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Fragrance 101: How To Classify Perfumes

Posted on: Monday, 23 December 2013

Unless you are a perfume expert, you may be surprised to know that perfume has generally been classified into two categories – designer and niche.

Branded fragrances or those sold by designer brands fall under the category of designer perfume. Fashion houses have used fragrances as a tool to advertise their brand and boost their business. They believe that when a person likes their perfume, she or he may be enticed to try on their other products, like their bags, shoes, or clothes. Aside from attracting people to buy their other products, fashion houses make a lot of money from selling fragrances since perfumes are cheap to make and produce. Reports reveal that 75% of the revenue of Armani came from the sale of its fragrances.


On the other hand, niche perfumes are those sold by companies which create and develop perfumes alone, to the exclusion of other products. Before, people had the impression that niche perfumes are those created by perfumers-artistes and thus, had the best quality. This misconception has placed designer perfumes into a much lower rank as compared to niche fragrances.


However, the division between designer and niche perfume has become blurry as time passes by. Today, many master perfumers create scents for both niche and designer companies. For instance, the famous Bertrand Duchaufour has created Fahrenheit Fresh, a designer perfume for Dior, and L’Artisan Parfumeur, a niche perfume for Timbaktu, Dzongkha. But for purposes of educating you with the basics of fragrances, let us discuss designer and niche fragrances separately.

Designer fragrances

Mainstream designer fragrances

Why the name mainstream? Well, it is because these fragrances can be found in any department store. Armani Attitude, Ralph Lauren, D&G and Gucci Guilty – these are some of the most popular mainstream designer fragrances created in large quantities by big fashion brands and distributed broadly. Some of the largest distributors of designer fragrances are Puig, Estee Lauder, Coty, and Beaute Prestige.


Designer Limited Edition fragrances

Fashion brands never ran out of ideas on how to earn money. Since they know that although mainstream designer fragrances boost their popularity, they consequently lessen their exclusivity and make them less special to the market. So what did they do? Fashion brands then started to create and develop designer limited edition fragrances or private and exclusive lines like Cartier's L'Heures de Parfum, Tom Ford's Private Blend, Hugo Boss The Collection and Dolce & Gabbana Velvet Collection Fashion houses then make sure that these limited edition fragrances are more novel and unique than their mainstream counterparts and that their distribution to the market is limited only to select boutiques or high-end retailer.


These designer limited edition fragrances are made from higher quality products and sell for a much higher price. A 50 ml bottle of a limited edition perfume can cost as much as $200. That is almost triple the price of the mainstream designer fragrances. Designer limited edition fragrances are often put in the same footing with niche perfumes because of their price and quality.

Niche fragrances

Niche perfume houses have long been in existence even before fashion brands were born. Take for instance, Guerlain, the most popular niche perfume house which started as early as 1828. Before, Guerlain only creates perfumes until it joined the bandwagon and recently added its own line of cosmetic and skin care products. Even if that is the case, Guerlain still remains popular for its fragrances.


Many niche perfume houses are starting to follow the marketing strategies of fashion houses, particularly with regard to their creation and distribution of perfumes. Most niche perfume houses are also releasing limited edition fragrances which are made available to selected boutiques only, just like the fashion houses which create designer limited edition fragrances or private and exclusive lines.


But mind you, not all niche houses join the bandwagon. There are still the purist niche lines that maintain the belief and philosophy that perfume is an artistic expression. These purist niche houses create perfumes in the same way an artist creates paintings or a poet writes poetry. Purist niche houses aim to create beautiful fragrances for the soul of a person – something that would trigger memories or inspire minds and generate ideas. Making money out of it only comes second priority. Some of the most famous purist niche houses are the Patricia de Nicolai, A Lab on Fire, The Different Company, Heeley, Creed, Parfumerie Generale, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, Le Labo, Tauer Perfumes,, Editions des Parfums Frederic Malle, and Parfums M. Micallef. These purist niche houses sell their perfumes in their own boutiques, websites, and high-end department stores. Since purist niche fragrances are not mass produced and are created from high quality ingredients, most of which they claim are natural, they are generally very expensive. Their price ranges from $150 to as much as higher than $1,000.

In-between Designer and Niche

How do we categorise now fragrance that is neither designer nor niche? Let’s just call them the in-betweens.


Pharmacy designer fragrances

Pharmacy designer fragrances fall under the in-between category. They include products used either for hygiene or cosmetic. We can call them pharmacy fragrances because they are usually sold in pharmacies. These fragrances are usually extensions of other products already existing in the market. For instance, they may be an offshoot of a lotion, shaving cream, aftershave, soap, and the like. Popular drugstore fragrances are Aqua Velva, Old Spice, and Brut, among many others.


Dollar store fragrances

These are fragrances that try to imitate the scent of designer perfumes. For instance, there is Blue Water that smells like Cool Water. These kinds of perfumes sell for as cheap as $5 or even lower. But of course, do not expect that they will smell as good as the real ones or that their smell will stay with you for a long time.


Indie fragrances

These are fragrances created and developed by fragrance enthusiasts who may have or have not undergone professional training. These fragrance enthusiasts make perfumes as a hobby or business. A popular indie fragrance was the one started by John Pegg, a fragrance reviewer in YouTube and has developed eleven fragrances in 2011.


There you have it – some of the general types of perfumes. Hopefully, you’ll have a better and wiser time shopping for your next perfume!

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