up, bottling it, boxing it and posting it to customers - you might expect me to leap out in defence of niche, against the banality of mainstream, but I won't be doing that. (Besides, we're not niche, we're indie. It's really really different.)

        I'm still smiling over the phrase in the comment above, "a sea of insulting pretentiousness", because goodness me, there's a lot of that about.

        I don't think that niche and mainstream are separate. They are on a scale of price and packaging. It goes: chainstore, celeb, posh celeb, average designer, posh designer, exclusive-designer-niche, posh niche, totally-up-its-own-backside niche.

        The long and the sort of it is that you don't necessarily make a better perfume by using expensive ingredients. You certainly don't make a better perfume by putting it in a rare hand carved onyx case which needs two servants to carry it...

        The big stores buy on packaging, not fragrance; they stock scents whose looks and pricing match their brand identity and their customer profile. What goes into the bottle is almost irrelevant.

        So visit a small store, one that actually gives a damn about the smell, and will help you buy a scent that you will enjoy wearing. Explore the Duty Free shop properly, rummage around Boots (CVS?), only buy something that you really want to spend time with. Packaging is lovely but for me you've got the love the scent and like the bottle; when it's the other way around, it's all gone a bit wrong.

      • Kaern | 11th September 2015 17:01

        Not 'indie' --- Punk!

        Do you reckon the big stores actually smell any of the fragrances they sell? Maybe they don't give a toss if what you say is right. That would affect your chances badly of getting a foothold. I like your bottles and packaging -- on a minimalist tip, but I don't think Harrods would.

        I love your '....Havana ...' fragrance. You should be well proud of that

        The names are getting increasingly saucy though -- 'tart's knicker drawer' -- nice one !

        Keep up the good work

      • 4160Tuesdays | 11th September 2015 23:29

        Thanks. Punk, I almost forgot. I'm not at all bothered about big shops - much rather sell directly to customers and I'd not sure that I'd feel comfortable in Harrods even if they did want mine. Very happy to be in Fortnum & Mason though.

        The indie perfumers have a lot of freedom because as Eddie says, we don't have to sell thousands of bottles, just enough to stay in business. I'm driven by the need to make perfume, and I have to make just enough profit to pay the rent and buy the next batch of materials and box of bottles. The big brands, wherever they are on the price scale, have different priorities.

      • funhuntr | 12th September 2015 15:18

        While reading the article I was half expecting the niche frag heads to come out in full force to slam the article

        Great to see there is still some open mindedness

        Or maybe the slam-designer trolls haven't gotten to reading it yet.

      • Dorje123 | 12th September 2015 16:22

        [QUOTE]"There are very few companies in the world with the expertise and facilities to create finished perfumes"[/QUOTE]

        Seriously? That seems more than a bit ridiculous. Judging from the DIY section here anybody can buy the ingredients and start mixing. Judging from the recent boom of indy/niche houses many people do exactly that and have varied success at it, just like the large corporations the author feels are the only one qualified. There are just as many examples of hits from these small houses, in fact more as designer is currently very stagnant.

        Personally, I feel like the distinction between designer and niche is way overplayed and simply doesn't matter that much. There is huge overlap and IMO a huge majority of both are overpriced synthetic garbage meant to appeal to the masses and controlled mostly by marketing departments. The best fragrances are made by individuals with a strong aptitude for it, like Rising Phoenix, Agar Aura and Sultan Pasha, all of whom use (almost) exclusively natural materials prepared in traditional ways. I have little to no interest in the "very few companies in the world" the author thinks are the only ones qualified to make fragrances.

        I do appreciate very few modern fragrances, but I only own a couple bottles from Puredistance and MFK, and a couple of vintage fragrances like Bel Ami, Eau Sauvage, etc... I've probably tried well over a thousand at this point and own less than 10 bottles of conventional alcohol based, mainly synthetic fragrances.

      • d_l_esmond | 13th September 2015 11:18

        I would agree with many of the arguments in the article, notably that there is a proliferation of niche (or pretend niche?) brand, churning out mediocre or sub-mediocre stuff at ridiculous prices, with alembicated marketing ploys, capitalising on the latest cultural fads and trying to ensnare gullible customers.

