It seems 2018 is going to be another bumper year for fragrance, especially for those Niche brands that have quite literally stolen the show from mainstream brands.
So what do we mean by a niche brand? With so much discussion in the last few years of niche, independents, artisan etc, maybe this is a good time to clarify what is meant by these terms. There has been an increase in the amount of niche fragrance houses taking over the beauty bestseller lists with customers becoming more aware and savvy about their perfume purchases. So simply put niche fragrances are available in limited quantities while designer perfumes are mass produced. Many mainstream perfumes are created by designer houses as an entry point into the brand, ironic as these brands are all about exclusivity yet the perfumes come in at High Street price points.
Niche perfumes seemed to start to arrive on the marketplace as noses who created often for mainstream brands created perfumes that were not considered ‘commercial’ but still wanted to see the scent available.
One of the first people to pick up on this trend and start a shop dedicated to these small independent personal fragrances was Les Senteurs in Elizabeth street in London. The store has recently reopened after a redesign. The owners first picked up small runs of perfumes found in Paris made by renowned noses and bought small quantities back to the UK to sell in their first store, and one of the nicest aspects of the brand is that it is still family owned; past down from parents to children.
Their ethos regarding the art of perfumery combines the exploring one’s senses and personal tastes whilst working hard to offer fragrances that not just enchant the consumer but work to seamlessly guide them through the art of fragrance. Making it easier for those that are first time consumers of independent scents, the shop breaks fragrances down onto the well-known scent families or groups.
The first independent shop in the UK but rather than us telling you why not hear it direct from the family:-
Betty, Claire and Chris Hawksley of Les Senteurs
1. Which was the first perfume you ever bought to sell in the first shop? And when was that?
Among the first brands we bought in for the opening of the shop in 1984 were Annick Goutal and Creed.
My husband Michael and I first discovered Annick Goutal on a visit to Paris, initially through a fragrance Annick had made for both mothers and babies for the children’s clothing boutique Bonpoint. (I believe her sister had had something to do with Bonpoint at that point in time). We visited her small boutique in a less well trodden part of the St Germain area and thought it was such a new and appealing approach to personal fragrancing. Her father had been a confectioner and this had led to her packaging the fragrances like bon-bons in gathered cellophane which gave it such a distinctive look. Annick had had the idea to suspend the fragrances’ name from a gold cord tied around the neck of the bottle. This, she said, would allow her customers, by removing it, to keep secret the name of their scent from the curious or prying eyes of friends. We believed it was the perfect story with which to engage the press and her brand became the focus of Les Senteurs in the early days.
Michael discovered Creed at a gentleman’s barbers in Jermyn Street. He was fascinated to find out that Creed was founded in England in St. James’s but had moved to Paris in the 19th century. This led us to a meeting with Olivier Creed in his boutique in Paris and the discovery of a much larger selection of fragrances than Michael had seen in the barbershop in London, many of them presented in 250 ml splash bottles sealed with ground glass stoppers covered in cowhide in an artisanal style that we thought was charming. The obvious quality of the fragrances was evident in their emphasis on natural ingredients, their concentration and staying power.
2. Which is the happiest accident that brought a wonderful perfume collection to you that you then took to the store?
Fortuitously we also discovered when walking along the Rue St Honore in Paris a small perfumery run by the first wife of perfumer Francois Robert (whose father Guy, also a “nose”, had created “Caleche” for Hermes and ‘Madame Rochas’ for Rochas). This chance encounter led to Francois offering to create Les Senteurs’ very own house perfume, which I called Apogée, now sadly discontinued until it can be reformulated to comply with new formulation regulations.
For me the happiest accident came when I stumbled across the newly created online fragrance forum Basenotes.net – it was here that I first read about Tauer Perfumes; the online community was abuzz with enthusiastic praise for his L’Air du Desert. His perfumes have a very definite and unique signature that is instantly recognisable, and we are proud that they are available exclusively in the U.K. at Les Senteurs. Andy ploughs his own furrow, his business is still virtually a one-man operation. The phrase is over-worked but Andy truly IS a renaissance man, interested in the greater world beyond perfumery – while simultaneously he is an inspired, witty, and colourful creator of scents which could never be confused with anyone else’s work.
3. Do you have any particular favourite noses that when you hear they have worked with a brand you think ‘Ohhh I want to try that”?
I am a great fan of Bois de Paradis by Parfums Delrae, (a San Franciscan brand which we carried at one time). It was created by Michel Roudnitska (son of the great Edmond Roudnitska who authored Dior’s Eau Sauvage, and Femme by Rochas) – so I am very happy that we now carry the recently launched “Anima Vinci” brand, for whom Michel created Wood of Life which I just can’t get enough of at the moment. Then Christopher Sheldrake, who I came to appreciate through his work with Serge Lutens and Mark Buxton – I particularly loved Mood Indigo. Finally, Alberto Morillas, so magisterial and authoritative, whose elegant, bewitching creations for his own brand “Mizensir” now grace our shelves.
