Niche vs Designer

noirdrakkar

Banned
Oct 27, 2011
I've heard some people say that there is no such thing as designer and niche, just fragrances in general, however, in my eyes, at least, there are big differences.

1. Designers make other products such as clothing, watches and purses, and fragrances are just something they do on the side. The main focus of niche companies are the fragrances, rather than clothing.

2. When designers make fragrances, their intent is to appeal to the most people as possible, whereas niche wants to appeal to people looking for something unique and much different from what everyone else is wearing.

3. Price. Designer frags (for a 100ml) rarely are more than $100. Niche frags are mostly over $100 (often in the $200-400 range). The price reflects the use of quality natural ingredients and smaller batches.

4. Exclusivity. Let's say a 4.0 oz Aventus were somehow available for $65 at Wal-Mart. It would become the new Acqua Di Gio, or any great fragrance criticized by the community for being too popular. Not only price, but in general, niche fragrances are outside the knowledge of 95%+ of people. They only exist with serious collectors in mind. We have knowledge to something which almost all of the country does not.
 

rollzst

Basenotes Dependent
Mar 12, 2012
well said. To me there is no comparison, niche hands downs wins over designer scents. They have more money and time to create quality scents with more natural ingredients. That being said, obviously there are great designer scents out there.
 

noirdrakkar

Banned
Oct 27, 2011
I'm not sure if one is any better than the other.

Most of the designer colognes are bad because they are either cheap, synthetic, cliche, or just poorly constructed. But there are many good designer colognes. You could easily have a great collection without going niche though.

As for niche, most of them are not worth the extremely high amount of money they cost. The problem with niche is that they often lack longevity and their batches vary in quality. And in the end, it's still a matter of subjectivity: my $50 cologne may get just as many compliments as my $300 cologne.

I think the best kind of cologne are upscale designers such as Dior, Hermes and Chanel. The price of them are higher than most designers, but it isn't lacking in quality as most designers are. And they can compete against niche at a much better price point.
 

PalmBeach

Basenotes Dependent
Apr 5, 2012
I think both have great fragrances to offer and I'm not bias either way. If it smells good and I really like a scent whether designer or niche I will buy it.

^^^ Agreed.

Niche gives you a much greater range of choice, but limited options to test. Designer fragrances, you can walk into most major department stores or discounters to test what you may want to purchase, whereas Niche fragrances, if not carried by one of the select few Department stores requires you to pay for small samples.
 

Sovski

Basenotes Member
Jul 14, 2011
Designer and Niche scents are often very different as you have stated. I have smelled niche scents that I could easily classify as designer (certain bonds come to mind) and the same goes for some designer scents that could easily be niche. Either way, yes there is usually a clear difference but I think fragrances should be appreciated for what they are... not the title they are associated with.
 

noirdrakkar

Banned
Oct 27, 2011
I guess it depends on how much money you make and how much of it you want to devote to fragrances, but the thought of spending more than $150 on a medium size bottle is foreign to me. Especially since there are much better options under that price line.
 

Beranium Chotato

Basenotes Dependent
Nov 13, 2011
I don't think there's any controversy over whether there's a difference. The biggest issue is that no one will agree on what the terms mean and people have completely useless, semantically empty "debates" where they're not even talking about the same things.

The most common definitions that people use for "niche":

1. An adjective applied to fragrances that means they're expensive and/or exclusive. In this world, Etro Vetiver would be a niche scent.

2. An adjective applied to a fragrance-producing business denoting that it's an independent producer of scents and not connected to a design concern or bankrolled by a larger business. In this world, Etro Vetiver would not be niche.

3. An adjective that describes a marketing practice in which any fragrance-producing enterprise, regardless of whether they design/produce other things, carves out a subset of their larger audience and markets a particular scent or line of scents exclusively to them. In this world, Hermès Jardin series would be designer but Hermèssences would be niche.

As long as everyone is too lazy to bother with consensus over a definition, they will continue to have empty shouting matches about which is better that are a complete and total waste of time.
 

Beranium Chotato

Basenotes Dependent
Nov 13, 2011
there's no niche vs designer, ther's only good fragrances vs bad ones....

I don't even acknowledge that niche is an adjective that applies to a fragrance. But I think there are interesting discussions to be had about the other two definitions because the business aspects are fascinating. Unfortunately, it's not possible to have those discussions because people are much more interested in yelling "niche sucks" or "designer is crap."
 

