From Designer To Niche and The In-Betweens: A Guide To Perfume Categories

True appreciation lies not in seeing a scent category as better than another, but in understanding and knowing the creation through and through.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Designer versus niche scents, what’s the difference? And is one better than the other? It comes with preference, if you ask us, but on the whole, the key to appreciating both types lies in knowing what sets them apart: their origin, the noses that made them, and the unique characteristics that make them distinct.

Designer and niche perfumes each have their own allure, with some in-betweens that aim to offer the best of both worlds—and we’re here to celebrate them all. Below, we get deep into why we gravitate towards designer scents and are fascinated by niche, plus, we ask long-time frag collectors about the ways in which they choose, explore, and appreciate the world’s most covetable scents.

Getting To Know: Designer Scents

For many of us, our journey into the world of fragrances usually starts with designer perfumes. Safe to say, it’s primarily because these are easily accessible at our local mall, where we can explore various scents at the perfume counters and test as many fragrances as possible until our sense of smell becomes overwhelmed. Online, designer perfumes are prominently featured in stunning campaigns starring Hollywood stars, just as we would find them in magazines, billboards around town, and window displays. This also gives designer perfumes a sense of familiarity and reliability, in a way, by its association and visibility with the celebrity endorsers.

Designer perfumes named such as they are manufactured by high fashion brands like Versace, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, to name a few, and carry more than just fragrances but also clothing, accessories, and even cosmetics and skincare. Because of this, designer perfumes can offer a broad range of scents that cater to popular tastes, making them a safe choice for everyday wear and gifting. In 2021, the designer perfume industry raked in a global revenue of US$13.2 billion and continues to increase in sales since 2014, sans the pandemic in 2020.

Likewise, these signature brands can afford to bring down the price of their perfumes with their ability to purchase raw materials and produce in large volumes. Prices can range from as low as US$20 to 160. Given their financial strength, it allows for a wider perfume distribution making them readily available to consumers across the globe. Given their resources, the brands can also spend generously on full-scale promotional campaigns for their perfumes for new fragrance launches, seasonal releases, holidays, or even partnerships and placements.

On the other hand, accessibility can come with a price as this can mean scents that are formulated with less expensive ingredients or, quite often, synthetic versions of the real thing. Many of the big designer houses leverage this practice to mass-produce their perfumes. As they are mass-produced and marketed extensively, designer fragrances become more available to many, which in a way makes it the more common perfume choice for most.

Still, even if others may be wearing the same fragrance, designer perfumes can be worth the buy. As we always say, you can’t fall in love with a frag if you don’t get to know it. Dig deep, and learn about its origins and the notes behind the layers. Many of the best master perfumers of our time like Alberto Morillas, Francois Demachy, Dominique Ropion, and Christine Nagel, to name a few, have left their mark on the fragrance industry with their designer creations. With these multi-awarded noses behind designer fragrances, you can be sure that each scent was well-thought-out in the creation process to be guaranteed crowd-pleasing pieces.

Designer Scents To Try

Narciso Rodriguez for her Pure Musc Eau de Parfum 

P8,000, Look at me

Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Eau de Toilette Summer Vibes

P7,650, Rustan’s

Salvatore Ferragamo Giardini Di Seta

P6,600, Rustan’s

The In-Betweens: Haute Designer Scents and Flankers

In a fascinating move, some major designer houses have launched prestige fragrance lines, often called haute parfumerie (or high perfumery). These high-end offerings rival niche perfumes in quality and exclusivity. Haute designer scents allow the brands to expand their image beyond their mass-produced fragrances, catering to a discerning clientele who can appreciate the bridge between accessible luxury and the true niche market. Take Dior La Collection Privée and Guerlain L’art et la Matière as examples.

Another way we can find an authentic take on designer fragrances is flankers, which are variations of the original blueprint released for a limited time. Flankers kick the door wide open to a bigger audience who still enjoy the DNA of the original perfume but reimagined in a different way or two. For instance, both the Angel and Alien collections from Thierry Mugler have made unique spins on the original fragrances with their flankers.

