When do luxury labels lose their cachet? Forbes Contributor Blue Carreon wrote earlier this year that as the Hermes Birkin bag is so ubiquitous in Singapore and Hong Kong - is it possible the bag has gone out of fashion? Ubiquity signals the death knell for exclusivity and nowhere is this truer than in the perfume industry.
Designer perfume brands package mass market luxury, whereas true luxury labels have a story to tell. A recent trip to Avery, a tiny shop in the heart of London's Mayfair, introduced me to some niche perfumes and the concept of Art Perfume.
Eight and Bob is a scent with a wonderful history; it was originally developed as a gift by French aristocrat Albert Fouquet for John F. Kennedy, eight of his friends and 'Bob'. Albert died in a car accident in 1939 whilst the formula was hidden during the war by his loyal butler, Philippe, only to resurface decades later thanks to the butler's family. The perfume is so exclusive, using rare plants from the Andes, that only a limited number of bottles are produced each year.
Boadicea the Victorious is a niche British perfume maker; with collections entitled Power, Spirit, Courage and Vigour the perfumer prides itself on its individuality. The perfume and its distinctive Celtic pewter style bottle won the Wallpaper Magazine Best Perfume Design Award in 2010.
I love Silk by Andrea Maack Parfums, a Reykjavik based fragrance house founded in 2009 by the visual artist Andrea Maack. Their perfumes were originally created for museum exhibitions to translate visual art into an olfactory experience. The concept behind Silk is to enhance the feeling of wearing a perfume like a silk foulard, and it was this fragrance that first led me to Avery.
As discerning consumers search for something new - the 'noses' behind the best-selling designer perfumes are taking centre stage. Francis Kurkdjian is a superstar 'nose' of the perfume world, an artist and master perfumer; he has even tried to recreate Marie Antoinette's perfume. Kurkdjian has created fragrances for Dior, Acqua Di Parma, Guerlain, Giorgio Armani and Lancome amongst notable others. Maison Francis Kurkdjian Paris was established in 2009 and new launches this year include Oud, spicy and woody, and Amyris, floral and woody notes. For the ultimate in luxury Maison Francis Kurkdjian will create a bespoke scent for individual clientele, prices are on request but you won't get any change from 8,000 euros.
10 Corso Como in Milan, the concept boutique store owned by Carla Sozzani (sister of Franca the Vogue Italia editor-in-chief), is a good place to look for niche luxury scents. There are no familiar mass market designer label perfumes or celebrity endorsed products (or bargain bins where the latter often end up post-Christmas launch). Instead the perfumes are a list of new discoveries from L'Artisan Parfumeur, By Kilian, Byredo, Diptyque, Heeley, Juliette has a Gun and Serge Lutens.
Niche is the new luxury: from perfumes, accessories to clothing labels. Whilst there will always be consumers who aspire to the status of a big luxury brand to validate their success, there are those customers who want to stand out from crowd, who don't want to surrender their personality to a logo.