Scent is an important part of your identity. It communicates more than your clothes or demeanor because one can smell you without looking at or talking to you. It’s one of the most delicate yet strong parts of the human sensory experience, as scent can evoke certain memories and give off a certain vibe, desirable or otherwise. Understanding this, fashion brands inextricably tie fragrances into their brand stories, employing dreamy models and nonsensical television ads to lure in new customers.
But before there was Polo Sport, Acqua di Gio or Light Blue, there were pure perfumes, made by experts that specialize in conjuring scents outside of the world of celebrity fashion. Here, we round up a list of the best niche perfume brands you should know, from centuries-old houses that used to supply fragrance to royal families to newcomers that customize made-to-measure scents. This list, in alphabetical order, includes our top 20 picks of the finest perfume brands in the world. If you’re still using Axe, it’s time to graduate up to one of these.
1. Annick Goutal
Price range: $110 – $310
Why you should know them: Annick Goutal is a member of the French High Perfumery and remains as one of the few houses to have its own in-house perfumers. The brand sticks to quality and authenticity by making everything – from the scents to packaging – exclusively in France, employing expert craftsmen to put them together by hand. Annick Goutal has been named part of the Top 5 Perfume Brands at retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.
Where to get them: Annick Goutal, full stockist list
Price range: $165 – $185
Why you should know them: Arquiste was founded by Mexican architect Carlos Huber who used to be an interior designer for Polo Ralph Lauren. He moved to New York for Arquiste, which soon won prestigious titles such as Fashion Group International’s Best Fragrance Entrepreneur Brand and the Fragrance Foundation’s Top 5 Brands Launched in the U.S.
Where you can get them: Aquiste, Net-a-Porter, full stockist list
Price range: $110 – $220
Why you should know them: BYREDO is a Swedish fragrance house that fuses unique cultural references from South Asia. Founder Ben Gorham, half Canadian and half Indian, draws from his mother’s Indian roots, making distinct scents that merge the East and West. BYREDO sources materials for their scents from all over the world, but all of their products are ultimately made and assembled by hand in Sweden.
Where to get them: BYREDO, full stockist list
4. CB I Hate Perfume
Price range: $80 – $210
Why you should know them: CB, short for Christopher Brosius, used to be a taxi driver and founded I Hate Perfume because of his passengers who wore “some horrible scents.” Out of anger and enthusiasm, he wrote a manifesto, where he swears off perfume as “a substitute for true style,” and now creates custom-made scents that each have stories as unique as his.
Where to get them: CB I Hate Perfume
5. CIRE TRUDON
Why you should know them: We’ve seen CIRE TRUDON from their collaboration series of candles with Japan’s Undercover. CIRE TRUDON makes fragrances as well, whose scents trace back all the way to 17th-century France. They used to supply candlelight to the courts of Louis XIV, Marie-Antoinette and Napoleon, and remain as royal and in vogue as in those days, being represented by top luxury fashion agencies and retailers around the world.
Where to get them: CIRE TRUDON, full stockist list
6. Clive Christian
Price range: $310 – $215,000
Why you should know them: Clive Christian boasts the world’s most expensive perfume as recognized by the Guinness Book of Records. Their “No.1″ perfume is housed in polished Baccarat crystal with a five-carat diamond and 18-carat gold collar and takes more than six months to reach the “perfect” scent. They are so exclusive that they are only collected by private connoisseurs and remain on display at prestigious places like Harrods London and Bergdorf Goodman.
Where to get them: Full stockist list
Price range: $165 – $1,995
Why you should know them: Creed, founded by James Creed in 1700s Britain, is another perfumery that used to supply royal families, including Queen Victoria. Now, generations later, the company still remains in the family, in the hands of Oliver Creed who insists that all the components are weighed, mixed and filtered by hand as they were centuries ago.
Where to get them: Creed, full stockist list
8. The Different Company
Price range: $95 – $375
Why you should know them: The Different Company was founded in 2000 by Jean-Claude Ellena, one of our generation’s most successful perfumers and the one responsible for creating fragrances for brands like Hermès, Bulgari and Cartier.
Where to get them: The Different Company, full stockist list
Price range: $95 – $140
Why you should know them: diptyque is one of the most popular perfume brands among top retailers. Their scents are extremely unusual yet sophisticated, making diptyque a go-to among loyal fans.
Where to get them: diptyque store locations, diptyque webstore, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue
10. D.S. and Durga
Price range: $89 – $110
Why you should know them: Founders D.S. and Durga started out making handmade aftershaves for friends out of flowers, herbs and spices. Soon after, the pair began to blend oils and plant extracts to make perfumes which are now lauded by publications like Details, GQ and Free & Easy. All of their scents are unisex and are still made in-house.
