The Top Ten Niche Fragrances Every Beginner Should Sample
(Page 1 of 11)

13th January, 2016

First of all, despite the word “should” in the title, this is by no means a prescriptive article. If you’re just starting out and feel like making your own merry way through genres, notes, houses, etc., and at your own pace, then feel free to ignore this. 

But for some, a roadmap is useful. If you want to cut straight to the good stuff, without wasting too much money, then think of this article as an older sister putting her hand on your shoulder and telling you which boys to steer clear of at the local nightclub. Only less condescending (hopefully). 

Sample first, unless you have money to burn and are keen to build your collection all in one go. A bit of blind buying goes with the territory, of course, and we’ve all done it – but at least sample the major categories first so that you’re not working completely in the dark.

I’ve chosen to start with a list of the top ten niche perfumes, but a list of must-sniff designer fragrances is up next. Niche doesn’t necessarily smell better than designer, but there are some differences. In general, niche caters to a long tail of tastes and quirks, no matter how obscure, whereas designer fragrances have to be made to appeal to a broader audience. But there are probably an equal number of masterpieces in the designer segment (historically) as in the niche sector. Let your nose be the final judge.

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A word on how I’ve selected these ten fragrances:

First, they must be a good representative of a genre, a trend, a single note, or a style, and allow you to make a decision whether or not to further explore the genre. Hopefully, you’ll discover a bit of your own taste in the process – you love leather, but you can’t stand tonka, and so on. Each of the scents I’ve named open doors onto other scents you might like in a similar vein – or if you hate it, then at least you know to head off in the opposite direction.

Second, all of the fragrances I’ve chosen can be sampled easily through the big e-tailers such as Luckyscent, First in Fragrance, Decantshop, or Essenza Nobile. Access to niche fragrances is an issue for all of us who don’t live in or near a major city, so easy ordering over the Internet is key here. If a scent is brilliant but so obscure or discontinued as to be impossible to obtain (Norma Kamali Incense, let’s say, or one of the By Killian Russia exclusives), then it isn’t included here. You’re going to fall in love with so many expensive, hard-to-get scents on your fragrance journey anyway that I really shouldn’t add to your misery. 

Lastly, all the perfumes I mention are completely UNISEX. Like Luca Turin says in The Guide, as far as he knows, fragrance has no genitalia (and that guy knows what he’s talking about). 

Clicking on the fragrance links will lead you to the directory pages, where you can read more information and find stockists of where to buy. 

Ok, in no order of preference at all, here are the top ten niche fragrances that every beginner should sample. (Click NEXT to begin...)

About the author: Claire Vukcevic

Claire Vukcevic is an Irish freelance writer, contributor at Basenotes,, and author of the blog



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      • David Ruskin | 13th January 2016 14:49

        What a well written article! Thank you so much. More please.

      • cacio | 13th January 2016 14:59

        Very enjoyable. I like all the suggestions related to each perfume, they are quite spot on.


      • rum | 13th January 2016 15:05

        I've always had a lot of respect for Claire and her articles. But just when I thought she couldn't really get any better, she comes up with this.

        I wouldn't say I'm beginner but neither am I Luca Turin. I learnt alot from this article (yes, I read all the pages too!) and the unique and authentic way of linking each recommendation with other scents from the same genre was a nice touch.

        Here's to the next 150 years of your articles, Claire!

      • Bavard | 13th January 2016 15:05

        I'll give them a try.

      • Kaern | 13th January 2016 15:13

        Nice links to similar fragrances -- I always find those useful as references

        It's also good to try the 'difficult' sperm, urine and blood riddled fragrances too -- a couple of brave choices.

        I think Claire is basically a big amber fan though

      • Oviatt | 13th January 2016 15:21

        Great read--several here that I have not yet tried and now will do so. Very thoughtful, evocative and useful!

      • badarun | 13th January 2016 15:41

        Excellent! But, we do expect this from ClaireV, so not too surprised. Totally enjoyed reading the entire article. Basenotes is still legit due to these articles, regardless of all the crappy threads that go around on the MFD :)

      • hednic | 13th January 2016 16:44

        Very interesting and enjoyable article!

