GothicHeart's Perfume Blog

13.02.2015
8

​Niche, yes. But what about nice?

First of all, I'd like to remind to anyone who would be kind (and patient) enough to read this article, that these are my personal views on this particular subject, and they are by no means axiomatically right. Our personal preferences are 100% subjective, and subjectivity is usually the worst enemy of "right" and "wrong".

I think that the very first priority in such a discussion is to define what "niche" is. According to numerous sources, the key for any perfume house to be characterised as "niche" is the width of its products distribution. In other words, the smaller the number of stores in which it can be found, the bigger the reading on the "nicheometer". But this alone is not a safe method, since Tesori d'Oriente perfumes are sold even in super-markets, but according to a certain and very popular site, Tesori d'Oriente is a niche brand. Tesori d'Oriente sells for as much as 6€ for 100ml. I wonder if people in Profumum Roma think of them as fellow niche buddies, while asking for 200€ for the same volume?

In my book, "niche" for many people is a synonym of "expensive" above all, and although this is a generally accepted idea, I think it's unfair and wrong. There are niche perfumes like the ones in the following pictures, which sell for 20-50€, and while I have not tested them, I have no doubt that many of them are pretty good and better than their snob cousins.

But since I'm neither an expert nor a perfume historian, I think it would be better if we'd let someone from inside the niche circle to define what his circle consists of. According to Gerard Camme, President of Atelier Cologne, the following are the pillars of niche perfumery and good enough reasons for anyone to love to wear a niche perfume.

-It’s something different, something you don’t see everywhere, rare and hard to find.

-The opposite of a mass produced designer celebrity fragrance, or what everyone else is wearing.

-It’s inspired by emotions.

-Hand crafted.

-Made with rare and hard to find ingredients.

-It’s constructed in a way that is atypical.

-It's exclusive.

Well, let's see...

1) "It’s something different, something you don’t see everywhere, rare and hard to find."

This phrase has to be divided in two.

"It's something different, something you don't see everywhere".

So is Acteur and Arrogance Uomo. Are they niche fragrances?

"Rare and hard to find".

I sense an attempt of covertly passing a message here. "Rare and hard to find" are keywords which are paving the way for the outrageous price tags that many niche houses put on their products. Cause something "rare and hard to find" can't be either cheap or reasonably priced, can it?

2) "The opposite of a mass produced designer celebrity fragrance, or what everyone else is wearing."

Isn't this No.1 rephrased? I also wonder whether niche houses would insist on deriding this "what everyone else is wearing" part of this argument, if they had the chance to sell 1.000.000 bottles of their perfumes every year. I'm sure you know the saying about money and bulls' excrement (which by the way Xerjoff is selling under the name of Al-Khatt).

3) "It’s inspired by emotions."

While designer fragrances are inspired by what? Aliens? One could argue that mass marketed fragrances are actually inspired by greed for as big a profit as possible, and I would agree to a certain degree with her/him. But can somebody please tell me how 200€ for a 100ml bottle is emotion? Do niche perfumers belong to an elite whose emotions are THAT expensive?

Let's see some emotions and the number of fragrances they inspired to some of the most prominent and acknowledged niche perfume houses, Atelier Cologne included.

Atelier Cologne has launched 22 perfumes from 2010 to 2015.

Serge Lutens has launched 48 of its 62 perfumes after 2000.

Xerjoff/Sospiro has launched 57+16 perfumes from 2007 to 2014.

Bond No 9 has launched 96 perfumes from 2003 to 2014.

The launch to emotion ratio is almost one new perfume every 2,5 months for each house! Suddenly these emotions seem to be kinda mercurial, don't they?

4) "Hand crafted."

"Handcrafted" has become a very abused word nowadays. Everyone can claim that her/his products are handcrafted, since there aren't any standards that have to be followed for a product to be labeled as such. If I tighten the screws in the chests I make with a power screwdriver, does this make my chests less hancrafted than the ones made by someone who tightens their screws with a traditional screwdriver? So what is a handcrafted perfume? A perfume that is blended and poured by hand in every bottle? Does "handcrafted" apply only to the perfume, or does it include its presentation as well? If I create the perfume, its bottle and its box, is then my perfume more "handcrafted" than someone's who creates only the perfume, but buys its bottle and its box from someone else?

5) "Made with rare and hard to find ingredients."

Like? I can make a perfume and claim that it contains the tears of an archbishop, snow from Mount Everest and water from the depths of the Mariana Trench. Then name it something catchy and trendy like "The Highs and Lows of Piousness" and sell it for an arm and a leg. Since we don't have access to their invoices, anyone can say anything (s)he likes. But all I can see is that "rare and hard to find" makes it for a second time in a seven parts "manifesto". I'd really like to have the time and money to buy a dozen of highly acclaimed and popular niche fragrances, and send them to a reputable chemichal lab for a thorough analysis of their ingredients. Just to put their creators' claims of top-quality ingredients to the test.

6) "It’s constructed in a way that is atypical."

My typical mind cannot grasp the meaning of this sentence...

