Ipso Olfacto

fragrant musings


Leave a comment

How Useful is the Term “Niche?”

samples article

Am I the only one who finds it a bit odd that somewhere down the line, we all decided that the main way us frag-heads would categorize fragrances is by whether or not they are “designer” or “niche”? Look at the description of most YouTube reviews – you’ll usually see the “designer” or “niche” designation in lieu of listing even the fragrance category (or any multitude of more relevant things about the scent…) The agreed upon meaning of a “niche” fragrance brand is one whose main focus is producing fragrances… Which is, ironically, really,  really broad, in almost direct contrast to, y’know, the actual definition of the word “niche.” Why are we so fixated on what is, at the end of the day, just an interesting anecdote about the fragrance company?

Now, I imagine that “niche” is a useful classification to those who actually work in the fragrance industry, and thus the term probably made its way into the common fragrance junkie’s lexicon as a result. But how relevant is this to us, really? The mere fact that a company only (or mostly) makes fragrances doesn’t mean that they’re catering to a “niche” customer base at all. Most importantly, it tells you nothing about how a fragrance will smell. The kicker is, the actual, real use of the word “niche” would be useful in talking about fragrances, as that would tell you that you’re gonna smell something a little unusual and uncommon- made for a smaller audience. As of now, though, scents like this can be found in both “niche” and designer fragrance lines.

For instance, Michel Germain is technically a niche fragrance house, but their stuff literally smells like what you find at Victoria’s Secret and you can buy their scents at your local Macy’s. Comme Des Garcons is technically a designer brand, but their fragrance offerings are very creative, unique, and often times avant-garde to just straight up weird. Then, you have fragrance companies that produce many fragrance lines- including more mainstream ones alongside an exclusive or “prive” line that feels more “niche.” For example, Guerlain is technically a niche brand, but Shalimar and all those darn La petite Robe Noir bottles are super ubiquitous, while something like French Kiss can only be found in certain boutiques (and comes with a MUCH less friendly price tag.) And then you have indie brands which are apparently their own, separate thing. It’s all kind of a mess.

samples article pic _WEB

Overall, I think that the whole “niche” vs. “designer” thing is silly to get hung up on. Unfortunately, too many people outright dismiss either category, insisting one is superior to the other, despite how arbitrary and pretty irrelevant these terms are. By being so absolutist, one ends up missing out on tons of great fragrances. At the end of the day, we need to fixate a little less on the minutiae of the fragrance companies business operations when judging a scent, and smell it on its own merits.