Of all the senses, scent can be considered the most powerful. It is scent that has the strongest ability to connect us to both our memories and emotions; helping us wake up, feel more relaxed, or taking us back to a fond recollection of perhaps a holiday, a time in our childhood, or moments with someone we love. It would be wonderful to provide an equally romantic reason for this smell-induced nostalgia. However, the long and short of it is that the sensory nerve for scent is the only one of its team of five that goes directly to the brain; and, dwelling on the scientific aspect for just a moment, once a new smell is detected and has travelled up to the brain via your olfactory neurones, it finds itself in the limbic system. This part of the brain is the same as it was for the very first mammals and scientists believe it is this region that plays a major role in controlling mood, memory, behaviour and emotion. Knowing the power of smell and its aforementioned affiliations is what has allowed the fragrance industry to grow into the booming empire it is today. It’s as primal as they come.

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Perfume has been in the spotlight of late, there is a wealth of information about the current market as well as what the fragrance landscape of the future will likely look like; it’s definitely shifting and there is a mountain of exciting developments.  For much of retail, selling on mass is becoming rather passé and fragrance is no exception - if anything it’s a striking example. A recent Business of Fashion article quotes statistics regarding the continued decline of celebrity perfumes, advising a 22% decline in the UK for the year of 2016. Perhaps more alarming is another recent piece, this time from WWD, citing a fall in dominance for designer brands that have long been the life-force of the industry, with both publications proclaiming the strength and heightened desirability of niche brands. This is not to say that the Dior’s and Chanel’s and co. are not still pulling in the numbers for fan favourites like the infamous No. 5. In fact, type ‘Top 10 Perfumes 2017’ into your preferred search engine and you’ll see Coco Mademoiselle and Chance alongside their founder’s signature scent. But the numbers do not lie, and where other segments of the beauty industry are seeing a continued growth, prestige beauty rose 12%; prestige fragrance in the US came in at a 1% increase.

This data doesn’t paint the most positive picture but this article is not intended to spread doom and gloom. Moreover, the above numbers demonstrate an industry in flux and a time of evolution as brands adapt to new consumer needs. The rise of niche is a clear reflection of this, feeding into a consumer-wide trend for greater personalisation and a desire to be unique – this is a clear antithesis of mass market and an evident factor for its slowdown. Some argue that being classified as niche goes beyond being available at an exclusive number of doors, usually boutique ones at that, and claim it is also a reflection on quality. The product of artisanal studios, in smaller production runs, with greater time and attention paid to their construction and components. Being niche was nearly always reserved for those willing to pay top dollar. But a rise in new and ambitious small-scale perfumers aimed at the, dare we say it, millennial market is ironically pushing uniqueness into the mainstream.

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This is coupled with a growing demand for experiential elements in the journey to purchase, another widely reported topic within the future of retail and something that nimble niche brands are able to capitalise on far more freely than their en masse counterparts. “Make Your Own” labs and classes are slowly becoming more accessible fuelled by the niche market. Because fragrance has the power to be so personal, providing nostalgia and perhaps even comfort, it seems almost too obvious that consumers would respond positively to a personal involvement in the creation process. But sometimes the best ideas can be hidden in plain sight, right under your nose. Incorporating this trend into the selling process is becoming even more crucial for brands; the draw of a designer name has not faded entirely but producing a scent based on one’s memories and having that participation is what is capturing consumers’ hearts.

This inherently more social and bilateral approach to scent creation is likely to develop further with the introduction of new technology; with greater opportunity for experimentation, education and lucrativeness. Realistically consumers have always had the ability to create their own perfumes at home. The process might be long, subject to (many) mistakes and somewhat arduous, but given the proper tools and clear instruction, being inclined to design not only your own personal scent but your scent environment might not be as farfetched as you might think. According to LS:N, there are already 3D printer prototypes containing aroma cartridges just waiting to be turned into consumer fragrance generators, as well as scent molecule databases being compiled enabling users the opportunity to mix and match while the programme correctly gauges the perfect balance. With all the digital advancements being made in this field, the common denominator is you. What would your signature scent be? And why stop at just one? While we wait for the technology to catch up and if you can’t quite make it to a class to create your own, there are an increasing number of brands to satisfy your niche needs. Byredo popularity is on the up and up, making its way into Instagram posts everywhere, Clive Christian and Creed continue to be connoisseurs in the scent game, then there’s Diptyque and Jo Malone, the list is getting longer all the time so forgive us for only naming a handful. Our advice is: do your research, find out what scents work for you, speak with sales staff – they know their stuff – and experiment! Find a scent that takes you back to a happy time in your mind. With so many concoctions available, who wants to settle for adequate fragrance?