When you look at Google Trends you can see that “niche perfumes” is a growing search word since 2011 – with a strong focus on the US, UK, Spain, Brazil…. “Francis Kurkdjian” as another search word follows the same trend (with interest spreading also to Australia, Taiwan, UAE, Russia, Canada and Europe) as does “Byredo” (with interest spreading additionally to Northern Europe, South Africa, China and India). But the second very interesting result here is that people are much more interested in the BRANDS themselves than in the category (see image below)!
This is because the use of the word ‘niche’ has become a catchall: when researching the internet on this topic I came across this word used to describe minute personal brands that no one has heard of as well as major brands that are now owned by beauty groups! This means that the time has come to put some order in this category – and to divest oneself of the word “niche”. My suggestion is that we refocus on the brands themselves and try to understand what makes them different in the eyes of the customers.
Since working on the relaunch of our family brand Le Jardin Retrouvé I have been researching the topic to understand how the perfume industry is structured today – and how brands introduce themselves to consumers. This has led me to come up with 6 brand profiles.
Profile1: fashion brands (that some may call designer brands). They are the Dior, Chanel, Armani or Tom Ford of this world – brands born in fashion that then extended into perfumes mostly as a revenue driver (for the brand) and as an easy access to very expensive brands (for the customer). You will find here brands like Patou which have no fashion left. By extension one may consider in this group all the luxury brands that originally were in other categories and then moved to perfume (like Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Hermès, etc…): consumers buy them first for the brand name. When it comes to prices, their average price in Europe for a 50ml Eau de Parfum bottle is between 90€ and 105€.
As one can see on Google trends the interest for the perfumes of these fashion/luxury brands is stable with time unlike the interest for the other perfume brands.
Profile 2: the Exclusive lines of the Fashion brands. The perfume market was stagnant when some brands like Roja Dove, Editions Frédéric Malle, Francis Kurkdjian, Le Labo and Serge Lutens paved the way showing there was a market for perfumes priced above 150€ for a 50ml bottle. Tom Ford was the first to enter this new market, followed by Les Exclusifs de Chanel, La Collection Privée Christian Dior, Hermessence, Armani/Privé etc.. From a brand perspective these new perfumes belong to the original brand (a Collection Privée Christian Dior is first and foremost a Dior perfume) and are just additional product lines priced much higher.
The next three profiles are brands that originated in perfume: their original products are perfumes and they present themselves as showcasing the art of the perfumer.
Profile 3: Historical brands. Here we have perfume brands born in the 18th, 19th or early 20th century, in France (Caron 1904, Guerlain 1828, Molinard 1849, Oriza Legrand 1720), Italy (Santa Maria Novella 1612, Acqua di Parma 1916) or the UK (Penhaligon’s 1870, Clive Christian 1872, Creed 1760 – even if in a sense Creed being originally a couture House it could be in Profile 1). Most of these historical brands stress their history, heritage and tradition and very rarely the perfumer himself and his creative act(except Creed).
Profile 4: Perfumer brands. In the 70’s and 80’s a major break happened in France within the perfume industry: new perfume brands were created, all by/with perfumers, all stressing the neglected importance of creation, all showcasing their in-house perfumer(s) (and hitting out at the very negative impact of marketing on creation). Originally called “third perfumery” or “parallel perfumery” these brands are now centered around the perfumer-creator and quite often the mastery of ingredients. Such are Le Jardin Retrouvé (1975), L’Artisan Parfumeur (1976), Annick Gouttal (1984), Nicolai (1989), Jo Malone (1994), Serge Lutens (2000), Editions Frédéric Malle (2000)… This is where Yuri Gutsatz’s historical role must be highlighted: ever since the 60’s he had been promoting this idea of perfumer brands – idea he implemented himself with Le Jardin Retrouvé … but without having his name in the brand!
Profile 5: Concept brands. The creative streak that the creation of the perfumer brands allowed opened wide the possibility for more adventurous fragrances and attitudes. This is why new brands appeared that were crafted by perfume lovers and perfumers that built their brands as true marketing concepts: pioneer Comptoir Sud Pacifique around the concept of travel (1974), then came Etat Libre d’Orange (2006) around the stories created by Etienne de Swardt, Byredo (2006) following the inspirations of Ben Gorham, Le Labo (2006) built as a 21st century manifest of ethics and craftsmanship, Escentric Molecules (2006) as an anti-fragrance brand based on an aroma-molecule that doesn’t exist in nature Iso E Super, Atelier Cologne (2011) around the Eau de Cologne… 2006 sure was a creative year for this profile – but only because the Perfumer Brands had paved the way!
Profile 6: “They Made It”. My 6th profile cannot compare with the 5 others because it is itself a mixture of brands all coming from profiles 3, 4 & 5. We have here all the perfume brands that were acquired by the beauty and luxury groups or by investment funds (once they reached an annual turnover of approximately 10 million euros): Jo Malone, Le Labo, By Kilian and Editions Frédéric Malle by The Estée Lauder Companies, Guerlain, Maison Francis Kurkdjian and Acqua di Parma by LVMH, Annick Gouttal by Amore Pacific, Serge Lutens by Shiseido, L’Artisan Parfumeur and Penhaligon’s by Puig, Byredo by Manzanita Capital, Atelier Cologne by L’Oréal… They complement the portfolio of Designer Brands they have – but will they know how to develop them? The failure of L’Oréal to grow The Body Shop, the years it took LVMH to go back to the Perfumer roots of Guerlain are the proof of the difficulties that beauty & luxury groups have in growing such brands.
As you can see we are very far from a generic “niche” concept because the perfume industry today has become quite complex and the storytelling of the perfume brands has grown quite sophisticated!
When one looks back one sees that three major periods have structured the history of Perfumery:
From the end of the 18th century to WW2 the profession was dominated by Perfumer Brands – like Guerlain, Houbigant, Coty, Penhaligon’s that had a wide offer of perfumed products (soaps was 50% of their sales in France in the 19th century). They are the brands I have called Historical Brands.
After WW2 we see the dominance of Designer Brands – fashion brands see in perfume the perfect “entry point” product that customers will buy. The offer is now restricted to perfume only and sales are led by image: the brand, the “face”, the advertising are clearly leading, not the perfume itself.
Since the mid 70s Perfumer Brands are back – with their sidekick Conceptual Brands. Perfume creation drives the sales of these brands: they reach out to more and more customers that are moving away from Designer Brands – looking for perfumes and perfumed products that cater to their evolving desires.
Perfume brands or Maisons de Parfums are more in line with the recent evolutions of customer desires (well-being / individuality / expertise / connoisseurship / local production…) , and consumers are fully aware of that as they migrate from designer brands to other perfume brands, exploring new avenues in their fragrant adventures. This means that the first and foremost thing to be done in this industry today if one wants to succeed is to build a brand – the most complex thing in business!
Michel Gutsatz is a Marketing Professor in Business Schools in Europe and China. He is also the author of books on luxury (‘Luxury Retail Management’ and ‘Luxury Talent Management’). Gutsatz is the owner of Le Jardin Retrouvé, a Perfumer Brand created by his father in 1975
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