Mon. Apr 22nd, 2024

We have the ancient Mesopotamians to thank for inventing the first form of perfume, incense, four thousand years ago. The word itself derives from the Latin phrase ‘per fumus,’ meaning ‘through smoke,’ a reference to its pleasant aroma when burned. Perfume’s use was initially restricted to religious rituals before being adopted by royalty and later society at large. This is all to say that people have been making, wearing, and enjoying perfume for a very long time.

Today, the fragrance market is worth almost $60 billion, with perfume enthusiasts seeking more than the simple objective of smelling good—and they’re turning towards niche makers to fulfill it. While mass-market scents still hold appeal, they’re also working with well-worn formulas when it comes to scents and their marketing, like sweet florals for women, spicy woods for men, and faux-aspirational celebrity-fronted campaigns. That’s anathema to ‘frag-heads’ who use scent to express their personality, conjure a mood, a memory, or want to experience something unique in the olfactory realm. HighSnobriety’s recent ‘State of Fragrance’ report found that 71 percent are willing to pay over $100 for fragrance while a third of respondents said they would go to $500. At that price, the discerning frag-head expects the kind of care, quality, and creativity that mass-market fragrances can’t deliver, but niche makers can.

My journey with niche fragrances originated when I started learning more about the craft of perfume and understanding the kind of notes that appealed to me most–fig, cardamom, saffron, sandalwood. Not only did I want to find more fragrances featuring them, but I wanted to experience the specific notes rendered through different lenses to express and amplify the note’s qualities. A fig note, for example, can be redolent with the ripeness of the late summer fruit or the verdant and woodsy quality of the fig tree itself. The search quickly led me to the rich world of niche fragrance, where the perfumers have more scope to create exciting scents that don’t need to appeal to broad tastes, experimenting beyond the restrictive categories.

One of the beauties of the niche fragrance world is that there are a lot of makers and even more scents to discover. Follow your nose and learn about the niche brands all frag-heads should know in 2024.

Sonic Flower Eau de Parfum

A musician at heart and a pharmacist by trade, Michael Partouche turned to fragrance as his means of creative expression, founding Room 1015. The brand is named after a room at the Continental Hyatt Hotel in LA that was famous for frequently getting destroyed by rockstars. With Room 1015, Partouche wants to capture an ‘olfactory counterculture’ by channeling memories, locations, and artists he associates with that idea. There’s Cherry Punk, inspired by SEX, a 1974 store run by Vivienne Westwood where fashion and punk converged. Sonic Flower sings the praises of rock frontwomen like Blondie and Joan Jett, with notes of pink pepper, orris, and cashmere woods. An upcoming launch, Wavechild, is a tribute to surf culture with a mix of breezy citrus in the opening and grounding notes of coconut, amber woods, and ambergris through the scent’s pyramid.

Room 1015

A Sensual Portrait of Darkened Spice

Inspired by diamonds and the people who wear them, Alûstre wants to evoke ‘intrinsic emotions.’ The brand enlisted the iconic French perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to translate diamonds’ multidimensionality into distinctive scents. The eight fragrances in the lineup (with more soon to follow) sit across ambery, floral, woody, and fresh categories. Spectre 596-154, Portrait of Darkened Spice combines the unusual opening notes of unripe hazelnut and cardamom and a base of oakmoss and amber woods for a fragrance of earthiness and welcome contrasts. Spectre 575-149, Shadows of Bergamot compliments the eponymous citrus with pomelo and envelops it with spice, woods, and warm resins.

Alûstre Spectre 596-154

Purple Haze Eau de Parfum

Swedish artist and product developer Johan Bergelin named the brand after his birth a year, a year in history signifying “an era of freedom, tolerance, and counterculture.” Each fragrance in the range draws inspiration from musical, cultural, and artistic moments across Africa, Europe, the United States, and Asia. Created in collaboration with global artisans, the 18 scents channel events like Woodstock Music and Art Fair (in the patchouli, violet, and cannabis-tinged Purple Haze), the glamorous and bohemian history of Marrakech (with citrus, honey, amber, and sandalwood in Kasbah), and the energy of the rockers’ hotspot Rainbow Bar (with basil, bourbon, pimento, and clove.) It’s cultural storytelling in every hand-crafted bottle.

19-69

Nous sommes amants. M.D.

In 1830, the aesthete Alfred d’Orsay created the first non-gendered scent, so the legend goes, to conceal his love affair. Fast-forward 190 years, and under the direction of Amélie Huynh, D’Orsay’s fragrances epitomize love and sensuality in a homage to the founder. Working with perfumers like Dominique Ropion, Olivia Giacobetti, Fanny Bal, Sidonie Lancesseur, Karine Chevallier, and Bertrand Duchaufour, each fragrance explores different states of love and its expression. Nous sommes amants – M.D. (‘we are lovers’) is a spiced and warming portrait of a lover’s skin, sketched with palo santo, pepper, and cedarwood. À cœur perdu – L. B. (‘with all my heart’) captures the enigmatic moment ‘just before’ by combining the softness of iris and orange blossom with enveloping moss and cashmeran.

D’Orsay

Night Eau de Parfum

Akro channels vices and indulgences into its creations, leaving behind flowers and fruit in favor of more seductive notes. The brand isn’t afraid to say that vices inspire many of the scents, be they cigarettes after sex, a double bourbon with a single ice cube, or that first-morning espresso. Perfumer Oliver Cresp created the six fragrances in the brand’s ‘Addictions’ range. Night is a sensual marriage of rose, cumin, and agarwood; the gourmand Haze is all cocoa, hazelnut, chocolate, and cinnamon; and Malt melds whiskey and rum with seaweed and patchouli.

Akro

French Flower Eau de Parfum

Aurélien Guichard founded the brand because he wanted to keep traditional Grasse perfumery techniques alive for the next generations. Each fragrance from the house spotlights one raw material and is crafted with a high concentration of absolute – the most concentrated form of fragrance. Many of the ingredients are grown in the fields of Domaine de Chautard using sustainable practices, like the tuberose in the heady French Flower. Additionally, Guichard only works with ethical and sustainable suppliers when outsourcing the other ingredients required for his creations. The scents are rich and communicate the essence of the central ingredient with only a few additional notes. Plus, they have an incredible staying power thanks to the high concentration of absolute.

Matiere Premiere

Ink Eau de Parfum 

The British perfumer Lyn Harris is one of the industry’s best-known ‘noses’. Having previously founded the brand Miller Harris and working on fragrances for other brands, she set up Perfumer H in 2015 to reflect her personal style of perfumery that aims to capture the essence of the natural world, focusing on the craft of fragrance-making. The fragrances in the Perfumer H line are sophisticated and harmonious, with a cerebral flair. The brand’s INK scent captures the impression of blue ink on white paper; there’s a touch of cool salinity in the opening that melts into a dry and woody combination of pepper, papyrus, and Haitian vetiver.

Perfumer H

Regime des Fleurs

Alia Raza is a visual artist and filmmaker whose latest creative endeavor is Régime des Fleurs, a luxury perfume brand inspired by history, nature, and art. Raza says that while her life experiences inspire every fragrance, they’re also up for interpretation by the wearer. The scents are conceptual with a classical foundation like AL-DUKHAN (‘smoke’ in Arabic) that opens with cardamom and aldehyde and dissolves into oud, ambergris, and white musk. HIMITSU (‘secret’ in Japanese) opens with the aromatic lily of the valley and heliotrope, grounded by suede, violet, and saffron.

Al-Dukhan

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