Fragrance brands

Why the next wave of niche fine fragrance brands will come from Asia

Over the past decade, the perfume market has been disrupted by the arrival of niche perfume brands such as Byredo, Le Labo, Diptyque and Jo Malone.

Although the big brands still dominate, they face fierce competition from these so-called cult brands as consumers move towards a more personalized and intimate scent experience.

In 2019, Estée Lauder Companies reported that its fragrance category benefited greatly from the growth of Jo Malone, Le Labo and Tom Ford, which generated net sales of approximately $81 million.

The company attributed some of that to Jo Malone’s growth, which was driven by the APAC region, led by China and the launch of the brand on Tmall Global.

The rise of niche fragrance brands in Asia has also sparked a wave of entrepreneurship in the category, said Clarissa Araujo, regional marketing manager, fine fragrance, APAC, Symrise.

“We are seeing a real entrepreneurial moment, especially among those in the millennial age, so many of these brands are owned by people between 30 and 40 or even younger. They have observed that big brands take the time to learn their language and their culture, so naturally you see that entrepreneurial spirit setting in. There’s a real hunger there.

Undoubtedly, the rise of e-commerce has lowered the entry barrier for niche fragrance brands to enter the market, contributing to the boom.

The use of e-commerce has pushed these brands to adapt to the sale of perfumes without influencing the olfactory sense of consumers. Instead, they rely heavily on sophisticated digital communication strategies.

Maison Dixsept, a Chinese perfume brand, for example, films clever videos to tell the story of the perfume and its creation, which includes the perfumers themselves and the ingredients.

“The big trick to selling perfume online is translating all that emotion that you can’t smell into something beautiful. It’s really about telling stories. It’s also about humanizing because you don’t want to feel like a robot, you want to feel the passion.” said Araujo.

Brands without borders

The brands’ appetite for success is not limited to their respective local markets, said Karim Lisi, Commercial Director of Fine Fragrances, APAC, Symrise.

“Millennials don’t think local, they think global. This is because they operate in the digital world and are constantly connected. Many of them often have an international background from previous experiences in international companies, etc., so they have a global view of the world,”Lisa said.

Lisi said the brands’ global ambitions were very evident in their aesthetics. Brands like Maison Dixsept, Korea’s Nonfiction and Singapore’s OoLa Lab all share a similar minimalist design aesthetic, with simple typefaces and monotonous palettes that mimic Byredo, Le Labo and Diptyque.

“The niche today is universal – everyone loves it. The focus is on the quality, the ingredients and the artist behind the bottle. They basically use the international codes which of course will work in the market” , Lissi said.

Maison de L’Asie, a Singaporean label founded a few months ago, Recount CosmeticDesign-Asia​ in March​ that it would push for international expansion in 2022. The brand believes its fragrances have global appeal despite being locally made in Singapore.

“If you think about the image of Asia in general, it becomes very attractive to the rest of the world. There’s nothing wrong with ‘made in China’ – in fact, there is pride. I think it’s the right time to send this out to the world.” Lissi said.

He added that Asian fine fragrance brands understand the importance of quality and are more willing to pay for it than in the past.

“About 5 to 10 years ago, these perfumers were more concerned about price. It was about developing the best product at the best price. Today it is the best product with the best quality.

High risk, high rewards

Lisi firmly believes that now is the time for Asian fragrance brands to stand shoulder to shoulder with their Western counterparts on the global stage.

He noted that these brands are turning the heads of private equity investors and international companies. The potential funding these brands will receive is sure to accelerate their international goals.

“The market is really, really on fire right now. Investors know this market is booming, so they are attracting a lot of money,” Lissi said.

With huge opportunities also come huge risks, and with more brands appearing on the scene, we can expect to see fierce competition.

“Everyone knows it’s a profitable category. Many brands are released at the same time, but not all will survive. Some will be taken over by big business, but many of them will also disappear,” Lissi said.

Araujo added that there is pressure for a brand to be innovative in order to capture the attention of consumers – especially online shoppers. This gives rise to some interesting trends in the market.

“This market is open to experimentation so expect some exciting new formats. There’s a lot of talk about wellness and how Asian wellness concepts like traditional Chinese medicine can translate into fragrance.