With the redefinition of the term “luxury”, there’s been an evolution in how fragrance is perceived and even consumed. Cult and celebrity-driven make-up brands have seen exponential growth, and, over and above that, the fragrance industry has been making waves of its own by bringing in innovative ingredient combinations, promoting “rock star” master perfumers, and doing its best to cater to ever-changing consumer behaviour.

It’s what’s in the bottle that counts

There was a time when luxury in the world of fragrance seemed to be characterised by opulence to the point of ostentation, and there will, of course, always be highly ornate flacons, bottles, and vials.

But there’s also a definite trend towards the pared-down look, with the latest release from the House of Chanel — Gabrielle, the first new fragrance in 15 years for the French couturier — with its almost diaphanous minimalist glass bottle being a case in point. “Luxury is what you don’t see,” grande dame of fashion Coco Chanel is quoted as saying in the descriptor that’s been released with the fragrance. Luxury has taken on a more subtle approach, with the focus being on brand heritage, and the overall fragrance experience itself, rather than on eye-catching packaging.

A niche demand

Chanel, Dolce & Gabbana, and Elie Saab are among the fashion houses that have had fragrances complementing their clothing lines for a while now, and other designers have followed suit, with Louis Vuitton being one of the latest of the big-name brands getting in on the trend. It’s been a hit with consumers, as it’s the most affordable way to own a little bit of designer magic. But the “priced just right” designer fragrances became too accessible, and there was a risk that the appeal of designer brands, in the context of fragrance, could diminish. The thinking went that, like fashion, fragrance needed prêt-a-porter and haute couture to maintain exclusivity in a world that was starting to have access to almost everything — and so the idea of the private fragrance collection was born.

“Niche is becoming the new mainstream,” explained Benoît Verdier, co-founder of avant-garde Parisian fragrance house Ex Nihilo, now available locally at Skins Cosmetics.

“That is why the big brands started — very gently — to do private collections. That was the first step, but now they don’t have the capacity to do it by themselves, but they still want the cool factor of niche, so that’s why you’ll find them buying brands such as Kilian or Frederic Malle.”

The personal touch

The niche fragrance market has given way to a micro trend: personalisation, and even demi-bespoke fragrance creations. It is no longer enough to just buy into the niche fragrance brands that only a handful of people could own, but also necessary to have those niche scents customised to your individual taste. Brands such as Burberry and Atelier Cologne have jumped onto the customisation bandwagon by making it possible to have your name or initials monogrammed on the My Burberry bottle or having your Atelier Cologne tucked into a leather pouch embossed with your name.

“Personalisation — it’s the root of luxury,” Verdier said. “Everybody wants to be unique. Everybody wants a limited edition or something new.

“It was always the history of fragrance to be unique, like haute couture. When you went for haute couture, you were asking for a dress that they made especially for you.”

Experimenting with ingredients

An interesting trend is that ingredients previously reserved for women’s fragrances are now being used in those targeting men. At recent fragrance launches, for instance, vanilla and lavender were included in men’s fragrances for a touch of seduction and a layer of complexity.

The ocean-fresh and musky-leather scents traditionally associated with men have now taken a backseat, with layered woody scents and calming oriental florals with a slight sweetness at the base coming to the fore.

According to Verdier, fragrances that contain synthetic scents are also creating a frisson at the moment, especially now that there’s been some attention to the safety aspect.

Synthetics have had a bad rap, but if they’re safe, they could have a number benefits, such as not causing allergies, and lasting longer.

“I think that in terms of innovation, ingredients will be the next big thing,” Verdier predicted.

“Super-organic, original, curated, trusted materials on the one hand and on the other, super-technological, 100% synthetic fragrances.”

The millennial effect

The luxury market generally has been grappling with the role of millennials, with questions raised about how established brands should adapt to this growing — and sometimes very influential — market.

The focus for most beauty and fashion brands in recent years has been the incorporation of social media, as well as bringing fresh air and relatability to exclusive brands.

“This is very characteristic of Dubai and the Middle East,” Verdier commented. “The buyers are very young, they have all the information because of social media — and they have the power of purchase. So when we try to buy some loyalty from them, they all do the personalisation thing, and in the end, they have a special number with their name, so we know exactly what they like. For us, the next step is to create close relationships with a database. But it all depends on the market.”

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