Thursday, January 8, 2015


Photo credit: Wedding Inspiration website

In my last article about niche perfumery I discussed what NICHE meant. It was back in 2012 when a lot of bloggers, perfumers and perfume magazines were discussing the future of niche perfumery, its meaning and some of them were even discussing that at some point niche as it was presented could not be considered niche perfumery anymore.
Two years ago I said that opinions about the subject could be divided in 2 groups: the extremists or purists who think that niche means ONLY exclusive small perfume brands offering unique fragrances; and the generalists that find that everything you can offer to a certain niche can be nominated niche (I am in this group).
At that time I also explored the crucial elements that defined niche and from them I extracted meaning of niche perfumery:

-   Small
-       Specialized
-       Market segment
-       Specific
-       Marketing strategy

All lead to the common meanings that niche perfumery was 1) A specialized market segment in perfumery, or 2) A marketing strategy created to sell perfume (according to the needs, interests and wants of a group of people).

Three years later I feel that it is time that we talk about niche perfumery again and reevaluate it as it is today. The reason to do so is the fact that niche is no longer behaving at it was before. 

Once niche perfumery was ENNICHED by the market some brands started to behave like  mass production companies. 

From starters a question just popped out of my mind: Maybe we need to change permanently the name of this category of perfumery from NICHE to INDIE? 

Let's find out!

According to the Fragrance Foundation - the organization giving the FIFI AWARDS - the INDIE perfume award category (USA) is given to a fragrance launched by a brand not distributed or owned by a large company and sold in under 50 stores in the USA.

In this case we can exclude all the brands that were sold to equity groups or larger companies. But does that mean the ones not following in this category are still behaving like a niche brand?

The French perfume brand Annick Goutal was one of the first independent niche brands to be acquired by a group. Being previously owned by the investment group Starwood Capital was bought by giant Korean Cosmetic brand Amore Pacific in 2011. I remember the criticism years ago and the long discussions about quality of the raw materials and how AG lovers felt somehow betrayed by the brand. That was just the beginning...

Recently many other niche brands owners followed the path of Camille Goutal (the daughter of the founder of AG brand). UK private Equity Company Manzanita bought Diptyque and Byredo; Le Labo was bought by Estée Lauder Group who already owned Jo Malone, Frederic Malle and Tom Ford Beauty...etc etc...

Is there a back fire of these operations?

According to specialists in branding if the original niche brand does not retain its identity, its niche market is ruined or it is no longer enniched. If the parent brand gives credibility to the brand acquired  - great! If not, it is doomed to failure. In fact, it is the personality of the Indie and the power of the parent brand that will show a rebrand, an integration, an extension etc... A brand should encompass its niche market both functional and emotionally, and if still does after being bought, values will be maintained or even improved.
You see, brand values offer a promise. It is a set of attributes that its consumers experience by using their products. A deviation of this "promise" will eventually harm this loyalty.

But what is happening to the brands who did not have the fortune to be bought by bigger groups? Are they still behaving as they promised? Are they still using the same marketing strategies as in the beginning?

For many years niche perfumery sold the idea that it does not follow trends. Fact is that this promise is no longer there. As an example let's examine some facts of the market:

How many niche brands ran to launch its very own OUD fragrance because it was a fever - A RAW MATERIAL TREND no so long ago predicted by companies such as Seven or Mintel? A trend that is coming back by the way for my misfortune.
How many brands launched a perfume around a rose, leather or patchouli note this winter because it was predicted to be the next good selling product for 2015/2016 autumn and winter seasons? Check P&F article here.

Check the latest new launches for this winter and you will see that niche perfumery perfumer and brand owners are starting to follow trends like any other brand:

The Different Company - Kashan Rose EDP (Rose)
Parfums de Nicolai - Cuir Cuba Intense EDP (Leather)
Tauer Parfums - Un Rose de Kandahar (Rose)
Maison FK - Masculin Pluriel (Leather)
Tom Ford - Patchouli Absolu (Patchouli)

To make the story short: Luckyscent is displaying nothing more than 16 new leather niche fragrances and 17 new rose fragrances.

About packing design trends. Niche brands are beginning to follow trends of massive production. How many niche brand went back to their designers and ordered revamped fragrance bottles because it was a trend in the mass production market? Also a trend pointed out not so long ago in the media - for those how follow the market you know what I am talking about!! Remember the trend of heavy luxurious flacons? Many ran to make their very own and the ones who did not have it till then, ran to remodel their design.

The celebrities - this is the most sensitive element to point out. French niche perfumery brand Etat Libre D'Orange invited Tilda Swinton to "collaborate" with the creation of this fragrance. Boom! It got an FiFi Award in France. The brand had used the face of Rossy de Palma before. The marketing strategy is to call the celebrity a "muse". Another tactic - announce out loud "this or that celebrity wears my brand" - strategy used by French niche brand Honoré de Prés using Jessica Alba to sell Vamp a NY fragrance.

So, are niche brands really telling stories as they say they do? Are niche brands reflecting the personality of the owner as they once said they do? A reflexion to be made by all of us consumers.

Does that mean that niche fragrances once ENNICHED are no longer loyal to their consumers? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it is the other way around.

How many brands were launched from 2005 to 2015? Ten years ago you had a small number of perfumers launching their brands and selling exclusive lines. But what happens when the market offers 10 to 20 new different niche brands in a year and regular customers begin to have the urge to try the new brands? Are they still loyal to the houses that once inspired them?

