All eyes on niche

09th May, 2016

It’s safe to say that the niche perfume industry had blossomed, if not boomed, over the last couple of years. Brands like Byredo, Creed and Amouage have proven to be successful competitors of the large fragrance corporations. However, the big players are also trying to tap into this lucrative part of the business, for instance the deal where Estée Lauder purchased Le Labo in 2014 and acquired Frédéric Malle in 2015. And don’t forget big fashion houses like Chanel and Dior, who added many exclusive niche fragrances to their collection. But what happens if everyone rushes into the niche market?

The smell of success

On the shelves of the Harrods perfume department you will find many exclusive fragrances, priced somewhere around £250 pounds for 50ml. Established brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Dolce & Gabbana and Ralph Lauren are present but out-shined by the large amount of niche fragrances.

Euromonitor already mentioned in 2015 that the niche industry has been experiencing a double digit-growth and predicts the same success for 2016. “Many niche fragrance ateliers keep emerging, and while their small size means that their value, growth and contribution to the fragrances industry are difficult to quantify, their growing presence is to some extent anecdotal evidence of where fragrances growth is coming from,” says Nicholas Micallef, Analyst Beauty and Personal Care at Euromonitor. He mentions that the success of niche is very much in line with the search for individuality by the consumer and the demand for high quality products.

Perfume lovers have become more critical when purchasing a perfume and according to Micallef this has everything to do with the rise of flankers. This means that mainstream labels launched too many newly created perfumes that share some attributes of an already existing perfume. “Over the past decade, a constant wave of new mainstream fragrance launches has made it more difficult for a fragrance to stand out and offer some form of relevance to consumers,” says Micallef. “Essentially it has become more challenging for consumers to distinguish between scents. This situation has been compounded by flankers, claiming to have an olfactive link to the pillar scent. With so many fragrances to choose from, consumers are not as brand loyal as they used to be,” he says.

Go big or go home

Ruth Mastenbroek
This change in consumer behaviour offered space for the niche industry to grow. Amouage, Frederic Malle, Creed, Byredo and Annick Goutal became successful players on the perfumery market and appeared in large department stores such as Harrods, Barneys New York and Galeries Lafayette. Their creativity, limited sales range and use of unique or raw materials, made them stand out from the established perfume houses.

Ruth Mastenbroek is an independent niche perfumer who launched her own brand in 2010 and she only works with the best ingredients. She previously worked for brands such as Jo Malone, Kenneth Turner and Jigsaw. Mastenbroek feels that the internet has played a big role in the success of niche. “There was no niche industry back in the late '70's and '80's when I started out. It’s only relatively recently that niche brands have achieved credibility, and awareness by the public. The internet has played a big role here, with blogs about perfumery in general and niche brands in particular generating huge interest in perfume,” she says.

This recent success of the niche market definitely opened the eyes of many mainstream brands, who also started launching more exclusive, niche fragrances. Dior for instance, came with La Collection Privé Christian Dior which is a range of authentic fragrances, created using only carefully selected, raw materials. Chanel launched their Les Exclusifs de Chanel collection that holds fifteen fragrances that were composed by Jacques Polge and sold in a limited number of stores. But launching exclusive fragrances is just one part of the strategy. Some houses try to collaborate with niche perfume brands, niche perfumers or they simply take over a niche brand. Like the deal in 2014 where Estée Lauder purchased Le Labo Fragrances and in 2015 Frédéric Malle.

Acqua di Parma

Ruth Mastenbroek wonders when the niche market will be saturated, especially with so many new brands entering the market. “This is reminding me of what happened in the beer industry a few years ago, when niche beers were taken over by bigger brands. However, I don't know that many of those niche brands have truly moved into the big time as a result. There are still small niche beer brands coming onto the market, and I expect that will be the same for small niche perfumery brands. Niche fragrance companies have until recently not been supported by big brands, and consequently they have had limited distribution. Some brands that started out niche, like Acqua di Parma and Creed have now extended their distribution so that they can hardly be called niche any more. I wonder, if these previously niche brands become bigger, if that just creates a gap for a new niche brand to fill. When will either market be saturated?”

