What’s next in niche fragrance? 3 industry profiles share their predictions
Deep dive into how the rise of wellness and new technologies are transforming also this industry segment.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
November 07, 2023
Linda Landenberg works as a B2B consultant and runs her own perfume brand, Savour. In her daily work as an independent perfumer, she composes perfume formulas for her clients. Her laboratory is at home and her partner is in Grasse, France. Fredrik Johansson is Head of Training and PR at leading beauty distributor Saether with over 25 years of experience from the industry. Independent perfumer Jessica Buchanan founded the brand 1000 Flowers in Canada in 2000. She’s been based full-time in Grasse since 2011 when the brand also opened its first boutique in 2017. The most important trends post-Covid, according to Buchanan, continue in the well-being direction, with awareness of sustainability in packaging and ingredients, natural ingredients, and conscious consumption.
— We want to feel good about our fragrances, both in how they can make us feel physically and emotionally, but also in their impact on the planet, she says. Lots of work is being done in the big raw material production houses, such as Firmenich and IFF, to develop their sustainability and conscious perfumery portfolios that focus on green chemistry and white biotechnology methods of production. As a perfumer, I am also working with these molecules as much as possible. Another trend that continues is gender-neutral fragrances and customization — either as having an individual bespoke creation or by layering and customizing our personal fragrance experience depending on our mood or feeling. Also, as a way to differentiate ourselves, to express ourselves as individuals. The consumer is tired of ’smelling like everyone else’.
Fredrik Johansson agrees with the mentioned wellness trend. In times of uncertainty, consumers are looking for that feel-good effect and want perfumes that just give us a sense of well-being and optimism.
— Traditional ingredients are back in vogue — they take us back to a time when we felt safe and secure, he says. Lavender, vanilla, tonka beans, and the ever-popular patchouli continue to be popular but now in new and surprising combinations. We also see that consumers are looking for fragrances that offer that extra bit of staying power. ’Beast mode’ has been trending on TikTok and we see that many, especially men, keep looking for fragrances that offer the best sillage and the longest-lasting effect. The brands that we represent really cater for this need by launching new, more concentrated, versions of their best sellers. This is a big change for us in the Nordics as we, ’traditionally’, have had a love for lighter and fresher scents.
— The major trend I would say is ’easy to wear’, due to several aspects, says Linda Landenberg. The world has been a shaky place to live in for many years and the result is that we are looking for something that is familiar, safe, and comforting. We do not need challenges right now, so we settle with perfumes that are easy to understand and maybe slightly different in themselves from a favourite of ours.
What recent shifts in consumer behaviour have you noticed?
— It has gone from ’hard-to-understand-niche’ to ’generic-niche’, says Landenberg, and I believe we are heading to the next phase of niche perfumes. And the classic Scandinavian preference of ’clean’ will come back — but not as a fragrance that smells of detergent… The future clean will have a simple and close-to-nature expression.
— I see that the reason for wearing and buying fragrances has changed drastically over the last few years, Fredrik Johansson shares. Looking back, we wore fragrances to fit into a group or to attract others — today is more about finding yourself and choosing a fragrance that will make you feel better. We want a unique scent that represents us. And we are willing to search for it!
Jessica Buchanan agrees, explaining how she sees more and more people meticulously searching for unique scents.
— And they have a more discerning awareness and sophistication in their knowledge of fragrances and fragrance ingredients than I recall seeing even 5 years ago. The big luxury brands are boring for them so they are looking to the niche fragrance sector for unique scents and interpretations. Unfortunately, this market is also becoming completely saturated; ’niche’ is becoming commercialised, so perhaps there will be more and more scent artists focusing on more avant-garde and artistic formulation to try to appeal to the more savvy consumer. We have to remember that the trend of an educated consumer will also continue, so transparency and authenticity are also important if brands want to be respected, she says, adding,
— I am also seeing much more demand for scented candles and room fragrances. The stress of the lockdowns and the fear of dying, plus the isolation that people experienced, really pushed us to focus on health and self-care, and making our homes our safe space. For some, a room fragrance can offer more artistic and unique scents than a wearable perfume and is a new way to experience fragrance for those who are bored with wearing perfume or who have the scents they like but want to try new scents via ambient scenting.
