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Niche perfume, what is it? 
So being pretty sure I know the answer to this question, I start writing it all down and I realize, this answer isn't as clear as I think.  If it's unclear to me, I can't imagine the confusion for you if you've recently been exploring perfume.

So what is niche perfume exactly?  When there were not a lot of niche perfume brands, the answer was easy  - small perfume companies with almost no advertising budget who created perfumes they wanted to make without focus groups or marketing people telling them what they could and couldn't do.  Their market was, well, me!  Okay, not entirely, I think a bunch of you reading this can claim to be their target market as well. 

They aimed at people who were weary of overhyped perfumes that smelled much the same as the one sitting next to it  - not saying they were bad perfumes, they were just, well, pretty unremarkable.  20 years ago, a narrower chasm existed between mainstream and niche.  Mainstream perfumery was still producing some interesting things, though they were getting harder to find.  The last two decades, that chasm has grown by a factor of --

 George Jetson

Wait, I'll explain.

Mainstream perfumery has been on a launch/marketing hamster wheel that has done nothing but speed up.  The fierce competition for the consumer's attention is more intense now than ever, and they feel they must put out several new releases a year because the one they just did is already forgotten.  Moving more and more to flanker (*definition at the bottom) releases to cut down on the expense of telling a new marketing story, mainstream perfume companies put much of their budget for a new release into ads.

I get hives just thinking about it, and my empathy for mainstream perfumery is deep - once you are on a hamster wheel like that?  You are George Jetson screaming

"somebody stop this crazy thing!"

Niche perfumes sidestep all of this craziness, though they have their own craziness, and their process is almost the inverse - the longer time period it takes to create a perfume that bears the fullness of their artistic vision, the more likely it is to catch on with the customer that most appreciates it.  Vero Kern took five years before she released Onda, Rubj and Kiki in 2007.  We have been waiting five long years for her new perfume, which is releasing in a couple of weeks, Mito. But we don't really care because we had the beauty of Onda, Rubj and Kiki to keep us company while we waited. If those had been the only three perfumes she had ever made, it would have been enough. 

Kiki made me laugh out loud the first time I put it on, and it still makes me laugh every time I wear it. When I'm down, I go grab Kiki, and she never fails me. 

That seems a simple enough definition  - niche perfumes are small brands with little to no advertising budget, they create the fragrances they want according to their artistic vision and rely on word of mouth to increase awareness of their brand.

So where do Creed and L'Artisan and other medium brands fall on the niche/mainstream perfume continuum?

They were niche to start with and have grown.  They don't have a big advertising department, but they are carried in some large department stores that do some advertising for them. Chanel's Les Exclusifs, are they niche?  Hard to find, no advertising or minimal advertising, they clearly are following the beat of some different drummer on these vs. Chanel Coco Noir.  Cartier's Les Heures and Van Cleef and Arpels series of soliflores?  Niche?  I would argue they are.  Artistic, minimal to no advertising budget, hard to find. Prada's Exclusives certainly meet these criteria, you have to practically beg a sales person to sell them to you, if you can find the one Prada store that still carries them or will admit to carrying them or will not tell you they are all discontinued.  Every time we run out of one of the Pradas, I have a meltdown because the ordering process is so humiliating. I've never felt quite so dirty trying to give someone my money.

Is it exclusivity or lack of advertising that makes something niche? Or can you even have one without the other?  If Cartier advertised the Les Heures, would they then be mainstream?  Does the artistry alone save them from the mainstream label, even if they were sold at Wal-mart?

Fendi Theorema was mainstream in theory, but I'd argue that it was completely niche in feel. Which must be why those geniuses discontinued it and now have Fan di Fendi at every discounter while Theorema is over 2x what it originally cost on eBay.  Gucci EDP 2002 in that big, heavy square bottle - niche, niche, niche, niche. I can buy it for a song and a $20 bill, which is a beautiful thing, but it's niche from its glorious thyme-orange blossom open to the last thump of its cuminy musk heart. Did you know that Gucci EDP was Tom Ford's idea?  Then I smell Amber Absolute (blessedly discontinued) and wonder what went wrong? 

Is niche perfume as simple as - artistic perfumes made without any marketing strategy and just made for the sheer love and joy of creating something beautiful that you hope will sell and support you in making more perfumes? 

That's my definition in theory.  But I can't read motives inside of a company, nor do I want to. The smallest perfume company in the world isn't necessarily artistic just because it is small. And the largest perfume company in the world isn't necessarily not artistic just because it moved a few billion this year in sales.  Art comes from where it does, regardless of the yearly gross. 

Niche defines itself when you smell it.  It's like the Supreme Court's definition of porn.

 I can't define niche perfumery, but I know it when I smell it.

And that's why niche perfumery is so important and maybe why you're here and wondering what the point is to smelling all these different perfumes you've never heard of.  Great niche perfumes give you something - they make you feel, remember, cry, feel beautiful, be repulsed, and laugh.  If the artist has done it right, you won't be left going... "oh, yeah, it's okay, I guess" while you are already looking at something else.

You may loathe it, you may be perplexed and confused by it, but you won't fail to form an opinion. 

The worst perfume in the world is the one that risks no offense.

Niche Perfume Sample Sets

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