By  on July 13, 2007

PARIS — If "niche fragrances" were an animal, they'd surely be a mouse that roars.

Such artisanal scents manufactured by small, mostly independent companies, are commanding ever more consumer attention. And retailers have taken note — and action.

In October, for instance, Paris' Printemps will unveil a 1,000-square-foot niche fragrance concept, called La Scent Room, within the renovated fragrance department of its flagship. The space is to carry some 25 niche brands, including Annick Goutal, Carthuzia, Etro, Diptyque, Robert Piguet and Eau d'Italie, which Printemps' former perfumery space sold. It will also introduce a handful of new names to the retailer, such as Lost Marc'h and By Kilian. The area is to feature two fragrance fountains (created with Caron and Berdoues), where people can refill their fragrance bottles, as well.

A smaller version of La Scent Room will be opened in other Printemps doors.

The retailer's move to showcase niche fragrance stems from consumer demand. "In our flagship store, the top 10 fragrance brands include four niche brands," said Fabien Petitcolin, Printemps' beauty buyer, who added such fragrances have clocked double-digit sales gains at the retailer over the last three years.

No doubt the sales of niche scents, including those from Creed, Floris and Culti, which have had prime placement in La Rinascente since the Milanese department store's beauty floor got a facelift last October, will help generate the department's expected double-digit gains.

"Niche fragrances give people the opportunity to come back to traditional perfumery and wear a fragrance that nobody else has," said Isabelle Pecenicic, director of the beauty and fragrance buying department of Galeries Lafayette.

Since launching its Parfums d'Exception space for "rare" scents in its Paris flagship in September 2005, Galeries Lafayette department store keeps adding dedicated corners to niche brands, including Annick Goutal, L'Artsian Parfumeur, Serge Lutens, The Different Company, Acqua Di Parma and — most recently — Tom Ford Beauty's Private Blend.

With this flurry of activity on the niche front, retailers say they are careful to cherry-pick brands they carry.

"To be a niche you really need to promote something that is a new concept, a new story," said Natacha Dzikowski, global brand image director at Sephora in France, which continues championing niche fragrance brands and introducing exclusive scents. "We want real niche, a real concept — if it's only a me-too product, we won't go with it.""Products with a claim to be luxurious, qualitative and unique have to be distributed in shops that reflect that," continued Guido Wetter, manager of Il Profomo, the Milan-based perfumery selling a wide array of esoteric small brands. He added, "In reality, the 'niche' market doesn't exist anymore. Today, there are 'unique' perfumes that exist, and then there are mass market ones.

Since it's all about cachet, the more exclusive a brand, the better, say retailers.

In January, for instance, Sephora introduced Indult, a scent trio concocted by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, with just 999 numbered bottles.

Over in Qatar, Aida, the high-end multibrand fashion store due to be open this fall will showcase the first beauty items — a fragrance and candle, called Bois d'Alexa Rodulfo and scented with notes of patchouli, cedar, orange and honey — from the society hairstylist and makeup artist of that name. Aida will have the exclusive on the duo for six months.

The Park Hyatt Paris hotel is the sole retailer of the new Blaise Mautin Parfumeur fragrance collection, which includes scent for the body, the home and a scented candle, among other items, based on a patchouli note. Made-to-measure fragrances, which have been available at the Hyatt since 2002, can be created with Paris-based Mautin, too.

Niche fragrances are going green, as well.

In the U.K., Hiram Green (whose name is a coincidence) introduced a line of five single-note floral fragrances this month under the Scent Systems banner, for instance.

"I have found a niche in the market for entirely natural fragrances," said Green. "It's a market that's waiting to explode." — Jennifer Weil and Ellen Groves, with contributions from Brid Costello and Stephanie Epiro

Hennessy Doing Fragrance Collection

PARIS — Kilian Hennessy, creator of the By Kilian fragrance collection, due out this fall, has a keen sense of scent.

"Perfume should either be like a shield, to create an environment of ease, or be more like a weapon of seduction," said Hennessy, who believes fragrance should always pursue a higher purpose."I want to put perfume back on a pedestal," he said.

He gleans ideas for By Kilian from travel. From a trip to Japan, for instance, Hennessy was inspired for the design of the black lacquered boxes holding his scents. Nineteenth-century poetry, another of his passions, was also an impetus.

"One of the greatest poets of all times, who is the poet of smells — of perfumes — is Baudelaire, with his 'Les Fleurs du Mal,'" he said, "so it was natural for me to start with him. But I had to do it in a modern, contemporary way."

Hennessy groups his two men's scents under the category The Artificial Paradises, hearkening back to Baudelaire; his pair of women's fragrances, The Ingenues, gives a nod to Verlain. And the couple of unisex scents are called The Parisian Orgies, referring to an Arthur Rimbaud poem.

Hennessy's six fragrances, each with a distinct juice, were created with perfumers Calice Becker and Sidonie Lancesseur. Love By Kilian Don't Be Shy contains a sweet marshmallow note, and Beyond Love By Kilian Prohibited is a tuberose.

By Kilian's partially transparent black scent bottles — which are filled at store counters from black fragrance "fountains" that can also be purchased for home use — have a swirling Greek shield-inspired emblem embossed on their sides. Also at points of sale will be explanations about each scent's composition.

"Everything is about quality and service," said Hennessy.

The half-dozen fragrances, which are the first of an ongoing series that will include candles and bath products, are to be introduced exclusively in a handful of stores, including Printemps and Evody (see related story) in France plus online at outside the U.S. starting in September. By Kilian will be available in the U.S. at Bergdorf Goodman and Aedes de Venustas in mid-October.

A 50-ml. refillable By Kilian bottle is to retail for $250; a 50-ml. refill, for $95, and a 1-liter "fountain," for $3,000.

Hennessy would not discuss sales projections, but industry sources estimated his collection would generate $350,000 at retail worldwide during its first nine months. — Jennifer WeilBOUTIQUE HIGHLIGHTS NICHE OFFERINGS

PARIS — Parisian beauty industry veteran Régine Droin believes niche scents have such potential that she decided to open a store devoted to them. Named Evody, from the Greek word evodia, meaning "it smells good," the boutique opened in Paris' St. Germain neighborhood last December.

The 430-square-foot baroque style space features a glass chandelier with contrasting sober gray and deep pink-colored walls. It showcases scents on black stone tables or gray shelving units holding around 15 fragrance brands, including designer names such as Marc Jacobs and niche stalwarts like Serge Lutens, plus newcomers including Mona di Orio.

"They must have a real point of difference from mass scents, have quality ingredients and not be widely distributed," said Droin, explaining her selection process.

Droin, who held commercial positions at Lancaster and Sephora, spotted the potential for niche scents in her latest job running a training center for perfumery sales consultants.

"I realized through talking to students who were alternating training with work in stores that the clientele wanted something different and was opting for the more creative, artisanal scents."

So Droin set out to offer different brands in an alternative retail environment. Sampling methods are atypical here. Next to each scent is an inkpot containing a fabric spritzed with fragrance.

"You can smell the dry down, so it allows customers to really get to know the fragrance," explained Droin.

At Evody, people can opt for a free scent consultation, and there are two-hour workshops about fragrance history and composition for 60 euros, or $83 at current exchange.

Droin said niche fragrance clients are real aficionados; some of them own as many as 100 scents.

To keep such consumers loyal, Evody negotiates avant-premières with brands, such as By Kilian (see related story), which will be sold only in Evody and Printemps department store in Paris.

Droin said an average sale in her shop is 110 euros, or $151. Industry sources estimate Evody will generate retail sales of around 250,000 euros, or $344,000, in its first year.

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