Just at the point when supermarkets start stocking their aisles with mince pies and discounted spirits, my desk begins to overflow with new fragrances launches. Which is code for: Christmas is coming. As I sniff my way through them in the hope of finding a keeper, I'm reminded of just how many perfumes there are to choose from and how confusing it must be to land on one you really love.
The UK fragrance market is now worth around £1.48 billion a year, according to Mintel’s latest figures. And with over 750 new fragrances launching each year, the choice is vast. But who can be bothered to smell their way through a football field’s worth of new perfumes?
Generally, we either stick with what we know or we update based on an intriguing new ad campaign. But mostly we are given perfume for Christmas (which FYI is two months away). And so we accumulate a fragrance wardrobe of so-so scents that rarely get an outing. Which may be why the niche sector has seen the most growth in the last 18 months. These are under-the-radar spritzes that stop you in your tracks. They are bought through envy. Or, to put it more politely, on recommendation.
I recently got sent a bottle of Chanel’s Les Exclusifs 1957, a creamy blend of musk, iris and neroli. One spritz and I felt like I’d known this scent all my life, probably because it’s not so far removed from my signature everyday perfume, Chanel No19. A day later, a colleague walked past my desk and did a double take, ‘What is that? I have to have it!’ We spent the next 10 minutes bonding over our favourite perfumes. I love No19; she loves its ballsier cousin, No19 Poudre. She likes the softness of musk, iris and neroli. I do too. And, just like passing on a contact for an insider-secret hairdresser, 1957 had a new follower. So that’s how a scent becomes cult – from serendipitous emotional engagement.
Niche scents usually have one of two qualities: they’re either obscure enough to divide people (the Marmites of the perfume world, so to speak), or they’re so familiar and comforting, they smell like a warm hug from a long-lost friend. If you like to stand out, Frédéric Malle’s Portrait of a Lady will cause a furore – a friend I know never fails to attract comments from admirers desperate to know the name of this heady rose and patchouli blend.
Meanwhile, Charlie Gowans-Eglinton, Stella senior fashion editor, has converted many an admirer to her beloved Ikat Jasmine by Aerin (including a friend who chose it for her wedding day), no doubt because the night-blooming floral reminds them of some favourite far-flung holiday destination.
The best way to land on your own niche perfume is by pure chance – but until that day, your true match may be among one of these seven insider scents, as worn by the Telegraph beauty and fashion team. Not to mention, with Christmas a mere two months away, now is the time to start leaving hints.
Lisa Armstrong, Head of Fashion: Bespoke fragrance, from £120-£250, Alexandra Soveral
‘When my husband was at a loss about what to get me for a birthday, he delegated it to our daughter, who knows I love Alexandra Soveral. She found Alex’s bespoke organic perfumes – et voilà, a new favourite.’
Sameeha Shaikh, Beauty Assistant: Royal Sapphire, £195, Thameen London
‘It’s a proper whack in the face of jasmine, and to me it smells of drowsy summer afternoons and a little bit of sun cream – the perfect antidote to winter. It helps me to feel poised and prepared at all times.’
‘A blend of eight white musks, with florals, neroli, bergamot and a hint of honey. This is like wrapping yourself in a cashmere blanket.’
Stephen Doig, Men's Style and Luxury Editor: Cologne Bigarade, £120 for 50ml edp, Frédéric Malle
‘A woman ran up an escalator to ask me what scent I was wearing, which makes sense as this has unisex appeal. It’s peppery but not overly woody with orange notes.’
Dominique Temple, Beauty Editor: Santal Blush , £162 for 50ml edp, Tom Ford
‘Rich in sandalwood, rose and jasmine, this is sexy without smelling cheap, sophisticated without being old-fashioned. Everyone says it’s so me, which is the best compliment.’
Bethan Holt, Fashion News and Features Director: Gypsy Water, £105 for 50ml edp, Byredo
‘Fresh soil, deep forests and campfires – this is about as far from fashion editor life as it gets. But the notes of amber and incense feel luxurious, though not too girly or overpowering.’