Prestige Designer Scents To Try

Louis Vuitton Afternoon Swim

Available at Louis Vuitton Greenbelt 3

La Collection Privee Dior Eden Roc

Available at Dior SM Aura

Les Eaux De Chanel Paris Biarritz

Available at Rustan’s

Discover A New World: Niche Fragrances

Last but not least are the elusive niche fragrances. We learn about them thanks to the hundreds of fragrance enthusiasts on YouTube, TikTok, and wherever else on social media sharing their discoveries and prized possessions. On TikTok, dedicated fragrance hashtags #PerfumeTok garnered 2.3 billion views, and #FragranceTok had 1.1 billion views. Another hashtag that has made massive success for perfume marketing on social media is #PerfumeCollection, raking in a whopping 1,2 billion views as of 2023. These are simply TikTokers and Instagrammers showing off their niche perfumes and collections. Phlur’s Missing Person perfume went viral on TikTok with over 51.4 million views, sparking a sell-out across the U.S. stores overnight.  Dubbed the “rich girl’s perfume,”  the demand for Missing Person generated a waiting list of 200,000 and has since been resold online for three times its price.

Niche is unquestionably interesting. They tell a story, are almost hard to find, and in most cases—they’re not for everybody. They are crafted with a focus on artistry and uniqueness and appeal to those who seek a more personalized and distinct scent experience. Truth be told, it’s a reason to doom-scroll Fragantica at lunch breaks. 

The rise of niche perfumery dates began in the early 1990s and gained significant momentum in the 2000s. A name to know is Serge Lutens, a French makeup artist who was commissioned by Dior in 1967 to produce their cosmetic line. He eventually broke into the fragrance industry with Shiseido in 1992 and embarked on his own venture, Parfums-Beaute Serge Lutens in 2000. Another is Frederic Malle, who fueled the interest of master perfumers from designer houses when he launched his own line, Editions de Parfum, which came into play in the 2000s.

The success of niche fragrances prompted a wave of long-dormant perfume houses to refresh their collection and return to the market, such as the famed heritage perfume house Les Bains Guerbois, founded in 1885 and reinvented by its heir Jean Pierre Marois in 2016. Even other 18th-century perfume houses like Maison Violet found new life, not through family, but thanks to the dedication and sincere interest of the brand of fragrance enthusiasts.

Affordable Niche Scents To Try

Eau de parfum 102: Tea, Cardamom and Mimosa

P4,680, Rustan’s

Replica Lazy Sunday Morning Eau de Toilette

P5,150, Rustan’s

Perfumers revel in the creative freedom that niche fragrances bring. As they seldom need to conform to the rules of a designer fashion house, for example, they can push boundaries in scent profiles that are more complex and challenging, an approach that can either be exciting or too adventurous for some. They can take more risks and infuse imagination using notes that go beyond the usual template of rose, vanilla, and sandalwood but gin, labdanum, and modern synthetic aroma chemicals like ambroxan (known for its musky, woody, and sweet scent) or Iso E Super (dry, woody, cedar-like), to name a few.

Thus, niche perfumes are typically much more expensive than designer fragrances due to the use of more hard-to-find and complicated ingredients, smaller production runs, and more selective distribution. This higher price point can be a barrier for fragrance enthusiasts—and a welcome challenge, too. 

Prestige Niche Scents To Try

Xerjoff Nio Parfum

P16,500, Art of Scent

Roja Parfums Enigma Femme Parfum

P30,000, Art of Scent

The Noir 29 Eau de Parfum

EUR €235.54, Le Labo

Where do our noses lie?

Fragrance enthusiast and niche perfume reseller Joy Baltazar says matter-of-factly, “Supposedly, niche brands offer more out-of-the-box concepts that appeal to the individualistic market. There’s this notion of limitless creativity in terms of composition, but it can get frustrating, too, especially when there’s a lack of understanding about baseline quality, preferred notes, accords, nuances, or intensity.”

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Beyond the bottle and beneath the labels, it pays to know what you’re sniffing, be it designer, niche, or otherwise. Fragrance fanatic, collector, and reseller Alkho Asia echoes this thought: “Every fraghead is free to be able to wear and appreciate any perfume that triggers their olfactory senses, and this shouldn’t be limited to whether it’s a designer scent or a niche scent.”

Ultimately, whether we lean towards designer or niche, each category offers its own set of benefits that can enhance our fragrance journey, because the value lies in what matters to us the most—what kind of joy or emotion a perfume gives when we smell it and when we wear it, regardless if fifty hundred other people are wearing it to none.

Collage by Dannah Valdezco. Garden painting by © The Everette Collection. Mountain Range by © Roman Pohorecki. Multi colored flowers by © jomphon. Hand holding a bottle of perfume by © Gabriella Csapo. Vintage perfume bottles by © HotPhotoPie. Young woman holding a bottle of perfume by © pixelshot. Ocean by © StockSnap via

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