Fragrance Categorization: Redefining what is Niche, Designer, Drug-store

slniecko

Super Member
May 19, 2013
Categorization is a double-edge sword. One one hand, it's useful for organization and classification to help better navigate a large market (or a large collection for that matter), but on the other hand, can lead to weird flexes a la social classism like "I only wear the finest niche fragrances" and then all the associated hubris. It's always a tricky balance to use categories as tools to help understand the kind of variety you have rather than becoming an enormous tool when you insist on assigning value sight unseen based on a preconceived notions of classification.

Also, current terms are really vague and inadequate, but used because they have become something of a standard practice in the community.

I use the following:

Drugstore/Consumer Brand: The basic or entry-level fragrances found in drugstores, supermarkets, large "big box" retailers like Wal-Mart, and are typically made up of legacy brands, grooming brands, lower-tier celebrity or licensed brands, and "fallen" designer brands that have hit downmarket distribution and price points that make them equivalent to others in the category. Coty, Revlon, Claiborne, Bogart, Jovan, Antonio Banderas, and Addidas all qualify. Direct-selling or MLM brands like Avon, Oriflame, Jafra, Armand Dupree, and Mary-Kay also get this category because even though they are not sold in stores, they have similar price points and availability. Typically not discussed by enthusiasts or seen as below a standard baseline worth exploring but viewed fondly or with nostalgia by everyday people and folks specifically into old pop culture kitsch and wet shaving. Also can include commonly-found fragrance mall chains like L'Occitane, The Body Shop, or Bath & Body Works. Between $10-$69 usually

Mainstream Designer/Boutique Brand: Stuff too expensive for the big boxes, but too common for the ultra high-end retailers like Bergdorfs, Harrods, Le Bon Marche, and the like. Brands like Chanel, Dior, YSL and such. Most of your luxury department stores will handle these brands as they are designer brands, but they also get heavily discounted elsewhere like Ross or online perfume sellers such as FragranceX. If not sold in department stores, they'll often be sold in boutiques associated with the designer, like Express, Zara, Victoria Secret, or are licensed from brands that aren't designers technically, like Montblanc, Cartier, Tiffany, Bvlgari, Lalique, and the sort. Can also include more expensive boutique lines like Art of Shaving and higher-ranked celebrity or licensed brands like Sarah Jessica Parker or Bentley. Tends to be the bulk of enthusiast discussion where compliments and social proof are points of merit (i.e. Fragrantica), but not among "connoisseurs", since styles tend to be analogous to trends and many options are variations on a single theme. Ranges from $70-$129 usually

Designer Exclusive/Luxury/Niche: Classic French houses that were once considered dispensaries of luxury fit this bill, like Guerlain, Caron, Houbigant, D'Orsay, and the like. Exclusive/expensive designer lines like private lines from Chanel and Dior, or the entirety of perfume lines from Tom Ford or Louis Vuitton also make this grade, as do self-appointed luxury perfumers like Creed, Roja Dove, Amouage, Parfums de Marly, Bond. No 9, and House of SIllage. Niche brands as self-identified, offering mostly if only perfumes, and having tighter distribution, often more artistic free-license, or some marketing gimmick also meet this criteria. These include L'Artisan Parfumeur, Diptyque, Jo Malone, Byredo, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, or Juliet Has a Gun. Tends to be the bulk of discussion among enthusiasts looking for status like "fragbros", or "perfume journey" types into artistic merit and explorations of emotion/personality over mass-appeal (i.e. Basenotes). Price points versus value are hotly contended, and many also end up in discounters too. Ranges from $130-$1000+

Artisinal/Indie/DIY: Total Wild West of perfumery. No ingredient restrictions, no method standardization, no accreditation among perfumers, but also total creative freedom. Often frustratingly small, single-run semi-bespoke fragrances that will never be bottled again after selling out and can be prone to quick degradation if all-natural. Huge cause of FOMO frenzy from small fervent fanbases and prone to ridiculous gouging more than other types of limited or exclusive perfumes for this reason. Oftentimes focus is rarity or origin of ingredients over skill or style of perfumer, and sometimes perfumes are something other than alcohol/water based, being oil roll-ons or attars. Typically the "journey's end" for enthusiasts looking for presumable the most "natural smelling" perfumes or the ultimate in exclusivity, walling up like "comic book guy" in groups or threads dedicated to their favorite perfumers, but hotly contentious for everyone else outside these circles. These fragrance also tend to have "sequels" if subsequent batches are made. Price floats around $100-$800