Where to get them: In God We Trust, full stockist list
11. Frederic Malle
Price range: $145 – $350
Why you should know them: Frederic Malle comes from generations of perfumery expertise in the family, starting from his grandfather who founded Parfums Christian Dior. Having worked as a professional perfume evaluator and critic, Malle went on to found his own eponymous company that is dedicated to promoting the perfume itself, not the brand. Frederic Malle works with world-renowned perfumers to create distinct scents without being tied to one particular house style, creating fragrances for the likes of Dries Van Noten and Pierre Hardy.
Where to get them: Frederic Malle store locations, Frederic Malle webstore, Barneys New York
12. Jo Malone
Price range: $60 – $145
Why you should know them: Founded in London, Jo Malone is now one of the most recognized perfume brands in the world. The brand calls itself the “Savile Row of scents,” made to fit the wearer by layering multiple scents on top of each other, or “fragrance combining” – a phrase Jo Malone went so far as to trademark for itself.
Where to get them: Jo Malone boutique locations, Jo Malone webstore
13. Joya Studio
Price range: $112 – $750
Why you should know them: Joya, Spanish for “jewel,” was named after the crystalline natural wax blend used in the brand’s candles, their primary product offering. As a natural extension from candles, Joya began producing fragrances as well, also in the same artistic spirit that the brand is known for. Regularly collaborating on limited editions and collectible items with brands like Opening Ceremony, Rodarte and Ralph Lauren, Joya Studio’s products cost an upwards of almost $800 for one candle and boast 100% handmade status including their packaging.
Where to get them: Joya Studio, full stockist list
14. Juniper Ridge
Price range: $35 – $122
Why you should know them: Juniper Ridge is “the world’s only wild fragrance company” that bottles scents from harvested wild plants, moss and trees from the outdoors of America’s West Coast. Founder Hall Newbegin calls Juniper Ridge a collective of hikers, not perfumers, who seek 100% organic and natural ingredients. Indeed, their “backpacker’s colognes” make you feel like you are actually out in the woods, with pungent natural smells reminiscent of grass, rain and hiker trails.
Where to get them: Juniper Ridge, full stockist list
15. LE LABO
Price range: $130 – $160
Why you should know them: LE LABO is a small company that hand-makes all of their scents in a perfumery lab in New York. The lab is open to the public, for anyone to observe and experience the scent making process. LE LABO‘s mission is to “resist against” and “revolutionize” the industry, which they describe as over-saturated with mass-produced perfumes.
Where to get them: LE LABO
16. Maison Francis Kurkdijan
Price range: $175 – $300
Why you should know them: Francis Kurkdijan graduated from the prestigious perfume school, ISIPCA Versailles. At age 26, he created Le Male for Jean Paul Gaultier, which still remains as one of the world’s bestselling perfumes. After creating more than 40 fragrances for other major fashion houses, he founded his own maison perfumery, now recognized by institutions like WWD as a breakthrough.
Where to get them: Maison Francis Kurkdijan, Bergdorf Goodman, full stockist list
Price range: $125 – $165
Why you should know them: A multi-brand boutique in New York, ODIN started making their own fragrances in 2009, inspired by the “exoticism of travel.” Simply named numerically in order of creation, their fragrances are indeed made with exotic places in mind, like the Himayalas, West Indies, Jordan, Japan, Turkey and the Mediterranean. Their scents are pleasantly strong and memorable, and are all unisex.
Where to get them: ODIN, Barneys New York
Price range: $125 – $150
Why you should know them: William Penhaligon founded his eponymous company in the 1800s, first as a barbershop in the UK. Penhaligon’s still remains largely popular and is now more known for their perfumes, made in England from the highest quality materials like fine jasmine that cost twice as much as gold.
Where to get them: Penhaligon’s, full stockist list
19. Ramón Monegal
Price range: $185 – $200
Why you should know them: Ramón Monegal is another descendant of a multi-generational family of perfumers, who founded Myrurgia, the official perfume house of the Spanish Royal Family. After submerging himself at the royal house, Monegal founded his own company which licenses perfumes to brands like Adolfo Dominguez and Massimo Duti.
Where to get them: Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus
Price range: $200 – $790
Why you should know them: Based in Turin, Italy and crafted in Grasse, Xerjoff perfumes are most popularly sold in Europe and the Middle East. Staying true to the spirit of luxury, their bottles are carved out of quartz stone, Murano glass and other precious materials, making them look like works of sculptural art.
Where to get them: Xerjoff, full stockist list