        However, mainstream perfume companies (big cosmetic multinationals) are risk averse, prioritise cost reduction and maximise margins. More importantly, they aim for mass distribution, which results in ‘safe’ products. And then copies of the same ‘safe’ products, with minor modifications. Originality, innovation and quality can happen in the mainstream, but it the exception and not the norm, especially in recent years.

        It is an interesting argument that is made in the article that the appearance of niche houses pushed the mainstream industry to raise the bar a bit. Maybe Estee Lauder is a good example, with the Tom Ford or Aerin Lauder labels or their takeover of Le Labo and Frederic Malle.

        But my feeling is that innovation, both in terms of product design (what’s in the bottle) and trends (what we should like now) has come from niche houses and it is likely to continue as their approach to creativity, risk-taking and innovation is determined by their business model.

        Yes, I can see that there is going to be an erosion of the concept of niche because there are so many new, mediocre or opportunistic companies rushing in on this segment of the market. And the only way to deal with those is through exercising consumer power (i.e. honest reviews).

        Also, it might be worth thinking about how as a consumer one has a very significant investment in signalling taste, distinction, status, expertise, knowledgeability etc. through the products we consume. Turning away from mass products is a more common behaviour these days, whether rational or not (whether that mass product is good not).

        Maybe the mainstream industry will continue to pull its act together. For instance, Procter and Gamble has just recently sold all their perfume brands to Coty. P&G are an amorphous multinational selling anything and everything, with a typical shareholder value maximisation policy. Coty is specialised only in beauty products, so hopefully it is a better fit and this takeover of brands might have a better chance to focus on quality and innovation. Although I will need a bit more convincing before I become sincerely enthusiastic about one of their new releases and rush out to be the first in the shop to sniff it.

      • gandhajala | 13th September 2015 12:17

        Nicely put.

        As Barthes (or was it Baudrillard?) put it, we consume signs not products. When someone choses to buy Britney Spears' perfume, chances are it has little to do with the scent itself. The same holds for some super expensive Clive Christian fragrance.

      • Francolino | 13th September 2015 12:42

        agree...this reminds me a recent outing with some famous actor involved in!

      • Birdboy48 | 13th September 2015 18:00

        "Why commercial perfumery is more interesting than niche."

        I suspect what the author means with his own edgy title is not so much that the finished commercial perfumes themselves are more interesting, but (arguably) that the long drawn-out process, and all the various ins and outs involved in producing and marketing them is more interesting ?

      • rickbr | 14th September 2015 14:15

        I believe there is a big error on your article title: Why commercial perfumery COULD be more interesting than niche. I stress the could, because you cannot take few good fragrances from a plethora of mediocre, awful, deodorant like creations and tell me that this is more interesting. It's not.

        Certainly the acess of materials at bulk prices and the employ of a reputed and experienced perfumer could be pros to commercial perfumery. Still, there is a misconception on this, which i believe is:

        - Believing that most independent players don't have knowledge

        - Believing that they couldn't also have acess to the same materials

        Both are false. After i started diving myself day after day on several independent perfume brands, people like Paul Killer, Andy Tauer, JoAnne Bassett, Nikolay Eremin, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, Shelley Waddington, Chris Bartlett are masters of what they do and their scents do have high quality, coherent concepts and aromas that don't seem to be the same of all the rest. Also, do you really believe that people like Francois Demarchy develop entirely ALL the fragrances that has his name on it? Most professional perfumers are names that can be used to boost sales while you have a very talented team behind it. Also, don't forget that experience is not related to talent and this pretentious attitude doesn't help those talents.

        I think that you take the forest for the trees when you make your comparisons regarding niche versus mainstream, looking only for the very expensive ones or the ones made for people that want to jump in the niche bandwagon and don't mind expending high on their bottles. The fact is that EVERY market that starts to growth and shows that there is more demand to be absorved will draw opportunistic offers. Time end being a good selector of what sticks and what dies. This is not a problem of niche market, it's a problem of EVERY market.