7) "It's exclusive."

"Exclusive" has many meanings, two of which are "charging comparatively high prices; expensive" and "admitting only members of a socially restricted or very carefully selected group, especially a fashionable clique". So I think that some further explanation about "exclusive" wouldn't be that much to ask.

Now, is it just me, or the above views are kinda elitist and discriminative and in some cases borderline fascist? Aren't they sort of dividing perfume lovers into plebeians and patricians?

It's not only a matter of pricing. Anyone who makes something can ask for as much as (s)he wants. What seems suspicious is that they feel the need to explain (or apologise) why these prices are so absurd, which is something that a true artist would never do.

Being a bit infuriated by Xejoff's Shooting Stars line prices (nearly 400€/100ml), I decided to search a little further about their claims of why this line is so unique and thus so expensive. Well according to their site, this is why.

"Each of the shooting stars scents is named after a location that experienced a unique meteoric event. Shooting stars is an inspiring collection that makes you believe that stars can be closer than we think.

Each fragrance in the Shooting Stars collection has been chosen to reflect the special nature of this event and tiny meteorite pieces from this event have been used to adorn the neck collar of the crystal bottle; which is crowned with a hand crafted bronze stopper. Fittingly, the art deco style brass plaque depicts a falling star.

Presented in an opulent lacquered wooden box, each fragrance is accompanied by a certificate that guarantees the origin and preciousness of the meteorite pieces."

Half of the meteoric events after which their perfumes are named took place during the 19th century, which makes the fragments' authentification a bit trickier than usual. But even if I accept that Xerjoff has an exogeology department, qualified to guarantee that the authenticity certificates are authentic and that the acclaimed meteorite pieces are not common and very earthy rocks, what does the whole foofaraw has to do with the quality of the perfumes of this particular line? Anyone can make a sapphire glass or rock crystal bottle with a palladium stopper and a platinum plaque, and then fill it with Revlon's Charlie, put it in a snakewood box, and sell it for 1000€. Do you doubt that a lot of people, privileged enough to buy one, would say that the perfume is divine and unlike anything else they have smelled?

I think that the example of By Kilian which sells its Pure Oud for 295€/50ml when in full presentation, but "only" 125€ when in a plain refill bottle, speaks for itself.

What kind of nerve does it take to say that the packaging costs an extra 170€, while the perfume itself costs 125€? But the most important question here is what kind of people accept this deal.

But tinsel gimmicks aside, I'm also sick and tired of reading pompous poppycock like the following, about the alleged outstanding quality of niche perfumes.

"The very high concentration of essential oils ensures an outstanding lasting power. "

Wrong. Essential oils are very volatile, and thus they have less staying power than their artificially created substitutes. This is why a great variety of other substances, like fixative agents, is used in perfume making. Otherwise perfumes would just consist of essential oils and alcohol or some natural oil base and that would be all. The truth is that some essential oils have fixative properties by nature, but unless there's something eluding me here, there's no such thing as very high concentration when talking about essential oils. An essential oil is by definition the highest concentration of a plant's aromatic substance. High concentration has a meaning only when we're talking about solutions. Thus a liquid consisting of 95% essential oils and 5% of alcohol, is not an essential oil anymore, but a higly concentrated fragrance oil. And other than that, I have yet to happen upon a niche perfume with the lasting power of Thierry Mugler's Angel or Paco Rabanne's 1 Million.

I think that the whole thing is mostly hype, based on the innate human need to be different and stand out from the rest. Two complementary parameters could be autosuggestion and pride. When someone pays 200-300€ for a niche perfume, there is a high possibility that (s)he might subject her/himself to the idea that the perfume is good, excellent even. Also the self-gratification feeling of having something expensive that most people can't afford is something only a few people can resist. I've seen both of them happening and not only with perfumes. But none of them either ensures or proves that the object which caused them is a good one. Or the other way around. It's like ordering a 30 years old single malt whisky, and then killing it with five ice cubes and half a can of Coke. If tomorrow I win a 10.000.000€ lottery and buy a Lamborghini, does this mean that my driving skills will automatically upgrade to "Michael Schumacher" level?

The truth is that until recently, niche perfumes and I were perfect strangers. But due to some "perfume saints" generosity, I was able to test over 50 niche fragrances during last year, and I can say with hand on heart that only a handful of them (perhaps 4-6) were as good as some of the fragrances that the now despised designer houses had launched in the past. And not a single one of them was better than the best specimens which Yves Saint Laurent or Cacharel has given us over the years. With the possible exception of Habanita and Yatagan, since this aforementioned certain and very popular site, tells us that Molinard and Caron have departed for the niche skies for some time now...

P.S.: Just for a laugh, Xerjoff in its site says that "The avant-garde bouquets of these sophisticated scents are based on the ancient recipes and traditions of Grasse, but have also been inspired by an amazing natural wonder. In 1947, an awe-inspiring shower of meteorites fell to earth in Russia.", but it also says that "We do not deliver to RUSSIA". Quite a way to treat your inspiration models, huh?...

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