Fake Niche versus Real Niche.

As I said in the last post, I’m not all that interested in debating the concept of niche with others.  I have my notions about what it should mean, and then there are several common concepts about it that others hold.  Here, I want to provide my sense of what niche, or at least niche-like, should mean.  It’s very simple (in my mind), because we all know there are quite a few scents that are widely available, starting (at the low end) with “drug store” scents (some of which are bad reformulations of great vintage ones), and going up to the “top” designers.  In order to compete with better-known niche companies, some designer brands decided to create “exclusive” lines, which to me should be considered niche, in terms of the marketing if not the smell itself.  By contrast, there are some “amateur outfits” like Andy Tauer or Smell Bent (as I call them), which tend to do a better job of being niche than the many of the more “professional” niche companies, in my opinion, of course.

If you read my last post you have a sense of what I think “fake niche” is.  Basically, it’s throwing a lot of iso e super, cashmeran, “white” musk” and or some other obvious aroma chemicals together with something that sounds like it should be in a niche scent, such as leather, oud, tobacco, or pistachio.  The problem, at least for me, is that the aroma chemicals overwhelm whatever “good” there is in it.  What I want from niche is a scent that is novel and enjoyable, and of course one that is not like any designer (or even “drug store”) that came before it.  I don’t want a niche version of Old Spice (I have the previous incarnation of it, Early American Old Spice) or English Leather (I have a pre-Dana version of that one), though some “authorities” speak glowingly about some niche scents that were apparently meant to be just this sort of thing (I devoted a post to that development, which I found rather strange)!

By contrast, I don’t mind if a scent does something different than vintage and is a little “synthetic” in some way.  And that brings me to another “celebuscent,” Unbreakable, which possesses notes of (from Parfumo.net):

Top Notes Top Notes Bergamot, Clementine, Green apple, Saffron
Heart Notes Heart Notes Geranium, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-valley, Red fruits
Base Notes Base Notes Dark chocolate, Tonka bean, Vanilla, Cedarwood


My bottle cost $11 or $12 total (100 ml with cap), and was a blind buy.  I don’t think of it as “niche quality,” but I do consider it “niche-like.”  The reason is that I do detect a slight “laundry musk” element, but because it is mild I find that it adds some complexity to the composition, whereas so much niche that I think of as “fake” contains irritating amounts of iso e super, etc.  And after a long time (I’d guess at least 10 hours), I do detect a “cheap” wood note in Unbreakable, though I’m quite surprised at how long the composition holds together (unlike some recent CK scents I’ve tried, where after half an hour or so a bare aroma chemical quality dominates everything).  On the other hand, there is a nice orange/apple element, along with some mild but detectable chocolate note.  Otherwise, I find it to be rather “tight,” which is not unexpected and fine here, since the notes that I wanted to smell are not a figment of the perfumer’s imagination.

The key point, for me if no one else, is to ask yourself what you are seeking.  You may never find a “niche version” of Unbreakable, for example (as newbies often ask about with quite a few designer scents), so are you willing to “settle” for one that is not quite “niche quality” (meaning something you’d expect from a Lutens)?  And if a niche scent with a load of iso e super is acceptable to you, why is a little laundry musk in Unbreakable a “dealbreaker?”  If the reason involves social perceptions, that’s fine with me, but then why bother to wear niche?  Most people either won’t recognize it as such or will dislike it?  The “crowd pleasing” niche scents are often mistaken for much cheaper designer ones, and ones that I’ll grant are unique (hypothetically, for the sake of the argument) are soon “cloned,” the most obvious case being Aventus.  Iso e super is not a “better” aroma chemical than dihydromyrcenol (which is found in large amounts in many “masculines,” including Cool Water) or various “laundry musks;” should people who think along these lines be called “niche snobs?”