        Also, you could also analyze that there is a big budget restrition when working with mainstream perfumery. An average commercial perfume costs around 3 dollars on the formula. So, i ask you, are you really paying cheap for your mainstream perfume? No, because you pay an ad that will do little on your enjoyment of your scent, you pay a bottle that will only serve as decoration, you pay a lot of marketing and focus groups that use pilar fragrances to tweak known ideas and regurtitate them under new bottles, ads and pretentious names. So, i'm pretty sure that what you say it's related to niche is also very related to mainstream too. The only difference is that you have a false sensation that you are paying less when in fact, if you compare the price of the formula versus the price of the final product your mainstream bottle of perfume can be as expensive as your expensive niche.

        In the past commercial perfumery WAS more interesting than niche, but with most of the names concentrated in few big corporates and in times of economic crisis, expecting innovation inside this field is not a good thing. It won't happen.

        Today, sometimes the mainstream can be good, but the ratio of poor fragrances versus good ones still pends more to niche. And you do a binary division, forgetting to think about the excelent indies that are way much better than niche and mainstream together.

        And if you really have any doubts, start trying in a row masculine creations. You'll see how much are not even worthy of deodorant formulas.

      • rickbr | 14th September 2015 14:57

        Quality is a very wrong word that people keep using to access products without knowing that quality really means being able to always produce the product the same way without many deviations. Quality is not a word able to measure artistic or conceptual integrity/achievement. And this also has little to do with niche or mainstream markets, altough you still see more consistency on niche and in indie markets on those aspects than on mainstream. But, again, people point out the sucessful ones and forget to all the rest.....

      • rickbr | 14th September 2015 15:00

        Oh, there is a really amount of 'risk' in doing variations of modern chypres that you already know the formula guided by focus groups where people are presented with the pillar fragrances that are being copied versus the 'new' creation. Your article certainly insults me with a lot of untruths.

      • rickbr | 14th September 2015 16:33

        "Ultimately, categories and authors and novelty don’t really matter in the slightest - it’s all about the powerfully subjective, dare I say existential, experience one can glean from smelling a perfume that is meaningful to them."

        I ask you, is it really subjective an experience where you expect many people to LOVE the scent and few to hate? Honestly, i think it's even hard to expect people to love something that was made to please a big group of person. In a word so crowded of competitiion, even in the the mainstream aisle, when everyone is poised to do the next big mainstream sucess, you won't have interesting things. Or you really believe that something like Angel would have existed in a an evolutionary field? Or something like Dior Homme, or even like Fahrenheit?

        The current creative process seems so arrested in its constraints that it keeps repeating itself over and over through the years. On the feminine aisle you still have more freedom, but the masculine field is a sad repetition of cliches.

        I also strongly disagree about the 1990 and 2000's years. There are Many interesting fragrances created during those years, saddly discontinued right now. Things like Choppard Madness, Fendi Theorema, Ysl NU, YSL M7, the original versions of Donna Karan Signature fragrance, Cacharel Gloria, Cacharel Nemo and many others. But this shift on every fragrance has to sell huge and please many people has helped to reduce the creativity over the time.

        People are very weird - they want personal experiences, still they want ones like all the others. And still say me this is more interesting? Common.

      • rickbr | 14th September 2015 17:05

        "Last year the weekly French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published an interesting article about perfume creation called La Guerre des Nez (The War of the Nose). It featured a candid interview with perfumers Dominique Ropion and Anne Flipo and provided a table outlining the price breakdown for an average prestige brand perfume. The revelation is that in a bottle of perfume that costs 100 euros, the value of the fragrance concentrate is only 1-1.50 euros, or about 2-3 dollars. The rest is for marketing and distribution: 19.6 euros for value added taxes, 36 euros for distribution, 25 euros for ads and so on. I know all too well the economics of making a perfume, but seeing this table was still a shock."