Clone Houses: These brands sorta exist both outside and within all the other genres, as they range from outright bootlegs to more-honest "our version of" fragrances like Classic Match or Jordache that mimic styles set down by popular mainstream brands like designers, to more uniquely-packaged brands that have a modicum of concern for quality, and seek to create offerings that equate to alternatives rather than imitations of what they "clone" Sometimes in the latter case, this is because brands popular in some areas may be nigh-inaccessible in others, like the Middle Eastern houses that specialize in making takes on Western fragrances such as Rasasi, Al Haramain, Armaf, and the like. Still there are other almost niche-like clone houses like Dua, Alexandria, or Pineapple Vintage that try to clone hyped batches of fragrances where reformulations have occurred, or hyped discontinued fragrances where someone might settle for a clone, These rarely get discussed unless the clones are alternatives to something prohibitively expensive like a luxury niche scent or a discontinued fragrance selling for a high price, and themselves can vary from $10 or less to over $150.

Bonus Category - The Vintage Fragrance: Since a separate community has grown in the past 10 to 15 years concerned only with discontinued perfumes or fragrances made prior to IFRA materials restrictions or in some cases before an arbitrary cutoff (launched before 19XX or 20XX), this category has come into being. Vintage fragrances can be discontinued lines or whole brands from other categories, or be extant older batches of currently-made fragrances where enough difference in smell is claimed to make erstwhile formulas different perfumes altogether (aka "shadow of its former self" syndrome). Seemingly fragrances regardless of launch get sucked into this category if discontinued or reformulated, because the fact they're discontinued or reformulated alone gives enough merit to become valid for vintage enthusiasts, who like artisanal fans will often stick to their own spaces and not entertain anything outside of them. Prices are all aftermarket and run from $1-$1000+

Funny, after writing all that out, I sorta feel like these terms almost better fit the kind of people these fragrances appeal to than the fragrances themselves, unless you're a filthy infidel like me that plays fast and loose with all the categories simultaneously. They don't have a category for heathens like me, just usually a bouncer waiting to escort me out.

This is pretty precise.
Where would you put my favourite "Grasse trilogy" - Molinard, Fragonard, Galimard ?
 

Andrewthecologneguy

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Dec 26, 2006
This is pretty precise.
Where would you put my favourite "Grasse trilogy" - Molinard, Fragonard, Galimard ?

Designer/Exclusive/Luxury Niche?

From my descriptors I would consider them Heritage Niche. Heritage because they've made fragrances since forever and niche becsue the average person knows nothing of them.
Molinard - 1849
Fragonard - 1926
Galimard - 1747 (!)
 

Andrewthecologneguy

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Dec 26, 2006
In general, I agree with you about well-defined terms. The problem is, “designer” and “niche” are less informative than “fresh” and “white florals” regarding how fragrances smell. So, what are we really describing?

Perhaps the term 'descriptors' is too general; the purpose of the thread is to determine the best categorizations of fragrance HOUSES based on what they produce, and subsequently, the particular fragrance in question.

Concerning how fragrances smell, that is not the purpose of the thread...

How a fragrance smells is purely opinion informed by prior experience and current environmental factors. Certainly a thread for another day!
 

PStoller

I’m not old, I’m vintage.
Basenotes Plus
Aug 1, 2019
Perhaps the term 'descriptors' is too general; the purpose of the thread is to determine the best categorizations of fragrance HOUSES based on what they produce, and subsequently, the particular fragrance in question.

Concerning how fragrances smell, that is not the purpose of the thread.

Then to what end? Of what use is it to identify a house as “niche” because it doesn’t also make handbags and overcoats if this has nothing to do with how its fragrances smell? Why bother making any distinction at all between categories of perfumers if it is not ultimately reflected in the <ahem> essential nature of the product?
 

Varanis Ridari

The Scented Devil
Basenotes Plus
Oct 17, 2012
This is pretty precise.
Where would you put my favourite "Grasse trilogy" - Molinard, Fragonard, Galimard ?

I'd put the "nardmards" in the niche tier if only because they're typically known to perfume lovers outside France, and specialize perfume. They fit with Guerlain, Caron, Houbigant, and the like above mainstream nameplates.
 

PrinceRF

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Apr 3, 2020
Niche: a company that specializes in fragrance, primarily.
Designer: a company that specializes in clothing or accessories, primarily.
 

Andrewthecologneguy

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Dec 26, 2006
Then to what end? Of what use is it to identify a house as “niche” because it doesn’t also make handbags and overcoats if this has nothing to do with how its fragrances smell? Why bother making any distinction at all between categories of perfumers if it is not ultimately reflected in the <ahem> essential nature of the product?