Beranium Chotato

Basenotes Dependent
Nov 13, 2011
I guess it depends on how much money you make and how much of it you want to devote to fragrances, but the thought of spending more than $150 on a medium size bottle is foreign to me. Especially since there are much better options under that price line.

While the price of niche-marketed scents on average trend higher than mainstream-marketed scents, the term "niche" has nothing to do with price. A fragrance marketed only to teenagers could be considered "niche." In the non-hypothetical world, Histoires de Parfums just released the Scent of Departures series that were sold in niche boutiques for $40 a bottle. Price is not a defining characteristic of a niche-marketed fragrance.
 

ElVee

Super Member
Jun 25, 2012
When people talk about "niche" are they talking about less wide-spread stuff, or even indie frags? Or no?

I guess I'm more interested in "indie" than "niche" as a topic. Or at least something less widespread (and more interesting?) than what every other guy impulse-buys at the dept store counter along with aftershave he'll never use.

To me, it's good vs bad, but it's also about whether something is widespread vs more rare.
 

Beranium Chotato

Basenotes Dependent
Nov 13, 2011
That sounded more like an edict than I meant it to. Sorry :)

I myself have flip-flopped between two different definitions. It's just a subject that has so much confusion surrounding it that I don't think there will ever be a productive conversation.

- - - Updated - - -

When people talk about "niche" are they talking about less wide-spread stuff, or even indie frags? Or no?

I guess I'm more interested in "indie" than "niche" as a topic. Or at least something less widespread (and more interesting?) than what every other guy impulse-buys at the dept store counter along with aftershave he'll never use.

To me, it's good vs bad, but it's also about whether something is widespread vs more rare.

I think "indie" is a great word to use. Some people also use "mainstream" and "non-mainstream" instead of niche/designer.
 

alfarom

Power Where You Need It
Basenotes Plus
Mar 4, 2011
I don't even acknowledge that niche is an adjective that applies to a fragrance.

My personal definition of niche is very literal. Niche is something (artistically) aimed to a restricted audience. According to my concept, JAR and D'Driù are definitely niche, Bond and Creed are not. Just to be clear, in this specific context, I'm not debating on the quality of the aforementioned brands...
 

Beranium Chotato

Basenotes Dependent
Nov 13, 2011
My personal definition of niche is very literal. Niche is something (artistically) aimed to a restricted audience. According to my concept, JAR and D'Driù are definitely niche, Bond and Creed are not. Just to be clear, in this specific context, I'm not debating on the quality of the aforementioned brands...

I agree with you about 90%. I just don't agree with the "artistically." A marketing department can take some juice that is nothing special and market it to a niche audience. If it doesn't have the artistic integrity, it might be a niche-marketed scent that sucks. But there are plenty of those. When artistry and niche-marketing combine forces, there is great potential for originality.
 

alfarom

Power Where You Need It
Basenotes Plus
Mar 4, 2011
I agree with you about 90%. I just don't agree with the "artistically." A marketing department can take some juice that is nothing special and market it to a niche audience. If it doesn't have the artistic integrity, it might be a niche-marketed scent that sucks. But there are plenty of those. When artistry and niche-marketing combine forces, there is great potential for originality.

Forgive my lack of language but what I meant is that my definition of niche is related to the smell. In this context I completely skip the marketing aspect and that's why I wrote "artistically"....
 

Rüssel

Basenotes Institution
Dec 23, 2010
I'd say a lot of the confusion comes from these points. You can either go by the company or by the smell.

1. Designers make other products such as clothing, watches and purses, and fragrances are just something they do on the side. The main focus of niche companies are the fragrances, rather than clothing.

2. When designers make fragrances, their intent is to appeal to the most people as possible, whereas niche wants to appeal to people looking for something unique and much different from what everyone else is wearing.
 

anomie et ivoire

Basenotes Junkie
Jun 20, 2012
New to the game, I see some very real differences between fragrances that market themselves as niche and those that are marketed as designer (these differences might disappear once I develop stronger tastes and an ability to ignore marketing).

As someone with minimal experience with either, here's the problem I've had so far (but maybe just don't know where to look):

Niche isn't much fun.

It seems to take itself either way too seriously or is trying too hard to be cute like Etat Libre or Bond. That should be irrelevant, it's really all about pure smell yadda yadda, but a big part of my relation to fragrance is the story, history, idea, and all of that needing to actually fit and enhance the smell. It may as well! How else does one really distinguish between one scent and another when buying? Furthermore designer fragrances are often so well-researched and precise; interesting scientifically. Niche, more interesting as poetry.