      • pkiler | 15th September 2015 07:54

        • In general, the uncreative low quality products from perfumery companies in the late 1990s and throughout the 2000s

        This is the reason that *I BECAME* a Perfumer... and the time period that I started to learn to become a Perfumer.

        *I* wanted to wear something that was actually good, instead of the drivel of these mass market fragrances.

        Joop was held up as the penultimate high art Men's fragrance, and I couldn't stand even being in the same room with someone who was wearing it....

        And all those AWFUL copycat men's Sports frag clones of the 90's. eeech! And THEY ALL gave me a headache. Every last one of them.

        This is what drove me to become a Perfumer.

      • Vasily | 16th September 2015 01:15

        I agree somewhat; trying niche perfumes is like going to your town's yearly art show; mostly you'll see pieces by well-meaning folks with mediocre technical skills and limited creativity ... but every once in a while, you see a flash of brilliance.

        But like all generalizations, it's limited in its usefulness: there are niche houses that produce remarkable fragrances. I'll give an example: Andy Tauer's L'air du Desert Marocain is a necessary fragrance in my wardrobe, and though I don't wear it often, I can't imagine life without it. A lot of niche stuff is in my experience on the well-meaning amateur level, and can't match up to the achievements of the great noses. A great fragrance, like all great works of art, gives one the sense that it's necessary, that it brings to the human experience something that enriches our sensory experience.

        But then, a lot of the stuff you'll find at your local department store counter is derivative and uninteresting, too ... a fragrance has to give me a reason for wearing it.

      • Beck | 9th October 2015 00:31

        Nice piece. You could go deeper on niche prices in another article.

      • NickZee | 6th May 2016 00:56

        At least designers don't charge an exhorbidant amount for their creations. Some niche houses ask ridiculous amounts to smell like a barnyard or bonfire or just plain aweful. Where will these prices end up? My local niche supplier didn't hesitate to raise prices by 10% as soon as the new calendar year arrived. Why? Is inflation at 10%? No we actually have deflation in Australia at the moment. But niche perfumery is looking to secure exclusivity through price and that means that the same enthousiasts who supported niche all these years are now being forced to pay through the nose.

      • epapsiou | 6th May 2016 02:57

        I think we have moved to a world where niche is what designers were and designers what drugstore frags were.

      • ArjenGoed | 6th May 2016 08:20

        I think it's all a matter of perspective. From a business point-of-view, commercial perfumery is WAY more interesting; the complexity and huge potential pitfalls make it so. One could even argue it is true from an evolutionary point-of-view; commercial perfumery houses have both the drive and the means to work with ever-stricter regulations. The time and money Guerlain - for instance - has to invest to come up with Oakmoss and Raw Bergamot replacements is something no niche house could possibly do.

        Scentwise, I think niche is more interesting though, exactly because they don't have to create something "not hated by many". Do I want to smell like a stuffy vagina or a blood-covered booger? Not really, but I do like that it's being made (and enjoyed by some I guess).

      • pkiler | 20th July 2016 18:49

        I'm so sorry, I just cannot agree that Commercial is more interesting than niche.

        First, now a few years later than the article's writing, they are morphing into almost the same, unfortunately.

        Niche *was* about difference. Commercial is all about the same.

        Where the action is now, where 'difference and individuality' is now, is where I sit with the PK Perfumes line, in the Artisanal ranges.

        That's where you find interesting scents. what I see much of elsewhere is banality ad nauseam.

      • Ken_Russell | 20th July 2016 20:17

        Enjoyed reading the article. Personally found good to great fragrances (again, by personal standards and from a strictly individual perspective) in any market segment/price category.

      • the_good_life | 15th November 2016 12:20

        Not just you. The fragrance market has become a bloated monster spewing out ever more banality and it's run by managers who don't care whether they're in the beauty, weapons or pharmaceuticals business - business is business, i.e. the focus is on profit maximization.

      • Kaern | 15th November 2016 12:51

        What I don't like about [some] niche is the ridiculous prices asked for solely because of their 'nicheness' -- they need to be something special as well -- some houses forget that