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Designer vs niche fragrances: What's the difference?

'Fess up. Have you occasionally heard the term "niche" thrown around in perfume-related banter, and not entirely understood what it means? Well, there's no shame in it at all … we hope to clarify a term that has now become an industry buzzword.

What is Niche?

The Fragrance Foundation (FiFi) once categorized fragrances as "niche" or "mainstream" 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 fashion houses like Vera Wang, Ralph Lauren, Versace and so on.

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. These are the scents you might likely find at a perfume specialist or high-end fragrance boutique.

Why Niche?

Niche devotees often argue that boutique perfumes offer the consumer the opportunity to reward oneself with a scent that is both uncommon and individual. Many might reason that niche equates to quality; in that greater attention to detail has been given to the construction of the perfume, and that components are of the highest calibre. Many prefer to pay top-dollar for the privilege of not smelling like someone's ex-boyfriend, or brother or aunt.

Why Designer?

But the designer brands also have an edge. What they lack in terms of exclusivity, they make up for in price and mass appeal - the consumer buying into the lifestyle that these designer brands represent. If you can't afford the Boss, Cartier or Bvlgari lifestyle, you might as well smell like you can!

As consumers, we really can't lose. Not only do we have full access to our designer scents on any given trip to the mall, niche fragrances are now becoming more accessible thanks, in part, to the Internet. No wonder niche scents are quickly gathering favor with fragrance aficionados! Check out more accessible niche lines such as Serge Lutens, Acqua di Parma and Comme des Garcons.

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