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 Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, Versace Eros or Paco Rabanne 1 million, 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 of niche fragrances includes our top 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.
Check our picks for our best niche perfume brands in 2023
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.
Maison Margeila Perfumes (Replica)
Margiela's Replica is a brand highly regarded by the "perfume mainstream" and "serious" collectors. Have you smelled Jazz Club? It is arguably one of the best Fall scents ever created — up there with other Autumn legends like Tobacco Vanille. But I digress. Maison Margiela's work has always tettered in the avant-garde, breaking fashion's longstanding rules while reshaping the fashion industry very much in his toolbox. Replica — the brand's perfume brand — is another attempt to disrupt the industry. It's done just that. Though far more quietly than its originating fashion house, Replica has played with everything from the presentation of its scents to the actual fragrances scents themselves.
Replica perfumes are reminiscent of apothecary jars with cotton labels that echo the tags on the clothing. The perfumes themselves are designed to "replicate" situational smells that many relate to - i.e. waking up to fresh sheets, a trip to a warm and sunny beach, or stepping into a Jazz Club on a winter night. For many, Replica has nailed every single scent.
Chris Collin knows how to create scents that feel timeless and seductive with a deep sense of story. At this niche label, you will have no problem finding a scent to pair with your events, traveling, the every day, or on that evening date. We attribute our love for Chris Collins to his ability to pick the perfect balance of ingredients, leaning heavily into the realms of the exotic. The designer's latest collection ANIMA is one of our favorite perfume collections from 2022, filled to the brim with beautiful juxtaposing scents perfect for anyone looking to stand out this season.
Comme des Garçons Parfums
If you love COMME des GARÇONS, we've got a scent for you. Led by the enigmatic Rei Kawakubo, the beloved Japanese brand launched its perfumery label in 1994. Since its creation, CDG Parfums has been dedicated to presenting unisex scents that are almost artistic in nature in unconventional ways. Scents by the brand like Floriental, Blue Santal, and Wonderwood are fan favorites, especially if you are just starting to build your fragrance collection.
Juliette Has a Gun
Pardon the easy pun, but the scents coming out of Juliette Has a Gun almost always manage to hit the mark. When hunting for the proper niche perfume brand, you need to find a label that is passionate about the world of aromachology. That is what you are going to find here with this French brand. Composed of 16 cult fragrances and 7 luxury scents, Juliette's scents are very much a symphony of well-balanced scents— "mutinous, vengeful, fiery, androgynous, cavalier or immaterial," as described by the brand. Fan favorites like Musc Invisible are soapy, cuddly, sweet, and warm thanks to a nice balance of top, heart, and base notes. You will come to find that a lot of the perfumes from the brands feel and smell like nothing you have in your collection.
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.
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.
CB I Hate Perfume
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.
The core philosophy of Maya Njie's perfumes centers around "capturing moments". A creative at heart with a love for surface design and photography, Njie added aromachology as one of her mediums. Her synonymous label is deeply personal, pulling directly from memories tied to her past, Scandinavian upbringing, and Gambian heritage. The Swedish perfumer focuses on using artisanal blends using a variety of in-house essential oils, aromas, compounds, and resin — balancing the science of natural ingredients and synthetics. All the perfumes are vegan, with no animal testing. We recommend checking out Nordic Cedar and Les Fleurs.
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.
Escentric Molecules takes both the art and science of fragrance design very seriously. A self-confessed "rebel" in the fragrance world, the perfumer behind the brand, Geza Schoen, created Escentric Molecules after experiencing a lack of innovation within the mainstream perfume industry. In 2006, the niche perfume brand launched Escentric 01, sending ripples across the industry. Why? Escentric 01 was made of an unprecedented 65% of Iso E Super — a synthetic aroma molecule commonly used in tiny amounts in the fragrance industry. This radical move created one of the best vanilla-like scents the industry has seen. To this day, Escentric has been crafting swoon-inducing scents.
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 Bergdorf Goodman.
Another cult favorite, 19-69 was founded by the Swedish product developer Johan Bergelin. Strongly influenced by 80's fashion trends, there is an air of nostalgia with each scent created by the niche perfume brand. 19-69 aims to "invite people to explore beauty across the borders and see what we can discover about each other". From Chinese Tobacco to Miami Blue, 19-69's superpower is the ability to create scents that feel comfortably familiar but distinct enough from something else you might sniff on your peers. It is a great niche perfume brand. We also recommend taking a look at their candles too. They make dope gifts.
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.
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.
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.
Memo is a sweet insider tip for those eager to shake things up in their fragrance collection. Packaged in beautifully designed art-inspired bottles, the Parisian label uses scents to create "olfactory landscapes" — scents capable of transporting you out into distant landscapes and to collective memories. The niche perfume brand's core philosophy centers around using natural ingredients and aromas specific to regions around the world and then designing an entire scent around that specific place. What makes Memo's scents even more special is their ability to induct a bit of freshness to each scent that they create — no easy feat as richer scents can get quickly muddied or distorted if not properly balanced. Regardless, you will find some accessible and head-turning casual scents at Memo.
The Different Company
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.
One of the most luxurious niche perfume brands on today's list, Floraïku is a Parisian perfume label with deep ties to Asian culture. From the packaging to the ingredients used in the scents, fragrances belong to one of 3 collections that reference various ceremonies where flowers, teas, and incense play a major role. Whereas individual scents are named and are given their character based on haikus — small 3-verse poems written by the brand’s co-founder, who is also a poet. If you are on the hunt for the perfect seasonal scent, Floraïku has various built-in tools on their site to help you find the scents or notes that match your personality. Also, the Parisian label has some of the most beautiful packaging, we have seen from a niche label.
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.
D.S. and Durga
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maison Francis Kurkdijan
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am a sucker for good packaging. This is what first drew me to the minds over at Vilhelm Parfumerie. From their use of saffron yellow, across their branding to their, minimal boxes, and beautifully sculpted bottles, I really wanted the niche perfume brand to hit. And, thankfully my wishes were granted. Here, Vilhelm Parfumerie creates scents that are vintage in nature pulling from some fashion's favorite scents while adding a contemporary twist to every new blend. In short, you'll find timeless scents at this label that are on par with the perfect-cut suit, a classic white t-shirt, or a great-fitting leather jacket.
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