Some brands that started out niche, like Acqua di Parma and Creed have now extended their distribution so that they can hardly be called niche any more
According to Nicholas Micallef, the boom in niche activity may not necessarily be all genuine. “Many new brands are emerging, claiming to be alternative and artisanal under the ‘niche’ pretext, yet, profit-driven and with a high level of imitation that is at worst, unregulated.” He also expects that this might sooner or later reach its saturation point.

Fewer for better scents

So even though the niche business is experiencing its heydays, at some point the market will be overcrowded. Euromonitor advices perfume brands to focus on a smaller range of scents. “Fragrances are gradually evolving into items purchased for their intrinsic value rather than as a commodity,” says Micallef. “Fragrances players will need to shift focus onto a portfolio composed of brands that can yield strong returns, rather than retaining an overall company drive for profitability via innovation on brands that are challenging to revive. Frequent launches may not be the solution, especially in a market where a fragrance struggles to stand out, lasts no longer than a season or two, and is subject to retailers’ selection process in providing adequate shelf space.”

Micallef definitely sees a future for perfume houses who purchase smaller niche brands since it means that the acquirer gains new expertise and benefits from synergies with other products in its existing brand portfolio. “This, in turn, aids the development of superior scents by working with more expert perfumers, which enables the parent company to exert more influence on the retailers’ product assortment decision process.”

  • Share this

About the author: Marloes Hagenaars

Marloes Hagenaars comes from the very small town Langeraar in the Netherlands. Her interest in fashion started growing when she did her Bachelor Journalism in Utrecht and later did a Masters in Fashion Journalism at the London College of Fashion. During her Masters she started Freya Magazine (, a fashion magazine that explores current issues through fashion. Currently she is working as an editor for Harper’s Bazaar Netherlands. Her favourite perfume is L'Air du Desert Marocain by Andy Tauer



    Advertisement — comments are below


      • xoxoMyke | 10th May 2016 01:37

        I don't think big designers buying small niche brands will have a positive effect on the ones they purchase. Their corporate mantra (greed) of "Money Over Everything" will ONCE AGAIN be the end of them. They will compromise the creativity that makes niche brands so attractive for profits.

        To top it all off, I don't think the designers realize that the majority of niche fragrance buyers are absolute and total snobs. The majority exclusively own niche. To know that Estee Lauder, Dolce & Gabbana or Polo has purchased their beloved niche brand and has influence over them, they will stop purchasing them, reduce them to being pedestrian and raise hell about "REFORMULATIONS!!1!11!one!1"

        I look forward to this niche obsession and fad to die off.

      • hednic | 10th May 2016 01:50

        Very interesting points shared in the article. I personally thoroughly enjoy the variety and options that exist today for the consumer in the fragrance market.

      • CrushedPotatoes | 10th May 2016 14:06

        Interesting article, but I don't like Niche brand to be part of a big group... I think it breaks creativity, and makes everything gravitate towards money and profit... But if I personnaly buy Niche fragrances, it's because I have a link to the brand, and I don't feel forced to buy a product because it's expensive. I buy it because it's beautiful. And if it belongs to a big group, I know that I'm paying my bottle for the marketing, and not for the scent. And that's a little sad... Hope Niche remains Niche, with a few products per range, not too much, and without flankers.

      • Kaern | 10th May 2016 14:51

        Uber Niche or Meta Niche are coming!

        'Oh, you know, I only purchase Uber Niche now'

        You still digging Niche? Oh dear, tut tut

      • edshepp | 11th May 2016 09:32

        I like the phrase micro-niche. :)

      • Bingostep | 12th May 2016 00:35

        I think I prefer "Niche-Niche".

        By the way, it would be a great idea for a brand name?...

        "Eau de Niche-Niche" in version EDP would be my prefered!

      • JimmyP | 13th May 2016 21:46

        I think the market is flooded already. I personally don't even bother looking at all these newly emerging houses and rarely even bother with the new stuff from established houses.

        What the producers need to realize is that the laws of supply and demand indeed apply to the fragrance industry as well. They are probably wishing that that they didn't, but they do. The amount of new products entering the market is outpacing the consumer population growth by so much that I am starting to wonder who are they even selling to?

        The craft beer analogy is somewhat off the mark. I can get a new craft beer release for the weekend and chances are it will be all consumed within a few days. With fragrances it takes years to even put a noticeable dent into the bottle (assuming one has 20 or so bottles in their collection).