Today niche perfumery takes 10% of high end perfume sales globally. The market changed. 

Cosmetic Business Magazine pointed out on today's issue that Euromonitor is predicting 3 trends for the fragrance market  "Three trends are expected to take off within the fragrance market this year: the rising popularity of niche fragrances, fragrance personalisation and novel retail experiences."

The article also brings insights of niche brand Micallef on the subject that are interesting:
“Consumers will continue to look for an effective identity and ability to relate emotionally and personally to a fragrance. In line with this, industry players are formulating fragrances with alternative ingredients to meet such demands. We have seen fragrances formulated with sea salt and saffron, for example, which are still alternative ingredients. Naturally, big players are trying to tap into this lucrative part of the business as evidenced by Estée Lauder's recent acquisition of Le Labo and Frédéric Malle.”

Regarding the fact that competition in this segment is on the rise:
“In order to meet such a challenge, fragrance players need to sustain their niche intent and avoid commoditising the scent.”

Micallef talks about formulation of the fragrance with alternative ingredients. that was one of the elements of the marketing strategy used exclusively by niche brands in the past. Niche brands always highlight the fact that they use expensive or unique raw materials in their composition. True sometimes. But is today a practice that is exclusive of niche brands? what about the exclusive collections of Dior or Chanel? Mass production companies changed to fit the market. exclusivity of raw materials are now part of their marketing strategy to sell fragrances for a more exclusive public.

I bring my favorite perfumer Jean Claude Ellena to the picture. The man was one of the first perfumers to explain the background of fragrance production. In his book Le Parfum (French edition of 2007) where he defines niche in chapter VII – Le Marketing (in English - The Marketing), sections I – Le marketing de la demande (in English – The marketing of the demand) and II – Le marketing de niche (in English - The niche marketing) to check what this master perfumer has said in the past about this subject:

He mentioned that brands like Annick Goutal, L’Artisan Parfumeur, Comme de Garçons, Diptyque, Frédérick Malle, The Different Company were the precursors of the awareness of the immediacy, the “déjà vus” or stereotypes of mainstream perfumery and its lack of surprises. According to him, these niche perfumers (he gave us this name in the book) could be only discriminated by the system of distribution they have adopted, which was mostly, to sell their fragrances in their own boutiques, with a set of criteiras set by them to understand their commercial approach. In section II he defines niche as a marketing strategy: a non-use of advertising support; the perfumers are placed in front of the perfumes (meaning you know who they are), and most of all: the perfume must speak for itself; it has to have a very strong identification, more olfactive. A great deal of attention is given to the name of the brand. In his opinion, a niche perfume is not only a way of distributing and selling perfume; it is also the way the brand shows its difference. He also mentions the service given to its clientele: the places where these perfumes are found are relatively closed places, where clients receive personal attention. Their satisfaction is crucial. The complicity is crucial - the mouth to mouth is the best advertising of these products. As per the creation itself, perfumers are free to create with an olfactive independence.

So what about English niche brand Creed and its advertising campaign for this last Christmas?

"Fragrance house Creed has announced plans to run its first print media advertising campaign to support its men’s scent Aventus.
The campaign is set to appear in a number of consumer publications including GQ, Esquire, Men’s Health, Big Black Book, Style (Sunday Times), Telegraph Luxury, Vanity Fair and FT: How to Spend It. Advertising will also be supported by ongoing PR to further drive sales in the run up to Christmas.
Chris Hawksley, Managing Director of The Orange Square Company and UK distributor for Creed, said: “We are seeing consumers return to quality brands they trust and we are seeking to capitalise on this throughout the Christmas retail period to create maximum awareness of both the Creed brand and this much- loved classic, while supporting the brand’s continued success.” Aventus launched in 2010 to support Creed’s 250th anniversary. The scent contains top notes of apple, blackcurrant, pineapple and bergamot; heart notes of juniper berries, birch, patchouli and jasmine; and base notes of vanilla, musk, oakmoss and ambergris." (extracted by Cosmetic Business website - article posted in 5 Nov 2014).

A niche brand according to Ellena does not advertise in magazines such as GQ. Well, it seems that things have changed in this segment. And what about the large number of online sellers of niche brands? What is the difference between sites selling niche brands on line and O Boticário lanching its Eudora website?

The final question that I raise for reflexion - as per marketing strategy called "mouth to mouth" does that include paying people to go on line in facebook, blogs, twitter and others to endorse brands being PAID to do so? I don't need to name the faces here, you all know who they are by now. Blogging was once a hobby, a it is leverage in one's bank account. The bloggers are not the issue here. I don't want to raise this discussion today in this article, but I do want to raise the question about the ethics niche brands have or have not when it starts to "support" the mouth to mouth opinion about how wonderful their perfumes are. Paying certain celeb-wanna-bes of facebook to promote this or that brand is a marketing strategy called ADVERTISING.

When money comes to the scene and profits are increasing brands, bloggers, consumers all change their behavior. Everyone wants a piece of this luxurious niche cake.

1 comment:

silvio levi said...

Dear Simone I have to thank you for this clear, detailed and consistent analysis.
The question is still open and the battle between poetry and money is a never ending story, not only in perfumery field. I wish David win against Foliat but the little David need all our support and someone who remind him what coherence is every day.
Hoping the creation of storyteller fragrances will never stop I pray that true bloggers will survive to help great smelling literature finds committed estimators.
Silvio Levi

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