A “House” (Fragrance/Creative House) is the industry term for a company that independently creates a perfume.  A “Nose” (the Perfumer) works from a Fragrance Organ composing fragrances from base materials to create accords that are arranged into the final product.  Like a composer that creates music, they write their own music, drawing inspiration from a multitude of sources and can deliver on a brief.  Like musicians, each perfumer has their own certain “style” or “sound”.

The Difference between Niche and Designer?

The Fragrance Foundation (FiFi) categorizes fragrances as “niche” or “mainstream” (designer) based on the number of doors they were supported in (that is, the number of retail outlets stocking a specific scent or brand). This would generally mean that the majority of scents you find in large retail franchises and department stores are classed as mainstream or designer scents, such as those launched by popular fashion houses or celebrities.

Boutique artisanal perfume studios whose production is on a much smaller scale and whose presence in mainstream retail stores is minimal or non-existent, are thus referred to as niche.  When you want a designer perfume, you know where to find one: yep, in all the major stores. However, when you want to buy a niche fragrance, where do you go? Well, here’s another difference: niche brands have limited distribution. They are only available in luxury, high-end boutiques or on the perfumer’s website – these fragrances are not designed for the masses.

The Presentation

With designer (mainstream) perfumes it’s all big ads and unusual bottles. The focus is shifted from the perfume to the package that grabs the attention of people crazed by the influx of information coming from all sides, TV, billboard, mobile phones. Niche fragrance houses do not advertise like that, they let the product speak for itself. Art (Niche) perfumes are mostly packed in simple, stylish and elegant bottles and the focus in on the quality of the ingredients.

The Perfumist

Niche perfumes are focused on the maker of the perfume. In the world of art perfumes, it is very important who is behind a certain perfume. Perfume noses are stars and not brands,  like it’s the case with mainstream designer perfumes. When people buy perfumes by brands such as Armani or Burberry, they don’t care who made that particular perfume. There is no personality cult, only if the perfume and its allure are likable. With niche perfumes, it’s all about the artist/perfumer. Just as it is important to know if the author of a certain sculpture is Rodin or Michelangelo, so it is important to know who made the perfume.

The Perfume making process

Probably the most important criteria by which one can differentiate designer and niche perfumes. With niche perfumes, their creator is driven by vision and an idea of the perfume using a high percentage of top quality ingredients. The goal is to make a perfume that represents emotion, thought or yearning – what the creator wants to capture in the bottle. Contrary to that, in the mainstream industry, it’s all about fashion, trends, the taste of the audience and mass likeability.

The quantity in which they are produced

Designer fragrances are almost always produced in large amounts – as they are designed to capture a wider audience. The goal is to reach as many people as possible and this is what happens.

At the opposite pole, niche perfumes are produced in a smaller number. They are intended for the connoisseurs, so often, commercials are missing all together. If you like the niche aromas, you’re up to date up with the news from the field even though you don’t see them on billboards. Many prefer to pay top-dollar for the privilege of not smelling like someone’s ex-boyfriend, or brother or aunt.

The Price

Since niche perfumes use high-quality essential oils and perfume series are not mass produced, the price is higher than with designer mainstream perfumes.

So in general, a Designer (mainstream) fragrance is designed for a mass market where they target the individual with heavy promoting and advertising to sway them to feel included. Niche perfumes, are more specific and more personal – each person individually can find something which reflects their true personality, rather than the one size-fits-all smells that are found in self-service perfumeries.