I don’t know how many threads on various aspects of “niche versus designer” fragrances I’ve seen just in the men’s forum at basesnotes.net. There are often interesting insights that are generated from such threads, but there is also an irritating aspect to them. The reason is that it’s like saying liberal or conservative. Everyone has their own definition and hardly anyone ever states explicitly what their definition is. Below I’m going to try and explicate a way to classify niche fragrances that I’m hoping will lead to more “reality-based” discussions in the future, even if it takes quite a bit of time for such ideas to get adopted by the “perfumistas”/aficionados.
First, there are ones so similar to many designer fragrances that they may be best referred to as designer for those who want to feel exclusive (and don’t mind paying more). Related to this kind of niche are ones that seem to be “inspired” by a great vintage fragrance. Several have said that H.O.T. Always by Bond No 9 is very similar to Givenchy Gentleman, for example (though I haven’t tried H.O.T. Always). Though expensive, it may be that for those with plenty of “disposable income” sampling such fragrances is a much less time consuming way to try out great vintage compositions. Otherwise, you might find yourself spending hours on ebay trying to figure out which bottle design of a vintage fragrance is the one you want. And in many cases they are not that inexpensive, though often considerably cheaper than buying a new niche bottle of the same size.
Second, there are what one might call experimental or artistic niche fragrances. The most obvious example probably is Secretions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d`Orange. One can’t generalize much about these, because they vary so much. Some are mostly just one molecule, such as Escentric 01 by Escentric Molecules, which has a high concentration of iso e super. I tend to dislike these kinds of niche ones because I seek balanced, natural-smelling, dynamic, and complex fragrances, and these tend to be sorely lacking in at least one of those characteristics. My guess is that these are meant for people who enjoy being different, seeking to “stand out from the crowd” and “make a statement.” More power to them, but I don’t want to smell this stuff !
Third, there are simple, often “traditional” compositions made with high-quality ingredients. Luca Turin has said this is what Creed excels at doing with many of their offerings. After trying Green Irish Tweed again, I think I am beginning to be won over to this view. In particular, I have disliked almost all fragrances similar to GIT, especially ones with violet leaf and lavender in the opening. GIT is not only well blended, removing the harshness (though I try to avoid top notes as much as possible), and then over time a natural-smelling sandalwood note emerges and generates enough dynamism to create a very pleasant olfactory experience. In other cases, such as with Bois du Portugal, the drydown is a “failure” to me, in that it gets cloying and there’s not enough dynamism, though it certainly smells natural.
In the fourth category are relatively simple compositions that focus on a note or accord. Unlike the third category, however, these are not common or traditional. An obvious example are fragrances that try to recreate the smell of an old church, such as Messe de Minuit by Etro. Most people would think this kind of fragrance odd if not outright offensive. However, such notes, such as frankincense, have been used in designer fragrances for decades, but such notes were in the background, so to speak, and very few would notice them as such. These fragrances seem to be very trendy, and in recent years there have been ones that focus on tea, oud, patchouli, etc., as well as the aforementioned incense.
The last category includes fragrances that are unique but at least moderately complex compositions, with good note contrast. An example of this kind of fragrance is Genie in a Bottle by Trance Essence. The notes listed for it are: “…jasmin exotic oil, vanilla, organic frankincense, bittersweet chocolate, black tea, and organic black pepper (from fragrantica.com). I haven’t encountered many fragrances like this, which in this case supplies me with everything I’m seeking but is quite different from anything else I’ve tried (vintage ones like this tend to be more “traditional” in the notes used, for example). Unlike the experimental fragrances, these tend to be better balanced and meant more for the person wearing it (presumably an aficionado) than for impressing others who might smell it as one walks by.
If anyone has ideas for more categories, feel free to comment and I’ll edit this entry if I think I missed something “major.”