Another example of a “cheapo” with a chocolate/cocoa note is 125 Years by Victorinox.  This one does not have any aroma chemical that could come across as “cheap,” AFAICT, and it’s composition is surely “niche-like:”

Top Notes Top Notes Grapefruit, Cardamom
Heart Notes Heart Notes Cocoa, Larch wood
Base Notes Base Notes Hay, Tonka bean


It’s not as strong as many niche scents of this type but at this price level (my 100 ml bottle cost less than $15 total), one can just spray more to make up for it (I don’t get much tonka, for those who dislike this note).  In some cases that may be an issue (bringing out a “chemical” quality), but that’s not the case here or in most if not all of my favorite “super cheapos.”  Yet how many who think Stash SJP is niche-like (if not outright niche) would say that about 125 Years?  Obviously, at least in the USA Stash has gotten much more publicity than 125 Years, so that might be a major reason.  However, I think another reason for some if not most who try it (and say it’s niche-like) is that the aroma chemicals in it (used in certain amounts) are now perceived as “niche” by enough people to make it something companies now know they can market as niche-like.

It almost seems as if these kinds of niche/niche-like scents were made with the notion that the vintage greats should be recreated using certain aroma chemicals rather than the typical naturals used in vintage.  That’s a huge problem, at least for me, because the reason why I have an interest in niche in the first place is because I want something simpler and without the melange of notes found in vintage (and often I often would like the lavender removed from vintage).  I don’t know how many times I’ve thought that a vintage scent would be outstanding if only the lavender was removed.  With the lavender present, it smells too much like dozens of other vintage ones!  A good example is the first Ungaro “masculine,” which I wore recently.  It’s got a whole lot of notes, but as usual, there’s that lavender note acting like it owns everything.  Replacing strong lavender with strong iso e super, for example, is a terrible idea, though of course I can’t speak for others.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t find “fake niche” to be an issue with all releases that seem to aspire to being part of the niche world (to me Lutens’ scents are “real niche,” though that doesn’t mean all that I’ve sampled are for me), but other niche companies seem to have gone in the opposite direction.  Clearly, some people agree with me, for example:

Pegasus was a scrubber for me. I agree that the almond note is nice (see also HdP 1725), but the base screams of chemicals. Pegasus smells very niche to me when first prayed, but the base smells like something I’d get at Ross or TJ Maxx, and no amount of scrubbing could get it off my skin. I was stuck with that nastiness for hours. I love the top, but the base is pure yuck. The base of Reflection is magic.

PdM tends to be heavy handed with synthetics in their bases, and that’s a shame. They seem to be only interested in top notes and performance, which leads to scents that smell amazing for a while but end up leaving you with chemical funk for hours. Well, maybe not you. But those with a ” with a superior olfactive sensibility” know what I’m talking about (sarcasm). I get that everybody uses chemicals, but I don’t ever want to smell like chemicals. Once the top notes of Pegasus wear off… Pegasus was just chemicals. Bummer. Scrubber.


NOTE:  I do not think it is right to cut down trees to “celebrate” anything (even putting the ecological consequences aside), but I think the picture does work for the content of this post.








Filed under Fragrance Reviews., The basics.

4 responses to “Fake Niche versus Real Niche.

  1. Beck

    Have you noticed Serge Lutens is not mentioned often? I think if it is because their price is bellow all the niche perfumes that came after…

    • When I first joined BN I think they were more popular, so perhaps a lot of people have moved on to talk about some of the many new companies, which as you said usually price their releases at higher prices, in some cases ridiculously higher prices. There were also more of the “chronic niche samplers” back then, and they took pride in being critical, whereas today it’s mostly “fan boys,” especially for Creed.

      • Beck

        Actually I should have added “anymore” in the end of my question. I remember reading Serge Lutens in every 1 out of 3 new threads I read.
        The point is: isn’t Serge Lutens so hyped anymore because the price is low compared to all the others blockbuster niche brands?

      • It’s a good question. It seems like Chergui is very popular, but not many others (Ambre Sultan not quite as much). They should bring back Fumerie Turque and Borneo 1834, even if those had to be changed a bit. They seemed to be the “big 4” of Lutens for the BN crowd 10 or so years ago. I liked those three but not Chergui (though I wouldn’t pay much for AS, since strong amber scents aren’t that interesting to me), so who knows? Perhaps the demographics changed and the niche people mostly came and went, while those who came later wanted “friendlier” niche scents, for the most part. We don’t have the financial statements from these companies so we can only guess. LOL.

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