Niche (art) perfumes are, by many characteristics, similar to the perfumes that were made years ago, before everything became industrialized, fitted and controlled by guidelines and processes. Through them one can feel the spirit of old perfume artworks, the spirit that has long ago left the ordinary perfumes we can find in shops like Jasmin, Sephora, Douglas and Muller.
Copernicus twist in the perfume industry happened during the 1980s when the attention shifted from the perfumes to the market. Public opinion was no longer shaped by new, inspirational and innovative perfumes but by market’s needs. Add to that the incredible focus on perfume bottles that became as important as a perfume and sometimes even more important than the “juice” in them, with a price that makes 80% of the total perfume price, and you get a complex and tangled image of a perfume industry today.
It is very difficult to draw a clear line between mainstream and niche perfumes today, more than ever, because many perfume giants like LVMH are buying art brands like Maison Francis Kurkdjian and niche perfumes like L’Artisan place their goods in Sephora shops. But I will present a couple of categories through which you can spot a difference between niche and mainstream perfumes.
- Availability. Unlike mainstream perfumes like Versace, Gucci and similar that can be found in every perfume shop, niche perfumes can mostly be found in shops that are not part of a giant shop chain. Those are mostly smaller, luxury shops different from the noisy and crowded perfume shoops and they give a different, more personal experience of perfume sampling and shopping. Examples: L’Atelier Belgrade, Metropolitan Belgrade, Anabella Marriott Hotel Skopje, The Perfume Porto Montenegro…
- Presentation. With designer perfumes its all big adds and unusual bottles. The focus is shifted from the perfume to the package that grabs the attention of people crazed by the influx of information coming from all sides, TV, billboard, cell phones. Niche houses do not advertise like that, they let the product talk for itself. Art perfumes are mostly packed in simple and elegant bottles, and the focus in on the quality of the ingredients. Far from that some of those brands do not have luxury packages (just remember wooden Amouage boxes or Roja Dove). But the focus is and always will be, at the owners claim, on the essence and that it perfume itself.
- Perfumist. Niche perfumes are focused on the maker of the perfume. In the world of art perfumes, it is very important who is behind a certain perfume. Perfume noses are stars and not brands like it’s the case with mainstream designer perfumes. When people buy perfumes by brands such as Armani or Burberry, they don’t care who made that particular perfume. There is no personality cult, only if the perfume and its allure are likable. With niche perfumes, its all about the artist. Just as it is important to know if the author of a certain sculpture is Rodin or Michelangelo, so it is important to know if a perfume was made by Jean Claude Ellena or Olivier Polge.
- Process of perfume making. Probably the most important criteria by which one can differentiate designer and art perfumes. With niche perfumes, their creator is driven by vision and idea of the perfume using a high percentage of natural, top quality ingredients. The goal is to make a perfume that represents emotion, thought or yearning creator wanted to capture in the bottle. Contrary to that, in the mainstream industry, its all about fashion, trends, the taste of the audience and mass likeability.
- Price. Since art perfume (mostly) use natural and high-quality essential oils, and perfume series is limited, the price is higher than with designer, mainstream perfumes. But not necessarily. Perfumes like Guerlain or Chanel have similar price range as most niche perfumes although there are those that cost more as it is the case with Amouage perfumes, Clive Christian and Roja Dove.
All these distinctions can mean everything and nothing. If a perfume is niche it doesn’t necessarily mean it is better than mainstream one. I have smelled several times niche perfume that did not justify its price by any standard and have found among designer perfumes those that puzzled me and amazed me with its originality and quality. But sometimes, when I want to find top-notch, unusual and special compositions not many people will own, I focus to niche perfumes and instead of going to Jasmine or Sephora shops I switch to L’Atelier or Metropoliten.
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