4. Which of the perfumers /brands/ noses etc. do you feel are fundamental in bringing niche perfumes forward or even bringing them to the general public?
Olivier Creed and Annick Goutal for being the creative forces behind two of the first niche brands to achieve significant popularity, Frederic Malle for helping to raise the profile of and popularise interest in the “noses” behind his fragrances, Byredo for being one of the first brands to promote a younger, more “hip” image for niche perfumery and Andy Tauer for his originality and for quietly developing his brand through an internet community of fans.
5. If you had to describe a ‘niche’ perfume how would you describe it?
For me it’s about an emphasis on the juice itself (the quality, originality and creativity thereof) as opposed to the marketing of the brand; a credibility based on authenticity, a sense of it being born of an individual’s personality and creative viewpoint, with a freedom to explore a more extensive (and often more expensive) olfactory palette than is possible with “commercial” fragrances.
6. Lastly what for you is the difference between buying a perfume in a chemist or department store where you may just buy a designer label mass-produced perfume and buying into to the niche world?.
A calm, soothing atmosphere, time and personal service. It seems to me that the commercial world promotes a “shortcut” process to choosing a fragrance: “I recognise and/or like that brand or I want to be part of the world depicted or the mood created by the advertisement” so I buy the fragrance. The niche world is more about taking the time to explore, discover and appreciate how different combinations of ingredients and scents can stimulate our imagination, how they can make us feel. To do this, we believe it helps to have a relaxed, unhurried atmosphere and the guidance of a patient, knowledgeable sales assistant who listens and suggests and who becomes your trusted companion of this voyage of discovery. I hope this is what we can offer at Les Senteurs.
Les Senteurs is the oldest independent perfumery in London and the home of niche perfumes
The shop is a safe place to go and try learn and engage with perfume. The team ensure a wonderful experience, not just in-store where the visit becomes an experience but also look to offer the same experience online.
However should that not be enticing enough there is another way to start your journey in niche fragrance, via a wonderful new online perfume service called Sniph. A subscription service that allows you to discover new scents monthly. Each month the Sniph team curate scents from six distinctive collections. Simply pick the collection that suits you best and then have it delivered an exclusive scent right to your doorstep. Again fragrances are broken down into subjects here like Trending, Avant Garde, Work Play etc rather than by traditional perfume groups. Once you have chosen a collection you will receive a monthly 7ml scent to try. It arrives in a smart case and the subscription allows change or pause whenever you want or to cancel anytime. A black stylish Sniph perfume dispenser is sent with the initial subscription.
One of the most interesting angles of this subscription service (originally from Sweden ) is the style of brands available, many names you may never have heard of and brands coming from a wide variety of countries. Sniph partners with amazing perfume houses worldwide. Collections cover both male and female scents alongside unisex fragrances.
Lisa Kjellqvist & Tara Derakshan founded Sniphin 2015 in Sweden with the aim to revolutionise the perfume world. The duo is the zeitgeist of new fragrances and wants to spread their love of scent to a wide audience…they say
“We want wearers to feel special by discovering niche and artisan scents from all over the world. Why purchase one big perfume bottle when you can experience scents from all over the world? A scent can be a first encounter you give to someone when they meet you and there are so many to experience – we want people to experience many smells over their lifetime. The concept of one signature scent is outdated.” – Lisa Kjellkvist
“Similar to how the music industry was prior to Spotify, the fragrance industry is conservative and rather unmodern. People do most of their shopping online these days and when it comes to perfume, it’s near impossible to try something new – the risk of purchasing a perfume to maybe dislike it is high. With our passion for scent and tech, we want to transform a traditional perfume product purchase to become a more modern experience. We place the customer in high regard of this purchase and we are excited to do things in an innovative way with big plans for the future.” – Tara Derakshan
They also have to say:-
The millennial lifestyle is busier than ever, and time is a commodity. Subscription services are becoming more popular as they save people time on shopping, plus people are loving new experiences over ownership. There is also a huge growing trend in taking more care of yourself and of course Sniph makes a great Christmas present too.
The idea of one high street entry level designer perfume is now not just out of fashion but out of step with what consumers want. The idea that you have a signature scent is no longer on trend. Far more exciting is the idea that you have a fragrance wardrobe built up of various perfumes that will connect with different emotions, time and places, perfumes that give one facet at one given moment and therefore are only suitable for a certain time. Having a scent collection is like having more than one little black dress… after all, we don’t wear that little black dress to go the supermarket or to work and we don’t wear that one dress every time we go out for lunch dinner or even the cinema!