Granted even worse than "not fun" is a lot of designer fragrance's MO of being "embarrassing and insulting the tastes of its customers." Looking at you, Dior (thoughtless reforms and the Miss Dior identity crisis).

I know this wasn't really a "which is better" thread, but marketing aside, I think vintage designer beats everything, but if one is opposed to buying vintage, then sure, current niche beats current designer.
 

cacio

Basenotes Plus
Basenotes Plus
Nov 5, 2010
I agree with Brian that niche seems to be more a matter of marketing, where the brand wants to position itself. But of course one can give a different definition, as alfarom's.

I am relatively new too, but I suppose that when niche came out, niche was just not marketing, but it also corresponded to a different style. As anomie was saying, there were the big houses (Chanel, Guerlain, Dior) doing complex, adult parfums. And niche wanted to go in different directions, perhaps simpler, more avant garde, experimental, and so on. But they were clearly in constrast to the big houses. Now that the big houses do not do what they are supposed to do, because of IFRA or lack of interest (Dior...), the distinction becomes less meaningful artistically. I think perfume critic Luca Turin made a similar point. If any, niche today would mean to do complex, rich parfums as the big houses used to do. But there is little of this.

cacio
 

SportsFan

Basenotes Dependent
Aug 18, 2010
Niche gives you a much greater range of choice, but limited options to test. Designer fragrances, you can walk into most major department stores or discounters to test what you may want to purchase, whereas Niche fragrances, if not carried by one of the select few Department stores requires you to pay for small samples.

Along with the high price tag for niche, comes the fact that you're usually "blind buying" them most (nearly all) of the time, if you haven't PAID for the privilege of sampling (usually a very small sample at a pretty high price for the amount) the fragrance.

So as Palm Beach said above here that I have quoted and highlighted.....the fact that the designer brands are much more readily available to sample before purchasing, along with the fact that they carry a more considerate (of consumer) price tag.....and that's the primary reason that I am content with using mostly designer fragrances as opposed to trying the various niche brands. Especially since I've learned that many niche brands have poor longevity issues and are no different than the designer scents in that regard.
 

Kagey

Basenotes Dependent
Jan 2, 2011
Now here's a fun question: is Chandler Burr's Untitled series niche or designer? :)

That IS a fun question. To answer, I'd only start by saying that my definition of niche is only about the distribution - it's limited, and therefore aimed at people who will go beyond their local drugstore or department store and actually make an effort to explore new things in fragrance. This is to say nothing about price, artistic value, quality, or what other products the company makes (?!), and it's got nothing to do with exactly why people go off the beaten path to find it (e.g., they're interested in perfume, or they want something exclusive).

So this means that in my view, S01E01 is niche while the game is going on. Availability is very limited, and at least for the moment, it's in that niche, um, niche where perfume enthusiasts will find it while your average perfume wearer will remain oblivious to it. Also interesting if you read some of the comments on the Open Sky thing and in other places. This project definitely doesn't appeal to people who aren't at least a little interested in the debate about artistry in perfume, or just the idea of perfume as more than a fashion accessory (even if people are just discovering they're interested because of this project).

Once the name of the perfume is revealed, though, I'm not sure. I think Prada's Id'I goes back to being a designer perfume, but a few more enthusiasts might be born.

Just my $.02, but I'm interested to hear others' views. Of course, Brian, you may be right that these debates are meaningless until people agree on a definition of niche. But your question may spark different thinking about it.
 
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BurgundyMarsh

Basenotes Junkie
Feb 12, 2012
there's no niche vs designer, ther's only good fragrances vs bad ones....

The distinction is based mostly on smoke and mirrors.

For one thing, the "designer" in "designer fragrances" itself is mostly an illusion maintained by the executives of large corporations, as frequently the eponymous designer has little or nothing to do with his or her "line" besides the name. The designer may be long dead (as in the case of Geoffrey Beene and Coco Chanel) or the fragrance line may have been completely separated from the clothing lines with a different corporate owner. As a perfume line, Tom Ford is managed by Estee Lauder. Calvin Klein sold out to Van Heusen, the world's largest shirtmaker, in 2002 and the cK fragrance licenses were transferred to Unilever and now belong to Coty, one of the world's largest cosmetic firms, specializing in cheap drug store brands. Givenchy, now part of the almost equally huge LVMH luxury conglomerate which includes Dior, Sephora, and many other brands, is now pretty much out of the clothing business and, in fact, Chanel seems to keep a clothing line mainly to enhance the status and visibility of their fragrances and cosmetics. Guerlain, another part of LVMH, is more a cosmetics company than a fragrance line based on the relative size of sales.