      • Colin Maillard | 13th January 2016 16:51

        Great read! Not sure if I like the images though. I mean the exagon pixel-style bottles.

      • Jubal | 13th January 2016 17:07

        Sorry to offer an opposing comment among such adoration, but if I had begun my perfume journey sniffing most of this list I would never have continued. To a nose that isn't used to exploring perfume, most of this list could be very confusing and in some instances really anosmic. Even after ten years of learning about fragrances, I do not yet appreciate many on this list and may never. Yes, I see the reviews and think I 'should' like these, but repeated sampling over the years leaves me with the same, 'what is so great about these?' puzzle I encountered with them in the beginning.

        So if you are new to fragrance and don't 'get' the perfumes on this list, don't give up, maybe your top ten niche will be completely different, yet much more satisfying for the individual you are.

      • DrJeff | 13th January 2016 18:17

        Interesting choices. LDDM one I would have chosen, but not sure about others. Everyone has their own path on this journey, there are many on-ramps and off-ramps - many places to start with various choices.

      • Starblind | 13th January 2016 19:19

        What a wonderful, comprehensive look at a fascinating array of niche fragrances! Something like this article would have been so helpful to me when I was starting out, primarily because of the way in which Claire isolates the primary focus notes of these scents and then extrapolates about other, somewhat similar scents to try.

        I also admire the way in which she assures the reader that their own attraction to or repulsion by(!) certain notes is not a "wrong" attitude. The world of niche perfumery can sometimes feel like a rather elite club to which only the most sophisticated and educated noses need apply, but here Claire allows for opposition, and the possibility of growth and change as the reader becomes more accustomed to "difficult" notes.

        Wonderfully done!

        (Although one tiny negative: I must admit I'm not a huge fan of the pixilated graphics that accompany the article.)

      • remik | 13th January 2016 19:26

        Bravo, Claire!

        Nice reading, and indeed a fantastic shortcut to try some of the more representative fragrances in various genres - and how other similar fragrances compare to them. Very nice and concise - should be seriously considered by anyone just starting out the fragrance discovery journey.

      • danieq | 13th January 2016 20:05

        I very much enjoyed reading this and appreciated the interesting comparisons and 'if you like this, then try this' options. However, I think I wouldn't suggest these to a beginner for the same reason that another commenter suggested, FEAR. However, perhaps once someone is a year or so in, this could be very helpful indeed. The only thing missing were florals. Where are the florals?

      • Nouveau Nez | 13th January 2016 20:07

        What a brilliant piece! The proverbial "training wheels" I wish I had had before starting this adventure. Many thanks!

      • TLS | 13th January 2016 20:37

        I enjoyed reading your article. Thank's!

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 20:53

        Hi Jubal, thanks for your comment - and I don't disagree actually. Many of the fragrances I picked are very challenging indeed, and some are still not to my taste. I guess I picked them because they will provoke a reaction in any newbie, whether it be disgust or love or even just a "meh", and it's this reaction that will steer the newbie's taste in the right direction (for him or her). For example, I personally do not like Knize Ten. But testing it was absolutely essential to my understanding of where my own taste lay when it came to leather. I reacted to Knize Ten by researching and testing all the scents I could that were most definitely not like Knize Ten, which is how I stumbled onto Cuir de Russie and all the softer, floral leathers I personally love. I also find Onda and LDDM very hard to wear, although I appreciate them for what they are, kind of benchmarks along one's perfume education journey.

        I don't think anybody is saying you should like a fragrance just because it's popular or considered representative of a genre, and I really hope you don't feel like this article is there to make you feel bad if you don't. I would love it if you came back with a list of the fragrances you yourself would recommend to people starting out, because that's what this forum is for - healthy debate! I also love reading lists, of course!

      • Vernona | 13th January 2016 20:54

        Thank you Claire for this wonderful article! Please keep them comming! I just love reading anything you write!

