By  on June 30, 2006

PARIS — Many so-called "niche fragrances" are gunning for the spotlight.

Although still manufactured by small, independent companies, they're no longer tucked away on the back shelves of perfumeries here as consumers fan demand for more individual scents.

"An important change within the fragrance market is our consumer's shifting attitude to scent," said Caroline Hindle, buyer for perfumery and cosmetics at Harrods department store in London. "Men and women increasingly want the fragrances they wear to reflect who they are within. This has led to a surge in the demand for ‘niche' fragrances. Consumers want scents to portray their own distinct personalities, and they have a genuine enthusiasm for unusual, interesting, quality ingredients."

"Niche fragrances are truly a driver in the upper-scale sector in department stores, specialty stores and smaller perfumeries," added Jill Hill, managing director of Sussex, England-based Aspects Beauty Co., a fragrance distributor and owner of the La Foret des Parfums concession in London's Harvey Nichols department store as well as a freestanding boutique.

"There's such a plethora of choice in fragrance that many consumers are bewildered," she continued. "They're looking for fragrances that are more interesting, more personal and that they can call their own. They're looking for references to [the brands'] heritage, to pure natural ingredients, to a powerful nose or to a powerful historical heritage.

"Retailers have discovered this and are allocating more space in stores [to niche scents]," she said. Cases in point include Sephora, in addition to Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores, which have grown their niche offering exponentially during the recent past.

Hill added niche fragrances offer high-end retailers the possibility to differentiate themselves further from mass market retailers, which increasingly have been turning up the heat in terms of interesting product mix and presentation. "It's a way to target customers who are ahead of the masses," she said.

Plus, selling niche fragrances can help spur sales at the fragrance counter. "Twenty percent of the [fragrance] market is driven by novelty," said Laurence Bacilieri, senior consultant for cosmetics at London-based tracking firm Mintel. However, she cautioned, "it's a tough way to make business; you have to constantly innovate."

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