TBN: Intro to Niche Fragrance Edition
Updated: Jun 26, 2019
I have a special affection for beautiful smells. It falls within my Great Beauty category, just like a song from Antony and the Johnsons or a painting by Chagall.
Scents are so evocative due to the anatomy of the human brain: a smell activates parts of your brain that control intense emotion and memories. Just one whiff takes you back to a hug from a love one, a teenage crush, even the garden you used to play in as a child.
My own childhood home garden was brimming with gardenias, evening primrose, freesias and trees full of lemons, grapefruits, apricots and figs.
When you grow up surrounded by nature's best smells, the beauty stays with you for life.
Fragrances are divided into general categories that sometimes slightly overlap with each other. Starting from the bottom up, there are your basic colognes, the ones you splash on after a shower to smell fresh and clean. These are simple and cheerful and usually feature one main note: rose, lemon, lavender etc.
After colognes, you have your more complex scents: the mass market, designer fragrances. These cover a wide spectrum of formulae difficulty and sophistication and are composed of what we call the top, middle and base notes, just like a musical piece. They are built on a general theme: a flower, a feeling, a mood, a character trait. Feeling light and happy? A pretty floral will herald your mood when you enter a room. Feeling mysterious? Musk and spices will serve you well that day. Many will find that one perfume they love and never change it again: their signature scent.
And then, there is high perfumery. Following the same principle of notes composition, these scents are created by the so-called 'noses', people with exacting education in perfumery*. Usually trained in laboratories in Grasse (the capital of the perfume world in the South of France), these women and men do not just 'make smells'. They construct scenes: stories with beginning, middle and end, using the highest quality ingredients. They usually create for niche brands- smaller, independent companies that are top-quality oriented. They compose scents that you've never smelled before but at the same time feel familiar. They target a select and dedicated audience. Lately, though, savvy consumers are increasingly turning toward the niche market, in search of a unique experience. As my recently converted husband said, on the umpteenth time I dragged him to another obscure perfumery, 'It's like smelling actual heaven'.
Niche prices start high (70-80 euros) escalating to insanely high (sky is the limit). I understand that their price point is beyond the reach of most of us. You can, however, enjoy niche perfumery by buying smart. Trusted ebay sellers and treasure trove websites www.notino.co.uk and www.fragrancex.com, among others, are brilliant sources for bargains. Just keep an eye out for your coveted fragrance and it will turn up eventually. You can also choose more reasonably priced brands like Molinard, L'Artisan Parfumeur or Diptyque or order sample sets from the great niche houses to build a perfume wardrobe.
During the past decade, I can't stick to just one scent. I'm a niche hound and picking a fragrance for the day is about expressing different aspects of myself. Only one can take center stage at a time, so I choose according to which one I feel like celebrating that day. Below, are my other personal favourites of all time and the feeling they evoke. Can't wait to discover more.
Philosykos by Diptyque (iconic because of its bold use of the fig note: feelings of summer, the Meditterranean, cleanliness, sophistication, dynamism)
Songes by Annick Goutal (another more reasonably priced gem, this is passionate, luminous gardenia: like my own mother's kiss before she went out with my dad for a night out in the town)
Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian (a masterpiece, jasmine, burnt candyfloss, saffron and amber, one of my top two scents ever: nobility, beauty, intensity and strength, liquified and bottled)
Fracas by Robert Piguet (the ultimate sexy tuberose, deservedly the gold standard for this note: unreserved sensuality and sophisticated wildness)
Carnal Flower by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle (by master 'nose' Dominique Ropion, arguably the best of the best, this is a groundbreaking, bomb of a tuberose: if you can imagine it, it smells of sexuality and interspection)
Caligna by L'Artisan Parfumeur (the most intricate fig composition with jasmine marmelade and clary sage, this is fresh but warm at once: this smells of quiet strength, someone who weathers through the good and the bad with equal poise.
Fiore D'Ulivo by Xerjoff, Casamorati (no sense in mentioning notes: this is the entire Mediterranean summer in one bottle, flora, sea and sun included)
Narcotic Venus by Nasomatto (another tuberose, too expensive for me for a full bottle but if money is no object it's worth smelling this addictive little potion)
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*Note: The 'noses' are the same people that created legendary mass market, designer perfumes. You'll often find that those you've loved most were created by the same 'nose'. For example, Francis Kurkdjian is a man who not only offers some of the most fascinating scents through his own brand, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, but has also created best sellers such as Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier and Narciso Rodriguez For Her.