In this age of globalization, corporate conglomerates, and big box stores, there’s something very comforting about finding a product that no one else has. You can get small-batch olive oil. There’s an entire cult on Twitter that is in search of unusual teas. And finding a new local fashion designer often feels like a delicious secret when everyone around you is wearing something from the mall.
So with everyone looking for a way to express individuality in a world that is becoming increasingly commercial, niche perfumes are the perfect antidote to conformity.
I’m a lazy fragrance user. I own and have used quite a few in my day, but never very regularly. Days will go by when deodorant and toothpaste are my signature scents. This is really sort of unacceptable.
Enter Marian Bendeth. Marian, a fragrance expert and consultant who has worked with over a thousand brands, is based in Toronto, Ontario. She writes about scent, teaches about it, argues about it, collects it, and lives for it. She only wears vintage fragrances, but wouldn’t reveal them to me. I could have talked to her for hours about finding my signature–niche–perfume, but here’s the short version.
What the heck does niche mean?
According to Marian, a niche perfume is one that is not mainstream. If it’s harder to come by, higher-end, eclectic, or different, you can classify it as niche. Britney Spears will probably never do a niche. Chanel, however, has. Even though Chanel perfumes are readily available, they carry a line called Les Exclusifs de Chanel that are rare and only available in their boutiques. So it’s a tricky concept. Availability (or lack thereof) and uniqueness seem to be the main qualifiers.
Who produces niche perfumes?
Well, just about anyone. There are “outer circle” perfumers–those who started companies without previous fragrance industry ties, like Jo Malone and Fresh. Then there are the “inner circle” niche perfumers–those who broke away from more traditional houses.
The grandson of an LVMH founder started By Kilian. Romano Ricci, the great-grandson of Nina Ricci, started Juliette Has A Gun. “She’s out for allure, but she’s armed,” Marian told me of the line. Frédéric Malle–who has an eponymous line–is the grandson of Serge Heftler, who founded Dior Perfumes. If you stay up until two in the morning scouring perfume sites (like I did on more than one occasion), there are some fascinating stories about fragrances and their origins.
Marian warns about relative unknowns that go viral via blogs and online sources. “What concerns me is, where are they sourcing their oils from? That’s going on my skin,” she said. While acknowledging the power of the internet to launch new fragrances and support small producers, she wants everyone to do their research before buying.
Finally, are you searching for a signature scent? Don’t.
“Signature scents are ridiculous. You don’t wear one dress everyday. It’s monotonous. It shows an inflexibility in character,” Marian told me, in no uncertain terms. So, my beloved Burberry Brit Sheer will be the old beat up jeans of my perfume cabinet. I vowed to go on a search for the equivalent of perfume couture.
Click through for a round-up of some amazing off-the-beaten path niche fragrances: