Let us take you on a scent adventure. While there is a place in all of our hearts for the big-name, classic fragrances, there is a whole world of unexpected and often obscure perfumes to explore beyond the well-lit beauty hall. Welcome to the world of ‘niche’ fragrance: the scents that make people follow you down the street to ask what you’re wearing. As well as being lesser-known, niche fragrances are an undoubted luxury. Why? Because you’re paying for amazing ingredients and the passion of one perfumer or small company, who don’t need to appeal to millions around the world – just the few who will love an unexpected scent.
We love the perfume classics as much as anybody. Life without Chanel No5 or YSL’s Opium? No thank you. We have our favourites, our go-tos and our differences of opinion. Which is where niche comes in. It’s yours and, since you’re unlikely to encounter others wearing it, yours alone. Chances are, your lesser-known scent will bring curiosity-driven compliments and become something that, when smelt by others, conjures an image only of you.
Adopt this mantra: love it or leave it. Unusual is what you’re after, so just go with your gut. Don’t try to like a fragrance just because you’ve heard that it’s ‘the’ scent to be wearing: if you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Scents smell different on everyone, particularly niche perfumes, which often use a higher concentration of natural ingredients, so try – and fall in love – before you buy.
Liberty: A great range of both niche and well-known scents. Salon de Parfums, Harrods: Exclusives and luxury brands. Les Senteurs: A great postal sample service if you can’t drop in to the shop to test.
Bloom: Offbeat choices from this East London perfumery. Lucky Scent: LA-based store that ships to the UK.
Aedes de Venustas: A New York niche stalwart. No international shipping, so you’ll just have to visit in person. Oh well.
Parfums Jovoy: Beautiful Parisian shop with a wonderful range of brands. Will ship to the UK if you can’t face the Eurostar.
Parfumsmdp.com: An online store that also sells 5ml samples of its hand-picked range. Free worldwide shipping.
HYBRID - A lesser known edition from a brand you already love
GUERLAIN: Heard of the L’Art et la Matière range? Cruel Gardénia, £160 for 75ml, is a great place to start.
DIOR: La Collection Privée Christian Dior (from £165 for 250ml) boasts rare ingredients; Les Extraits (£140 for 15ml) are classics with a twist.
CHANEL: Chanel also brings out rare blends. The Les Exclusifs range (from £115 for 75ml) is well worth a look.
STARTER - Easy to wear and interesting. Not too 'out there'
LE LABO: This apothecary brand relies on word of mouth. Try Fleur d’Oranger 27, £150 for 100ml.
MAISON FRANCIS KURKDJIAN: Artist-turned- perfumer Kurkdjian has his own atelier. Try Féminin Pluriel EDP, £120 for 70ml.
BYREDO: Eclectic, cute and interesting, this Swedish brand has a great range. ELLE loves its Mojave Ghost, £88 for 50ml.
DEEP - Truly different, so unique you'd keep it a secret
FREDERIC MALLE: A pioneer, every scent Malle brings out is a hit. ELLE loves Lipstick Rose, £155 for 100ml.
THE LIBRARY OF FRAGRANCE: Mini bottles of ‘notes’ to evoke memories. Thunderstorm, £15 for 30ml, is an ELLE favourite.
TOM DAXON: A down-to-earth perfumer with incredible scent ideas. We love Sicilian Wood, £105 for 50ml.
PROFOUND - Something to incite confusion and compliments in equal measure
MARK BUXTON: Simple but unusual, the scents match the bottles. Try Sleeping With Ghosts, £115 for 100ml.
HONORÉ DES PRÉS: Organic, beautiful and long-lasting on the skin. Plus, great quirky packaging. From £61 for 50ml.
CLOON KEEN ATELIER: The bottles! The concepts! A lesson in simple chic. ELLE loves Lune de Givre £70 for 50ml.
OBSCURE - To divide opinion, a wonderfully unexpected concoction of smell
IMAGINARY AUTHORS: Like a good book, its concoctions are designed to inspire you. The Soft Lawn, £70 for 60ml, is truly amazing.
NASOMATTO: The unique bottles are indicative of the type of fragrance inside. Blamage and Pardon are wonderful. From £118 for 30ml.
SLUMBERHOUSE: A sample ingredient list: fog-caked needle; hemlock; even lapsang souchong. We’re obsessed. From £135 for 30ml.