      • supremeweb | 31st May 2016 14:51

        I think you can make good money on niche perfumes if you are doing this right way and was working previously in this field

      • rickbr | 1st June 2016 16:24

        Micro-niche already exhists. It's the artisan or indie segment.

      • rickbr | 1st June 2016 16:38

        The question is that niche is not growing due creativity. Creativity sells fragrances for a small group of people like us, who participate on forums and willing to discuss fragrances into something more deep. Niche fragrance is growing mainly because mainstream fragrances kind of achieved an ubiquity, something that i think celebrity fragrances and flankers certainly helped. It's seems as "new" and as "different", but like Andy Tauer pointed in one of his blog posts, you have markets were what cares the less is what is inside the bottle, but the fact that it's expensive and has a fancy bottle. And you have people willing to pay for this.

        The fact os that yes, everything gravitates into money and profit. Because without those, what pays creativity? Recently Francis Kurkdjian gave an interview where he mentioned that one of his fragrances, Absolue Pour Le Soir, sold less than 30 bottles in a year. Imagine that he made all his line into fragrances more artistic and dark like this one. Would this be sustainable over the time?

        You have investments to be made to produce fragrances. Materials to be purchased, investment in labels, in boxes, in samples for the media (even that this media is only the blogs). So it's not exactly fair to put the blame on money and profit, because it doesn't make sense to create something that doesn't sell, for beautiful and artistic it might be.

      • unregistered | 23rd August 2016 22:39

        I dunno if I'd call Creed "niche"; it was founded in 1760!

      • Funwithfrags | 24th August 2016 10:44

        Having sampled a variety of niche products now, I can say that there are many that I quite like, but none that I love, and none so far that I would buy.

        Of course, definitions matter a lot: one of the ways of defining niche is to oppose to it designer - that would make Guerlain niche, I think. Then there are the privee or similar lines through the big designer houses. Claire did a nice little segment on this in her article on 10 niche scents everyone should try.

        One of the question I am asking myself is whether I have been so influenced by an overarching "designer style" that I just find the niche offerings too left-field for my nose. But there are so many niche offerings that there must be something out there for me - I can't just dismiss a whole segment of the market that takes in (I guess) many hundreds of producers, if not more.

        Two trends that I have spotted and I find galling in niche output are the sheer number of similar scents. I suppose the number of scents being produced makes this inevitable, but I have lost track of the number of things I've tried recently that start off with citrus and end with some manner of vetiver. I don't feel the need to pay big bucks for some mediocre scent of this kind.

        The other trend originates in the marketing, I would say - the need to find an audience through cutesy themes or descriptions. I realise that the marketing is necessary to make something "niche" in the first place, but isn't it beyond these people to make something wearable, high quality, and within recognisable generic bounds?

        Anyway, I've sequestered some of the most highly thought of and popular niches in samples for review in the near future, so perhaps I'll get it then.

      • Birdboy48 | 28th August 2016 01:51

        When big outfits buy up niche lines, I suspect they feel that they are mostly purchasing the aura that surrounds that line. As they move forward, if the new products don't keep up with the aura, then it will upset people like us, but my guess is that it will take longer for the general public to catch on.

        To be honest, I tend to view moves like this as just one more aspect of the "appropriation" thing, in a world where "authenticity" is viewed by many as the currency of the day.

        And if you have enough money, as a big company, they figure they can just go out and buy it.

      • cornishlee | 28th August 2016 08:28

        I think a lot of what you're saying is true but I thought I'd pick up on this and develop it further. I think a lot of the niche fragrances that get discussed frequently on BN have a lot in common. That might be a matter of taste. I also think that niche houses have to some extent restored the national differences that existed in the fragrance world a hundred years ago.

        American niche houses are often loud, unaplogetic and relatively linear - DS&Durga, CB I Hate Perfume and Slumberhouse are some that I've tried that fall into this category for me.

        British niche houses seem to do a lot of discrete colognes and fougeres - Castle Forbes, Cotswold, the various modern barbershops.

        French and Italian niche I have less experience of but I wouldn't be surprised to find that they supported this impression. All of which isn't to say that there aren't exceptions or that I favour one type over another (and of course, my impressions may be self-fulfilling prophecy).

        Another thing that might link the two, other than just being a matter of taste, is that Basenotes, although a British website, does have far more USA members than any other nationality now, so US niche houses are more likely to be discussed, if only due to local availability.