Will niche remain niche

[Michael] Edwards’ data indicates that the niche category grew from 128 launches in 2003 to 395 in 2013. After a recent trip through the floors of Barneys and Bergdorf’s, I believe that we will see many more niche launches in 2014. However, one must ask at some point in the near future, will niche remain niche, or will this category also become saturated?

— Raise your hand if you think niche is already saturated? Read more at Rethinking Fragrance: Part I at GCI Magazine.

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12 Comments

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  1. Carolyn says:

    I think the definition of ‘niche’ has changed in recent years & will continue to do so. As an example, I wore Miller Harris years ago when the Needham Road location was the only one, & upmarket department stores such as Liberty, Harrods, Harvey Nicks & Selfridges were stockists – fair enough opening another in Mayfair, but there are now 2 stores within spitting distance of each other in Covent Garden, not to mention mid-range department stores here in the UK stocking the line. One the other hand, one can hardly blame perfumers/companies for launching a greater number of fragrances trying to capture the ‘niche’ market when some of the upmarket stores I mentioned earlier seem to have ‘dumbed down’ what they are now prepared to carry. I have explored a few of the newer ‘niche’ stand-alone stores & also stores who carry various ‘niche’ lines in London recently & while I am delighted there are new places where one can purchase less well known/advertised brands, the customer service in some of them leaves much to be desired!

    • Robin says:

      Interesting…you’d think they’d have *better* customer service, that ought to be at least part of the point.

      • Carolyn says:

        My thoughts exactly Robin! Was in Jo Malone’s store in December, ‘Jo Loves’, located in the flower shop she originally worked in when first in London (a lovely story) with a girlfriend, both of us dressed casually, as we were there for a long weekend – my friend was very taken with one of the fragrances, but we are still waiting to be asked if we need assistance! Spoils the whole experience for me if I have to approach a member of staff. Needless to say my friend (who I am trying hard to turn into a perfume lover!) was underwhelmed; likewise Bloom Perfumery, which I was so looking forward to. Just because people don’t necessarily LOOK (to some SAs) like they CAN’T afford it, it certainly doesn’t mean they DON’T!

        • Robin says:

          I hope the staff was at least nice when you did ask for help? I am always torn — I do HATE how pushy some department store sales people can be, so I don’t want that in a boutique, but yes, someone should at least ask if they can help.

  2. Masha says:

    The only way to answer that question is to have data on how many niche brand launches actually make money or survive for more than a year or so. Also, how do the new perfumes launched from established brands fare? Absolutely no one talks about these issues, so, unless you are an accountant with the brand, there’s very little hard data to go on. If most everyone’s doing well, the market is far from saturated. If 90% plus are dying on the vine, that sounds saturated to me. What have you heard on what/who is actually making money and surviving to spritz another day?

    • Robin says:

      Nothing, it’s all anecdotal. I see lots of brands come and go.

  3. Uday Parfoom says:

    The problem is that the idea of a niche perfume has itself become commoditised. Instead of the uniqueness of the fragrance as the drawcard, however, it is the packaging, high price-point and limited distribution that are rather emphasised in order to appeal to customers simply looking for exclusivity. Time will tell whether this approach is sustainable, although the slow-but-steady success enjoyed by brands with a smaller emphasis on the abovementioned sort of marketing, such as Serge Lutens, seems to indicate that niche will indeed remain niche.

    That is, unless some brands with unusual scents are committed enough to keep these scents on offer to the general public with the hope that they’ll start growing in popularity. It’s happened before.

    • Robin says:

      True, although even Serge Lutens is changing their focus, and I do wonder how much that has to do with changes in the wider niche market.

  4. Dilana says:

    To my mind, the question of whether niche is “becoming oversaturated” is different than what is niche.
    To me, Niche are relatively small launches by independent companies not available in national retail chains. There are certainly now huge numbers of such brands, ranging from folks who seem to develop and mix formulas in their homes to medium size companies which hire perfumers or perfume companies to develop juice per their specs. I agree the market can probably not support all of these as profitable enterprises.
    And to me, there are some companies which carry the “aura” of being niche but are now so widely available that I no longer regard them as niche. To me this category includes Atalier Cologne and Jo Malone. (And isn’t it a good thing when our favorite scents become more easily available?)
    And a number of major brands have tried to bridge themselves into the niche market by launching “private label” or sub-brands at higher prices, (e.g., Tom Ford, Chanel (which has even moved old classics into a special label, Armani etc.)

    I realize Edwards thinks there are too many perfume and perfume companies out there. But may be the industry has just transformed from being primarily an extension of major fashion house and major cosmetic lines to being line the wine industry, with a few major players (Gallo etc.) and lots of small players, bottlers and vinyards. And I don’t think this is a bad thing, even if one guide can’t list them all.

    • Robin says:

      Oh, just to be clear — the writer here was just using Edwards data though, the article isn’t about his opinions.

  5. plume says:

    It’s hard for me to even consider most of these brands to be niche anymore. It’s not that “niche” or “unique” when all these new launches smell so familiar and derivative. Lutens, Malle, Amouage, all of these lines were original early on but as the market flooded with hundreds and hundreds of fragrances and houses that all played on similar themes, that weirdness slowly became the new normal. It became so normal that even mainstream houses began adopting their own faux niche lines since it is so safe smelling nowadays. To me, the independent lines are the true representation of the word niche and what the definition of niche actually means, but the old guard, the perfume industry and the perfume blogosphere have all been very slow to embrace it. It’s still too new, too weird, too foreign to what they’re familiar to.

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