All this is just to say that the whole idea of "designer" is a mostly false front behind which large corporations lurk. Contrary to assumptions, fragrances are not usually a "sideline" of a design brand. Typically they are the tail that wags the dog, making far more profit than the clothing lines. Her 10% of the take from No. 5 kept Coco Chanel going for decades. Eventually the financial backers of the Chanel fragrance line ate the whole house.

And the same marketing approach is slowly invading the niche lines as well.

For example, Comme des Garcons, often considered a prominent "niche" line, is technically designer because it is originally a clothing line. But since 2002 the Comme des Garcons fragrance line has been a brand of the large Spanish firm Puig, with no connection to the clothing marketed under the same brand name. Lutens is a fragrance brand initiated and produced by a large Japanese cosmetics firm, Shiseido, that also owns the Varvatos fragrance lines, a "designer" brand. Christopher Sheldrake was the nose behind most of the Lutens fragrances. (Serge Lutens himself might be better described as a fashion impresario than a designer of any type.)

All of these firms, so-called niche and so-called designers alike, are always crying "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," who usually is a professional perfumer working for one of the large fragrance/flavoring corporations. These people actually produce most of the fragrances put out by both niche and designer firms. In most cases, the name in front of the brand- designer, celebrity or niche-- is little more than a marketing image. Despite all the blather around the fragrance, for example, Armani really had almost nothing to do with Acqua di Gio besides the name, a contract, and some marketing strategies.

Given this level of illusion, if not mass deception, I would say niche vs. designer is a distinction without a difference.
 
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Hilaire

Super Member
Dec 6, 2007
The only distinction I now make is between mainstream and non-mainstream. "Niche" and "Designer" are terms in common usage and therefore make for easier communication, but in terms of my own personal view I no longer see the terms as having particular value. Especially not in terms of the actual smells and compositions of fragrances.

To my nose, Creed, Bond, Malle, and a number of other so called "niche" houses produce perfumes which are aimed at a mainstream taste and a mainstream olfactory palate. They are perfumes which smell great, and they smell great to a broad spectrum of consumers, they're not aimed at satisfying the acquired tastes and arcanely attuned palates of aficionados.

On the other hand there are so called "designer" houses which produce perfume ranges which would not generally speaking appeal to the broadest possible spectrum of consumers nor even be available to them. Chanel's Exclusifs, Dior's Private line, the Armani Privé collection (there are others) are aimed at connoisseurs, and not just connoisseurs of perfume but in some cases connoisseurs of the houses which produce them. This is so niche it's actually a niche within a niche in some cases.

Hermes, Comme de Garcon, Guerlain, even Coty, none of these older houses have ever really fitted neatly into the Niche/Designer dichotomy in terms of the actual fragrances they make let alone their market positioning or the nature of their business.

At the other end of the price spectrum there are low cost fragrances associated with brands which aren't designer or niche.

What there does seem to be is two streams of perfume taste (though naturally many people will enjoy both), a mainstream one and a non-mainstream one (which is in fact a myriad of different streams all combined into one but which are variously catered to by houses of all kinds and categories).

Comparing and contrasting niche and designer and attempting to decide which is better is therefore fairly pointless, and the only thing that counts is what is your personal taste and what are you happy to spend to satisfy it. Once you've established those things there will be companies out there for you to go and explore.
 

Maque

Basenotes Junkie
Jan 17, 2012
I don't think there's any controversy over whether there's a difference. The biggest issue is that no one will agree on what the terms mean and people have completely useless, semantically empty "debates" where they're not even talking about the same things.

The most common definitions that people use for "niche":

1. An adjective applied to fragrances that means they're expensive and/or exclusive. In this world, Etro Vetiver would be a niche scent.

2. An adjective applied to a fragrance-producing business denoting that it's an independent producer of scents and not connected to a design concern or bankrolled by a larger business. In this world, Etro Vetiver would not be niche.

3. An adjective that describes a marketing practice in which any fragrance-producing enterprise, regardless of whether they design/produce other things, carves out a subset of their larger audience and markets a particular scent or line of scents exclusively to them. In this world, Hermès Jardin series would be designer but Hermèssences would be niche.

As long as everyone is too lazy to bother with consensus over a definition, they will continue to have empty shouting matches about which is better that are a complete and total waste of time.

As shorthand, the terms 'niche' and 'designer' should refer to the houses/companies to avoid even more confusion.