Good point - to what end?

For me it's simple - categorization is the basis for understanding, hence why almost everything around us is categorized. It this case, it helps sets the tone for how we should 'feel' about a fragrance, what expectations we can levy against it, and what attitudes are justifiable towards an offering from a company.

As mentioned, this categorization is more about the fragrance houses rather than the specific fragrance they produce. Price, quality and originality are sub-factors, while presentation, distribution and ad campaign are further under-factors. How a fragrance smells is subjective, heavily dependent on various factors.

If you were presented with a bottle of perfume from a house you have never heard of before, you would want to know more about its origin regardless of your feelings towards how it smells.
 

Andrewthecologneguy

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Dec 26, 2006
Categorization is a double-edge sword. One one hand, it's useful for organization and classification to help better navigate a large market (or a large collection for that matter), but on the other hand, can lead to weird flexes a la social classism like "I only wear the finest niche fragrances" and then all the associated hubris. It's always a tricky balance to use categories as tools to help understand the kind of variety you have rather than becoming an enormous tool when you insist on assigning value sight unseen based on a preconceived notions of classification.

Also, current terms are really vague and inadequate, but used because they have become something of a standard practice in the community.

I use the following:

Drugstore/Consumer Brand: The basic or entry-level fragrances found in drugstores, supermarkets, large "big box" retailers like Wal-Mart, and are typically made up of legacy brands, grooming brands, lower-tier celebrity or licensed brands, and "fallen" designer brands that have hit downmarket distribution and price points that make them equivalent to others in the category. Coty, Revlon, Claiborne, Bogart, Jovan, Antonio Banderas, and Addidas all qualify. Direct-selling or MLM brands like Avon, Oriflame, Jafra, Armand Dupree, and Mary-Kay also get this category because even though they are not sold in stores, they have similar price points and availability. Typically not discussed by enthusiasts or seen as below a standard baseline worth exploring but viewed fondly or with nostalgia by everyday people and folks specifically into old pop culture kitsch and wet shaving. Also can include commonly-found fragrance mall chains like L'Occitane, The Body Shop, or Bath & Body Works. Between $10-$69 usually

You bring up very good points.
However, I don't see how L'Occitane fits your description here.
 

Andy the frenchy

Basenotes Dependent
Sep 16, 2018
Interesting categories.

Here are mine.

Designer. (Dior, Prada, Gucci, Tom Ford, etc.)
Exclusive Lines. (Les Exclusifs, Armani Prive, Private Collection, etc.)
Mainstream niche. (Jo Malone, Kilian, Roja, Acqua di Parma, Amouage, etc.)
Indipendent/artisan niche. (Rogue, Tauer, Nicolai, Parfums d'Empire, etc.)
Classic brands (Guerlain, Caron, Creed, etc.)

Basically my thought, with a twist on semantic: "mainstream niche" are two terms in opposition, so I would rather classify like that:

- Mass market affordable BRANDS (Dior, Prada, Gucci, Tom Ford, etc.)
- Mass market expensive BRANDS (includes exclusive line and mainstream niche of the previous post - Creed, Les Exclusifs, Armani Prive, Private Collection, Jo Malone, Kilian, Acqua di Parma, Amouage, Nicolai, ELdO, etc.)
- Indie/artisan HOUSES or ultra exclusive BRANDS (Rogue, Tauer, Areej LeDore, Parfums d'Empire, Terenzi, Roja, SHL...)
- Timeless brands (Guerlain, Caron... until they get "used" by the big corps, fingers crossed)

In terms of creativity, the first 2 categories are mainstream, the latter 2 are niche.
In terms of pricing, it has become a blurry concept since ebay and discounters exist, and pricing is not an accurate representation of quality and creativity, but of the customer target. But had I to cut the apple, I would cut short and stick to the previous definition: the first 2 categories are mainstream, the latter 2 are niche.

"Designer house" doesn't mean anything anymore, since the perfume branches of "designer" BRANDS are now managed by a handful of cosmetics big corps. So it would be more accurate to talk about BRANDS than designer houses. (Nowadays, designer names are just franchises based on the image of the past, and keys-in-hands stories).

Anyways, I'd rather think at fragrances on a case-by-case basis, since every brand has hits and misses in their portfolio. Doesn;t make really sense to categorize brands and houses.
 

Andy the frenchy

Basenotes Dependent
Sep 16, 2018
Identifying a fragrance as niche tells me something about its nominal aspirations. But it tells me neither what it smells like nor how good it is.

Fully agreed.

