With the niche fragrance sector growing exponentially, brands are having to push the boundaries of scent in order to stand out from the crowd.
A fragrant future
At the 2018 World Perfumery Congress, Euromonitor International’s beauty and fashion research manager Hannah Symons discussed six key pillars that will define the expectations of the future fragrance consumer, including simplicity, experience and differentiation. Driven by independent brands, the niche fragrance market is leading the way in exploring such pillars, with limited production and distribution emphasising their appeal.
The niche perfume sector is thriving. The artisanal fragrance market in the US, for example, grew by 14% in 2017, according to NPD Research. Elsewhere, the unisex fragrance sector is growing globally, with a 4% increase in value in 2016. ‘We’re living in a world that is increasingly non-binary and gender-fluid, and fragrance-lovers tend not to care about gender in fragrances. They just wear what they like,’ says Barbara Herman, writer and founder of Eris Parfums.
But luxury conglomerate acquisitions and an increasing number of articles mocking the ubiquity of once-enigmatic scents mean that niche brands are treading a fine line between commercial success and exclusivity. As a result, they are working to prove their place through imaginative, boundary-pushing formulations.
Following the ostentatious oud perfumes of the past decade, a new kind of fragrance is offering subtlety. Lingering close to the body, these ‘skin scents’ bring delicate, olfactory whispers – perfumes that provide comfort to the wearer through barely-there compositions.
‘The makers of these new scents, which I have taken to calling the New Softies, are betting that Millennials [and the Generation Zers slinking up behind them] are averse to pouring on a pre-packaged personality. Instead, they simply want a concoction to help them smell like their glorious, unique selves, only better,’ explains fragrance journalist Rachel Syme.
These perfumes also tap into Millennial consumers’ desire for quality, fuss-free products. Glossier’s first fragrance You, introduced in late 2017, was developed with ingredients chosen to smell like skin, while Nudiflorum by Dutch label Nasomatto provides ‘olfactory intimacy’ with a scent that is ‘an interpretation of a feeling of being touched’. Highlighting a perfume’s need for skin and warmth to express its notes, Need_U by Laboratorio Olfattivo plays on the concept of the fragrance becoming one with the wearer.
Indeed, in a quest to create this epidermal effect, perfumers are employing a variety of patented aromachemicals such as Cashmeran. Two of Firmenich’s molecule releases for 2018, Z11, a woody amber note, and Norlimbanol Dextro, described as brimming with elegant musky notes, can be seen as essential building blocks in creating warm, skin-like fragrance constructions that melt into the skin.
In a backlash against this softer narrative, anti-perfumes are disrupting the concept of fine fragrance by capturing scents that draw on decay and disorder, with attention-grabbing concepts that inspire and excite consumers.
Etat Libre d’Orange will release I Am Trash/Les Fleurs du Déchet in autumn 2018, the first luxury perfume made from botanical waste. A supporting video campaign produced by Ogilvy Paris features decomposing fruits and flowers that give life to a new bloom, drawing attention to sustainability in the fragrance industry. The video is inspired by the question: ‘How can we recycle waste that is left over from the perfume industry’s process of fabricating perfume?’
Heritage fragrance house Serge Lutens is also embracing the unconventional, with inspiration drawn from the ageing human body. Its recent scent Dent de Lait, or Milk Teeth, bears the smell of milk, almond and metallic notes, but this soft, child-like scent is unnerving. ‘It’s like breathing in the comforting scent of childhood, with a hint of foreboding and unease in the background,’ writes Refinery29’s Rachel Krause.
Elsewhere, the volatile nature of space is proving a new inspiration. Oliver & Co’s Veil is the imagined smell of the Veil Nebula, the draped debris of a massive star that exploded 8,000 years ago, while Nishane’s B-612 aims to evoke its namesake asteroid in fragrance form with notes of cypress, patchouli and tonka bean.