Although there have been numerous creations, there is a tough financial equation to solve for many brands. To David Frossard, distributor of niche perfumery brands under the Différentes Latitudes label, creator of the Liquides Imaginaires fragrances, and Director of Liquides, the Parisian independent perfumery, “very high-end perfumery definitely has a great potential”. However, the economic viability of a great number of brands launched over the past few years is actually an issue. “The market is getting more and more mature, and the suction effect resulting from the interest of department stores in this segment is over”, he explains.
A tough equation
The difficulty to combine confidentiality and profitability thus forces brands to remain cautious despite the phenomenal development of niche perfumes over the past decade. Indeed, if it is now possible to create lines large enough and in small volumes, most of the time it results in prices exceeding 100 euros per bottle in store, which is much higher than the average price in a classic selective perfumery. For this price, the number of potential customers cannot but be reduced!
And skimping on quality is just not possible. The main value of this perfumery segment is based on its choice of excellence at all levels. “Lovers of beautiful fragrances want flawless products, they expect small niche brands to position themselves at least on the same level as large groups’ brands, but to offer originality as well”, underlines Marc-Antoine Corticchiato, the creator of Parfum d’Empire.
Yet, originality represents an additional risk. In order to reduce it, alternative fragrance brands widen their collections to try and cover as many tastes as possible. “We need to be original and segmenting. We do not do blockbusters that will please as many people possible, but a collection with very qualitative and really diverse scents,” confirms Brigitte Wormser, who works at Beauté Prestige as the manager of Atkinsons, a brand distributed in about thirty countries through a very selective network.
The numerous French brands that try their luck on this market need to turn to export to be successful. Contrary to Germany or Italy, and despite the recent openings of specialized outlets, French distribution is almost entirely controlled by big chains.
According to Nicolas Cloutier, the co-founder of Nose, a Parisian retailer specializing in niche fragrances and skincare products, other factors can explain the difficulty to distribute exceptional perfumes: “the wholly owned stores of several brands, the weakness of the perfumery concepts, the exorbitant rights to a lease, the social security contributions and operating expenses, which add to the already fragile profitability… Besides, the French used to be rather conservative when it came to their choices and values, while Anglo-Saxons were more driven by the risk and importance of being different. Things change, luckily!”
Are they going to, with the arrival of Amazon as a new player? The online sales giant has just inaugurated a platform dedicated to selling confidential perfumery brands in France. “They’re just not the right people”, says Nicolas Cloutier. However, David Frossard disagrees and sees it as an opportunity to satisfy the “very connected” customers of the alternative perfumery segment. To Marie Huet, General Manager of Parfums d’Orsay, “it’s really motivating to see a player like Amazon get interested in us, and it’s certainly no coincidence.”
United we stand
Together with the four important personalities of alternative perfumery in France – François Hénin, founder of Jovoy, Ana Estevane, co-founder of Perfarium, Luc Gabriel, President of The Different Company, and Nicolas Chabot, President of Le Galion Parfums – Marie Huet will be very keen to federate, represent, help, defend, and promote the whole sector through the Comité Joséphine. The association is accompanied by a commission of experts (journalists, perfumers, conditioners, distributors), and is named after Joséphine de Beauharnais, Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, who was passionate about science and botany. It aims at helping consumers choose better, helping brands communicate better, and helping distributors and outlets better identify the “authentic brands of rare fragrances”. Those that satisfy the criteria of the quality and commitment charter of the Comité Joséphine  will be allowed to join the committee and obtain its quality label.