That said, nowadays the "Niche" word tells not only about the intent of the big corp's marketing team to have the customer believe she/he's unique. It also gives a warning of swimming in the "high risk of rip-off" danger zone. (basically just restating what you just said with my words).
 

Andy the frenchy

Basenotes Dependent
Sep 16, 2018
the purpose of the thread is to determine the best categorizations of fragrance HOUSES based on what they produce, and subsequently, the particular fragrance in question.

Except for a few indie houses, most of the "houses" you're talking about are no houses anymore (or have never been), just groups of brands managed by a few marketing teams of a few big cosmetics corp (the "houses").

As for categorization, it's hard, because within a single brand, let's say Guerlain (which is now a brand of LVMH, not anymore a house), there are superb fragrances (both in the affordable and exclusive lines) only equaled in expensive houses (Vetiver, Heritage, Mouchoir de Monsieur/Jicky, Bois Mysterieux, Bois d'Armenie, Spiritueuse Double Vanille, Arsene Lupin Dandy, Habit Rouge, Heritage, Mitsouko, Derby, L'Heure Bleue, Shalimar, Chamade...) while in the same time other forgettable fragrances definitely targeting the mass market (L'Homme Ideal, L'Instant, Homme, La Petite Robe Noire, the Aqua Allegoria line, Musc Noble...).

I personally prefer to categorize each fragrance on a case-by-case basis, in other words: categorizing brands doesn't make a lot of sense imo. But some have to think "in a box", and will probably not like that way of thinking.
 

slniecko

Super Member
May 19, 2013
Designer/Exclusive/Luxury Niche?

From my descriptors I would consider them Heritage Niche. Heritage because they've made fragrances since forever and niche becsue the average person knows nothing of them.
Molinard - 1849
Fragonard - 1926
Galimard - 1747 (!)

I'd put the "nardmards" in the niche tier if only because they're typically known to perfume lovers outside France, and specialize perfume. They fit with Guerlain, Caron, Houbigant, and the like above mainstream nameplates.

Heritage for sure, "nardmards" :DDD, but I have problem with that "niche". Maybe it is, because still I have oldfashioned look at "niche" category as for something "out of the box", somethong "other than usual" in the meaning of smell, not in quality, but in originality.
But in reality maybe is niche already only a substitute for exclusivity.
 

PStoller

I’m not old, I’m vintage.
Basenotes Plus
Aug 1, 2019
Good point - to what end?

For me it's simple - categorization is the basis for understanding, hence why almost everything around us is categorized. It this case, it helps sets the tone for how we should 'feel' about a fragrance, what expectations we can levy against it, and what attitudes are justifiable towards an offering from a company.

As mentioned, this categorization is more about the fragrance houses rather than the specific fragrance they produce. Price, quality and originality are sub-factors, while presentation, distribution and ad campaign are further under-factors. How a fragrance smells is subjective, heavily dependent on various factors.

If you were presented with a bottle of perfume from a house you have never heard of before, you would want to know more about its origin regardless of your feelings towards how it smells.
I recognize that I'm being a contrarian, and I don't mean to say that there's no conceivable purpose in categorization of fragrance makers and/or sellers. I'm not even arguing against these particular categories, but rather debating the uses to which they're often put and the significance frequently ascribed to them.

The "n-word" is typically employed to present a certain image that may reflect how the house (and I use that term broadly) sees itself, more certainly how that house wishes to be seen by the consumer, and further how the consumer wishes to see what they buy as an extension of how they see themselves and/or want others to see them. All these pertain to marketing, not to perfumery. This is a legitimate field of interest—it just happens to be of only marginal interest to me.

Setting aside those applications of "niche," what does it say about the way a house goes about perfumery? That is, the quality and cost of ingredients, the time allotted to develop and perfect a scent, the level of experimentation vs. adherence to trends or conventions, whether perfumers are in-house or under contract and the level of autonomy they're afforded in creating a fragrance, and so on. The notion of perfumery as individual art rather than mass-market commerce is associated with "niche," but how well does that reflect reality?

I don't think anyone would mistake Areej le Doré for Procter & Gamble. However, there's a whole lot of gray between them. Even self-employed artisan perfumers have to sell product to earn a living, and even contract perfumers have aesthetics that represent both their individual drive and their market value. So, yeah, I do want to know something about who's making and selling a fragrance when I'm gauging my interest in a blind buy or even a sample request, but I haven't found terms like "niche" and "designer" terribly helpful in that pursuit. Their practical meaning is neither consistent nor tangible. So, when people are looking specifically for a niche or designer fragrance, I wonder what they're actually seeking beyond a price point and a nebulous notion of status.
 
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