That sounded more like an edict than I meant it to. Sorry :)

I myself have flip-flopped between two different definitions. It's just a subject that has so much confusion surrounding it that I don't think there will ever be a productive conversation.

- - - Updated - - -

I think "indie" is a great word to use. Some people also use "mainstream" and "non-mainstream" instead of niche/designer.

If we do keep the terms 'niche' and 'designer' to indicate business/marketing practices (again, referring only to the houses/companies), and 'mainstream'/'non-mainstream' to indicate artistic direction, these definitions do allow us to comment more clearly on fragrances.

As the examples brought up earlier: Hermès would be a designer house, its Jardin series would be mainstream (not wholly) and their Hermèssences would be non-mainstream. (With J.C. Ellena's style, can his fragrances be really considered mainstream? Hmmm...)

Bond no.9 may be a niche house, but its scents are then viewed as either mainstream or non-mainstream, assuming that by mainstream, we mean rather generic, focus-grouped scents.
 

BurgundyMarsh

Basenotes Junkie
Feb 12, 2012
As shorthand, the terms 'niche' and 'designer' should refer to the houses/companies to avoid even more confusion.

You can't even use houses or companies to create a distinction. The brand names are traded around like corporate chips and at any given moment you can never be quite sure whether Lutens, Gucci, or Tom Ford belong to LVMH, Lauder, or Shiseido.
 
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Maque

Basenotes Junkie
Jan 17, 2012
It's not about the ownership per se, but the business model, per point 2 (and perhaps point 3) by Brian. As was used by organisations such as FF, where the categorisation has to do with the number of sales points/doors. Example: FF's 'Indie' award for companies whose products are sold in only 1 to 50 stores in the US.

And I was trying to clarify that fragrances themselves should not bear the tag of designer or niche; it is the houses that produces such fragrances that should bear such labels. If someone says 'niche scent', it is shorthand for 'a fragrance produced by a small company with limited distribution' rather than 'an artistic fragrance produced by any company' because that latter part ('any company') creates ambiguity.
 

Mrnybluesman

Basenotes Junkie
Jun 10, 2012
Sometimes I believe we truly tend to over complicate things. For me it is simply a question if I like the scent. It does not matter whether it is Designer or Niche. It does not matter if someone else likes it. It is a personal choice. Good reviews, bad reviews...does not matter. The internet has made much of everything readily available to try. Spend $50 and get 15 or so samples and take you pick. Laughing....in my hippie days...and yes even some hippies liked to smell nice...the saying was..."Don't Label Me."
 

Marais

Semi-Retired Member
Basenotes Plus
Nov 2, 2011
“When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”

I find the dictionary a better guide.
 

BurgundyMarsh

Basenotes Junkie
Feb 12, 2012
It's not about the ownership per se, but the business model, per point 2 (and perhaps point 3) by Brian. As was used by organisations such as FF, where the categorisation has to do with the number of sales points/doors. Example: FF's 'Indie' award for companies whose products are sold in only 1 to 50 stores in the US.

And I was trying to clarify that fragrances themselves should not bear the tag of designer or niche; it is the houses that produces such fragrances that should bear such labels. If someone says 'niche scent', it is shorthand for 'a fragrance produced by a small company with limited distribution' rather than 'an artistic fragrance produced by any company' because that latter part ('any company') creates ambiguity.

No, in many cases the house does NOT produce the scent. Many are produced under contract by the large fragrance and flavoring companies and others are produced under contract in large fragrance factories owned by huge cosmetics firms like Coty. It is similar to clothes, "luxury" Italian designers having their things run up in China or Malaysia or to cars where parts are made all over the world and assembled in another place. Often the house doesn't design the scent either. They come up with a short "brief" of what they are looking for (often ridiculous) and ask perfumers working for the big fragrance companies to submit fragrances for them to consider. Chandler Burr's books have some good descriptions of this process. Most of what the "houses" would have you believe is utterly bogus.

The "limited distribution to a targeted market segment" idea is a more valid definition of niche, based on its use as a marketing term. But, in the fragrance world, that would more or less cover everything that isn't sold in drug stores. In factual terms, the niche-designer dichotomy is so amorphous that it is meaningless.
 

starshipvelcro

Basenotes Dependent
Dec 31, 2011
I don't even acknowledge that niche is an adjective that applies to a fragrance. But I think there are interesting discussions to be had about the other two definitions because the business aspects are fascinating. Unfortunately, it's not possible to have those discussions because people are much more interested in yelling "niche sucks" or "designer is crap."

you sound like such a hipster
 

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