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 20:58

        Oh Danielle, I know! Listen, it is like going out and remembering halfway through dinner that you've left the stove on or something. The minute this article went up, my blood ran cold when I realized that I had forgotten not just the florals, but the gourmands, the greens, and I might even have forgotten the chypres. Did I forget the chypres? Yep, I probably did. And when I think of the fact that it was you who so kindly arranged for me to get my first decant of Une Fleur de Cassie....

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 21:00

        Thank you very much, Starblind! I'm glad that it came across that I was going for choices that would provoke a repulsion or attraction impulse - that's what I was aiming for.

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 21:01

        Thanks, Remik! I am still enjoying the Eau Noire decant that you sent me - it's well lush.

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 21:01

        There's always something, eh, G? :-P

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 21:06

        Thank you very much, Arun! But I don't know what you mean about the MFD - those threads are brilliant! I especially love the slapdown fights between fragrances because I can close my eyes and imagine them all oiled up and glaring at each other in the ring.

      • ClaireV (article author) | 13th January 2016 21:08

        Totes, Kaern. You know me!

      • OneBlueSummer | 13th January 2016 22:10

        Of course I haven't tried any of them yet ...adding 10 more to the gotta try list !

      • purecaramel | 13th January 2016 22:50

        Thanks ClairV. This a beautiful resource for all beginners. "How to" explore, is so often neglected in our writing.

      • AnthonyG | 14th January 2016 08:30

        Very nicely done and I actually liked the hyper-pixelisation. Have actually tried and liked most of them, and will seek out the one or two I haven't. Well, all except for the Montale - gag.

      • rum | 14th January 2016 09:28

        I agree about that. People at work most suspicious of my online activity now...

        I did also think that more could have been written in terms of more traditional men's fragrances, e.g. the Fougere genre. That's been done to death elsewhere so I can see why it was ommitted though.

      • Darjeeling | 14th January 2016 10:11

        Interesting article. It went in a totally different direction than I expected and the descriptions of what to check out depending on one's reaction were brilliant. I agree that it might be enough to turn some off sampling fragrances, but it spoke to me because it was he existence of some of these more out there scents that really got me interested.

        I'd love to see someone document their discovery of scents beginning in this way and see how it works for them.

      • brianpk80 | 14th January 2016 12:38

        Wonderful article and compartmentalization. I definitely look forward to the designer's fragrances edition.

      • Foustie | 15th January 2016 01:38

        Much enjoyed reading this tonight Claire. Love the linked recommendations. Great idea. Can we look forward to Part 2 with the florals and the chypres? Oh go on.

      • pluran | 15th January 2016 10:56

        Great choices on all of them. Most people wouldn't have chosen things like Knize Ten, Onda Extrait, Patchouli 24. Good to see stuff with real character.

      • cornishlee | 15th January 2016 20:52

        Interesting. I find Knize Ten to be very floral anyway. Far too floral for me. It's a wonderful world of different tastes!

      • Zephyr1973 | 15th January 2016 21:24

        Loved reading this! I enjoy reading whatever you write, but found this quite interesting! I found the connections you made with various fragrance categories rather interesting. I may need to revisit some of my samples.

      • Darjeeling | 16th January 2016 10:41

        Also, vajazzled

        I had to look it up to confirm whether it meant what I thought. It did, but I didn't realize that was a thing.

      • Mountainbikesandwatches | 16th January 2016 10:57

        This is a superb article! I have been jumping around in niche since starting collecting a year ago with no direction, and as a result I have not learned as much as I could if I followed along a simple guide like this. I love how the notes are talked about specifically with what direction to go from the examples to suit your tastes. A wealth of information on how to quickly determine how you like specific notes presented in perfume. A must read for people taking the step from designer fragrance!

      • PerfumedLady | 17th January 2016 16:54

        I've been excited for your first feature as part of the ed. team and how happy I am the wait was not long! Just fantastic, Claire. Brilliantly written, as always.