When we look at innovations, which ones would you like to highlight?
— Coty and its carbon-captured alcohol, says Johansson. Launched in a fragrance in the Gucci The Alchemist Garden collection Where my heart beats Eau de Parfum, it uses alcohol from 100% recycled carbon emissions, which is kind of amazing.
— For me personally, the huge growth of sustainable or green chemistry, as well as white biotechnology, such as fermentation, for the production of synthetic molecules, is extremely interesting, says Buchanan. It’s important as a way to balance the huge consumer demand for all-natural ingredients. Botanical ingredient production can consume a lot of labour, water, and land, so finding a balance with these molecules can lead to a far more sustainable perfumery for the future. ’All-natural’ is not necessarily sustainable or ecologically friendly.
— AI is a big thing also in the perfume industry, including the new technical tool that transforms a fragrance into a colour, says Landenberg. I haven’t tried it but I am curious since I think of materials as a colour, energy, personality, temperature, or texture.
What would you like to see more and less of in the fragrance industry?
— More diversity and inclusion. We all gain from that! Fredrik Johansson states.
— Maybe more courage and less flankers? says Landenberg. On the other hand, the industry services what the consumer in general is craving. Then you have smaller brands, or big ones for that matter, who dare to break the conventions and shake things up a bit. Our consumption mirrors society, so depending on the global economy and the health of our planet, a trend will take place.
— More focus on sustainable chemistry, as well as — ideally — a ban on phthalates and non-biodegradable polycyclic musks, which I have never used, as well as a ban on pesticides that hurt pollinators, says Buchanan. I think we need to remember that natural ingredients are precious, so we also need to be more aware of how we consume them. The chemical lobby has far too much power, and we need to focus more on the environmental impact of fragranced products, says Buchanan.
What else are you looking at now?
— The fact that there are very positive developments happening in the big industry side of perfumery, says Buchanan. This includes all the ’functional’ products that we use every day, such as shampoo, shower gels, cleaning, and air care products. These sectors use far more fragrance compositions than our niche brands or even the large commercial brands, so their impact on the planet is enormous. We need to use our dollars wisely to encourage these industries to clean up their products and certainly focus far more on biodegradability and renewable or more sustainable production. We can also perhaps choose to use some products that are unscented, so as to consume a bit less of the chemicals that make up the scent, both natural and synthetic. After all, molecules are molecules, whether they are from nature or a lab. So, let’s wake up and be conscious of how we consume scent.
— From a perfumer’s perspective, we are facing big challenges and depending on the outcome our toolbox of materials will remain or radically diminished. The debate at this point circles around safe and sustainable materials that balance biodiversity and innovation and in what way they will shape the fragrance industry. There are many fun materials launched every year and what determines why it becomes a trend is usually based on a great success from a big brand, says Landenberg.
And if we look at 2024 and onwards, what macro trends do you forecast?
— Neuroscience and fragrances that ’do more’, says Fredrik Johansson. Now we talk about the scent of perfumes but just as makeup and skincare have merged, I think we will see more companies highlighting the cosmetic and mood-enhancing effects of fragrances. We want fragrances to do more than just smell great. I see a lot of research going into this.
Linda Landenberg predicts ’sustainability from every aspect’ as the major macro trend.
— Also, small or smaller companies or brands are still a target for the big dragons in terms of a transition from small independent to a part of a portfolio, such as Estée Lauder and Clarins, she says. This is also an outspoken expression from some companies that start a new brand; to build an interesting brand and then sell it to a bigger group. However, I also see a lot of indie brands with strong integrity that want to protect their freedom as small independent perfumers.
— From everything I have read and discussed with others in the industry, it seems that the focus on well-being, sustainability, conscious perfumery, and self-care will continue, Buchanan says. There is also discussion of freedom in various ways, of self-expression, and experiencing life in our own way, such as who we are and valuing ourselves for who we are as individuals, as well as body positivity, particularly for women. This may include embracing previously taboo subjects for women, such as personalized feminine care meeting the biological needs of women. Cocooning and comfort scents will continue to have value here, especially for home fragrances: scenting the home and a return to some ancestral and spiritual value in our home fragrance, thereby contributing to well-being even more.