Thoughts about Niche, the New Black and the Big Bad Wolf

May 23 (Reuters) – “The $31 billion-a-year perfume industry is bracing itself for tighter EU regulations to be adopted by the end of the year that will include ingredient bans and labelling requirements aimed at protecting consumers from allergies.”

Yes, nothing new under the sun there. But contrary to what you might think now, this post is actually not going to be about how the Big Bad IFRA Wolf will huff and puff until the last fragrance pyramid falls. These are a few simple observations that I have tried to put into words.

When I first started to truly appreciate fragrance, visiting perfumeries often, and then started having several perfumes rather than one signature, it was in the nineties, and even if niche existed, it hadn’t reached me yet, but also, it wasn’t really all that important yet, because the mainstream houses produced exciting stuff, and there were forerunners. I’m thinking of Yohji Homme, Le Feu d’Issey, Angel, Féminité du Bois, etc. Féminité du Bois changed what a fragrance marketed at women can be, and Angel arguably created a whole new perfume-genre.

Things changed, I don’t know why, but perhaps perfumes were such an easy win for many companies, mainstream became mainstream, formulas were repeated ad nauseam after the devise ‘if it ain’t broke- don’t fix it’- a fertile ground for niche to develop and take hold. And so it did. Many fantastic new houses and brands created great stuff and explored new ways.

Now within niche so many new brands and launches take place, that creating truly new, exciting and well-crafted stuff is tough. Being first with something completely new, might mean that you won’t survive as a new brand, as might using too many precious materials prove too expensive or simply too risky, as the first casualties have already happened within niche brands I thought well established.

Thinking of the trend of minimalist fragrances, I thought how niche almost seems to have mainstreamified; a lot of similar things are coming out- minimalist seem to still be en vogue, but…

In the middle of the huffing and puffing and the extinction of old formulas, that are only possible to experience as either museums piece,s like at Maison Guerlain, or if you’re willing to pay big sums as the prices of famous vintage bottles on auction sites are soaring, retro perfumery is trending. If you can’t invent new, invent old. Everywhere I look, the most exciting new release is actually an old one, lots of old companies are being revived (Volnay, Oriza L. LeGrand, Jovoy), and/or reissuing (Houbigant, Lubin, Rochas, Jean Patou), or recreating in retro spirit or in a story (Roja Dove perfumes, Andy Tauer’s Tableaus, Envoyage’s Zelda, DSH Pandora a.o, or Penhaligon’s Tralala aldehydes). And I am quite sure I’m forgetting half.

But isn’t it funny, that in the middle of the extinction of whole genres of perfume, and the ghostly shadow of reformulation, or the ‘IFRA Brazilian wax job’ as Denyse termed it the other day, a definite change in the world of niche perfume is taking place with reviving perfumes long gone, and reformulating classic perfumes to higher standards and at a cost. Is the classic perfumery to become the new way of niche? Is it because of the IFRA threat, or is it something else? Or is it not an important trend, but just a branch on the niche-tree?

What do you think?

 

Picture from Oriza L. LeGrand homepage

10 thoughts on “Thoughts about Niche, the New Black and the Big Bad Wolf

  1. I might be wrong but I do not see it as a serious trend. I think it’s one of the branches that niche companies explore in order to find their angle, their customers, their… niche. Sex sells – companies do sex. Romance sells – do romance. History, rarity, exclusivity – you name it, somebody will do it.

    I miss simpler times with everything – books, movies, appliances – not only with perfumes. It’s bad not to have a choice or have it very limited. But while it’s possible to make an informed and conscious choice from a set of 10 items, it becomes more of a chance game if you have to choose from 100 (let alone 1,000).

    And I just have to say (I do it everywhere when IFRA regulation is mentioned) that I find it stupid that nations that cannot ban public smoking that effects innocent bystanders take upon themselves to regulate what I can put on my skin voluntarily.

    • I know what you mean Undina, and of course they do it to sell fragrances, but I do find it curious that it happens now with IFRA tightening regulations, making it an impossibility to actually recreate the past. Also I find it far too many companies, to be seen as just the new ‘oud’ for example.
      Yes, I understand your IFRA wish, I hope you have signed the partition at Parfumo.net?

  2. Hmm, I haven’t thought about it in such a context. I am rather happy that they are introducing old formulas again.
    Btw, I couldn’t agree more with Undina. If you are not banning public smoking why in the world ban stuff people voluntarily want to use and that don’t even cause that much sensitization as some cosmetic products which, of course, aren’t banned!?

    • Well, let me know if you do 🙂 I am happy with the old formulas, but without the real ingredients… It all seems a bit weird.

  3. Like Ines, I haven’t really paid too much attention to the revival of historical “formulas” other than to roll my eyes and assume it is a marketing ploy to make money. But you may be right. I definitely think there is more interest in perfume in general, and there seem to be more perfume museums, etc. popping up. Personally, I would love to see some refashioned take on original Guerlain formulations available for purchase (preferably not at ridiculous prices!). But for every Guerlain there are 10 random “perfume houses of old” that someone thinks need to be brought back.

    • I agree that there are many perfume houses of old, as I wrote to Undina, it seems wondrous to revive at a time when there’s no way one can truly re-create the past with the new regulations. And yes please to the Guerlain original formulations (and Caron and Coty for that matter), even if made with the contemporary available materials. I was lucky enough that Monsieur Guerlain (the blogger)let me experience sniffing his Guerlain-L’ADN set, which was amazing! What can I say; the trouble I normally have with the ‘root canal sugery’-note of Shalimar, was softened by sublime bergamot, not allowed in todays perfumery. I would buy that version in a flash.

  4. I had clocked the retro trend, but didn’t really know what to make of it. I quite like it though! I just hope it can flourish okay in the teeth of all the IFRA waxing. Ouch – teeth, that sounds painful. Maybe ‘reworked old lady’ is the new ‘oud’ and that is fine by me.

    • I suppose if we are very lucky, and the trend takes hold, it might serve to prevent further IFRA waxing. But I guess that’s wishful thinking. I think that anything that might be an inspiration to make beautiful fragrances is fine by me.

  5. You all make so many great points here I don’t have too much to add. Wonderful, thought-provoking piece, Asali.

    I think it’s just bad timing that the vintage trend in all things, not just perfumery, has come along at a time when the regulations have been tightened to such a degree (love Denyse’s phrase!). I guess most of us won’t remember the originals and as many just want that retro look and to feel they are wearing something “vintage” that will suffice.

    Like Natalie I do rather glaze over when another historic brand is revived. I agree that I’d much rather have those great, long lost Guerlains, Carons and Cotys back, even if they do have to be IFRA compliant.

    • I’m glad you thought so, Tara. These were just thoughts that I tried to pen down, not least to make it more clear to myself 🙂 Denyse’s phrase is spot on, which was why I had to repeat it.
      I suppose I wish it was easier to see through whether the revivals are attempts to recreate the true former formulae, with the material available today, or if they are just inspirations on a theme. I think for me personally, it would mean less disappointment. Patou, I think are very vocal about how they go about the reformulations of their old perfumes, and I like that. And of course the effort chez Guerlain to try and improve on their classics is admirable.

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