Smelling good is of the essence, corny pun and all. From using simple extracts, we have reached sophisticated levels of refinement and balancing notes. There may or may not be newer ingredients to discover, still modern alchemists (to use an old-fashioned word) are continuously blending different notes which means we can always find something new and refreshing to suit a mood or a special moment. Duty free stores mostly stock designer perfumes from well-known couture houses, but you can get bespoke (made only for you) ones directly from perfumers, and now there are niche (what's not easily available) stores that have lesser-known but extravagant brands.
While production figures of what's available at duty free could run into millions of bottles, at a niche store that could be as little as 200, going up at the most to 5,000 worldwide. Karina Kapoor, founder of The Koncept Prive, a perfume store in London, says niche (in the context of perfume) is like art. "It is subjective. You either like it or you don't. Also, when you wear a niche perfume, you are not going to smell like the person sitting next to you,” she adds.
The idea of being exclusive appeals to many and is the reason for this trend in niche products. Maison de Parfums is another such store in Delhi where apart from one or two brands available at duty free, the larger part of the collection consists of brands not easily available everywhere.
Singapore-based Tony Chin, CEO of Beauty Concepts Pvt Ltd, which owns Maison de Parfums, says, “The luxury niche fragrance segment has been showing significant growth globally as consumers have become more discerning and are looking for products that suit their individual tastes and preferences. They don’t mind paying more for quality and uniqueness instead of the usual Me Too products. Instead of simply selling products, these fragrances have a story to tell and help inspire personal emotions. That was how we were inspired to travel across Europe curating the best niche fragrances and retail experiences, and blend them into a bespoke experiential retail concept for India."
Delhi-based Anahita Wassan, founder of My Perfume by AW, which makes scents customised to individual preferences, credits the shift to social media. “Most of my clients approach me on Instagram,” she says, adding, “They are clear about what they want. Sometimes, though, I don't include one or the other note in the final preparation. They don't know that if they have asked for four notes, I may have put in five to balance the fragrance and give them what they want,” she adds.
Koncept Prive has a different approach altogether. A Sephora, for example, has been around since 1970 in France, but is largely cosmetic-driven and runs more or less like a pharmacy where you try out something and get what's best suited to you. At Koncept Prive, Karina explains, you get the whole retail experience. “We give you a warm welcome and we tell you a story.” This approach works, she says, because the well-travelled consumer is likely to know a lot about perfume already and is now looking for a connect with something new. The stories behind a brand or ingredient evoke memories. Coco Chanel, for instance, made designs based on her life, from her logo to her famous dress and handmade bags.
Shishir Mehta, founder and partner of Mumbai-based Scentido Niche Perfumery, agrees, “The stories always have an impact, about the store, about the brand, about the ingredients.” Consumers connect to those and make decisions, he says.
The idea of a niche store works at another level. For one, because there are fewer units manufactured, it does remain niche. These personalised stores offer a retail experience, where you can discuss your preferences. Says Shishir, “People come with preconceived notions of what they love and what they will most definitely never use, and then go out with exactly what they so vehemently didn't want.” Karina, concurs, “We encourage people to check out notes with which they are less familiar.”
Tony Chin explains, “These fragrances (at Maison de Parfums) are unique works of art by fragrance creators/artists. The ingredients used are often rare, top quality ones not commonly found in mainstream fragrances. Others have a long heritage and interesting story to tell like being created for royalty in the 18th century. We have curated a wide range of luxury niche fragrances that will cater to different preferences, personalities or simply moods. Another important point to note is that these are not readily available online and are priced at a premium to mainstream fragrance brands.”
Pink pepper which is less pungent has gained on regular black pepper. While it's hard to show a trend, the world of perfume today is often about oud, ambergris, tobacco and leather. “Trends take about two years to catch on in India,” says Anahita. “Oud was a trend in the West a few years ago. It isn't now. But in our part of the world it's all the rage.” Other quick movers for her are floral ouds, aqua and leather while lavender, and Orris from France are the top notes in two of the bestsellers at Scentido Niche Perfumery.
“The current trend,” says Shadi Salah Samra, the perfumer of Fragrance du Bois, which is available at the Scentido stores, “is Cannabis. Not what you can get high on though.” This, he says, is reminiscent of weed and hay and has an entirely new aroma profile.
Every perfumer out there will tell you not to buy perfume in a hurry. Spray some on your pulse points and walk about. After an hour or more you'll have a fairly good sense of how it smells on your skin. This obviously precludes getting a fragrance on the run on your way to the baggage carousel at an airport.
Men and women wear all sorts of notes. Both Karina and Anahita, however, agree that men do tend towards spices, oud, leather and tobacco. “That's not to say women don't,” Anahita is quick to add. “What's moving rather quickly is a rosy oud for men.” She says this to illustrate that men not wearing florals or fruity fragrances is a myth. “It's all very subjective,” insists Karina. “At Koncept Prive we offer you brands that come with fragrance profiles that are far more varied than what you normally see at duty free.” Shishir Mehta offers a nugget of trivia. There was a time when men wore rose and women wore woody scents. Until times changed and the opposite became true.
Now with gender parity, MeToo and a move towards androgyny and gender fluidity, these distinctions don't matter at all.
Smelling good is an overall experience. While there are no new ingredients, there are certainly new blends. Animal products like musk and ambergris are banned but remain in demand.
What's changed, however, is the way perfume is being used. Shishir Mehta, says, “There are fragrance enhancers, fragrance gels, scented pen tips and brushes. You can layer your perfume by using a perfumed hair mist or adding a layer to your perfume using aroma molecules.” Mehta has noticed that more men than women come to Scentido and are not shy of opening their wallets when a fragrance appeals to them. “Women have other options like shoes and bags,” he says. “There are less options of impulse buys for men.”
Perfumes for all seasons
For when in a rush or when you can't decide what to spray on, go with something fresh that has notes of citrus with a woody base. You can't go wrong there
For a sporty person Something fresh and aqua with citrus notes
For the night something stronger, heavier. Perhaps oud and spices or ambergris and musk. A woody base would keep the scent for longer on the skin
For dry skin use a moisturiser first
For longevity try a scent with wood, amber, oud or musk. One with a higher oil to alcohol ratio will be stronger and last longer