        Have only tried Black Aoud, Chergui and Knize Ten from this list. Have tried actual Onda and applaud you for finding a way to include it that won't repel fresh noses. To be honest, Onda was just too much, too difficult for my fairly experienced nose. But I agree it should be smelled. And you remind me that this Shalimar girl has still not gotten around to Musc Ravageur-wth? Must remedy that.

        Thank you Claire; you've given my safe little fragrance cage a good rattling and plenty of sample ideas! This list is great for newer and older noses alike!

      • gazza | 17th January 2016 20:18

        awesome thanks for the read!!

      • Miss Muppet | 19th January 2016 02:12

        Fantastic article! As a newbie to niche fragrances, I really appreciated your point of view and noticed a lot of your picks are part of Luckyscent's Essential 13 Sample Packs. Will try many of these in the near future!

      • Jongilhooly | 26th January 2016 01:39

        Great article, informative as well as entertaining - thanks!

      • Bon et Copieux | 6th February 2016 02:46

        As a "newbie" I found this article incredibly helpful; I've read it three times now and your list has indeed become a reference point as I scope out my next purchase.


      • EF44 | 6th February 2016 03:48

        i agree with some other posters, i like that she included comparisons to other perfumes. has anyone at BN ever done a starter set of various juices?

      • maxall | 20th March 2016 03:05

        this is, without question, the best article that has ever been featured on this website. informative, funny, well-researched, meaty (length and girth), satisfying and inspiring. Please pay this writer more and feature her more often. thank you

        PS- having said that, I don't agree with the entirety of this list. It is not well-rounded at all. It seems this amazing writer has a fetish for burning rubber, smoking resins or charred flesh/leather with squirt of stale urine. I'm pretty sure there are some amazing niche fragrances that are on the more comforting, clean, snuggly, socially appropriate and less "trying so hard to smell like I don't try (or shower) at all." Here are some beauties to counteract the breasts described above: L.V. Teint de Neige, L'Artisan Safran Troublant, MFK Cologne pour le Soir, Montale Chocolate Greedy, FM En Passent or L'Eau d'Hiver or Lipstick Rose or Une Rose, the great zesty Xerjoff cologne whose name escapes me, etc...

      • Bavard | 20th March 2016 11:36

        In context, I believe it's "beasts" with a typo.

        Some sample shops have kits with recommended samples, but probably not yet for Claire's niche list. Typical places to check include Lucky Scent and Surrender to Chance.

      • epapsiou | 15th March 2017 18:20

        Congrats on the Jasmine Award for this post Claire.

      • ClaireV (article author) | 15th March 2017 18:45

        Thank you, dear Epapsiou!

      • Ken_Russell | 15th March 2017 20:50

        Congratulations from me as well Claire and thanks for the great work- like this particular article about niche fragrance basics

      • hednic | 15th March 2017 20:53

        I add my congratulations Claire! Well done!

      • ClaireV (article author) | 15th March 2017 21:16

        Thank you very much, Hednic, Zephyr, Ken, and Scarce!

      • purecaramel | 15th March 2017 21:44


        Camel told me to tell you that you are a Journalistic Goddess!

      • yarn | 15th March 2017 22:34

        Great work, congratulations!

      • Sillage6 | 18th March 2017 19:56

        Congratulations on winning a Jasmine award!! Kudos!

      • irfan | 21st May 2017 10:11

        This is definitely the best article I've come across on Basenotes. I agree to 70% of what's suggested in the list. LLDM, Black Aoud, MR, Chergui are all worth for a full bottle blind buy

      • Abbiss | 25th February 2018 21:22

        I love this series of articles a lot. Thanks a lot, Claire.

        There are many smoky/incense fragrances in this, most of which I never read about.

        I don't know how available Parfumerie Générale is outside Europe, but I started 1.5 year ago with a sample box containing most of Pierre Guillaume's fragrances, and there were fragrances from all families, with special notes. It was perfect to know what I like, hate, and find interesting or dull.

      • Darvant | 26th February 2018 06:26

        Excellent Claire, as always. Lucky to have you with us.