The niche, lesser known fragrance brands you’re about to fall in love with…

Anna Hunter 21 March 2016
Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

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The niche, lesser known fragrance brands you’re about to fall in love with…

Like a beautiful and significant piece of jewellery or much loved coat, there’s something about a ‘special’, unique scent that’s simultaneously comforting and confidence boosting. You don’t let it define you, but the fragrance that hooks you in says a lot about your taste, character and sense of style, not to mention your favourite spaces, places and memories.

Perhaps you grew up abroad, have a relative who loves roses or adore the smell of freshly brewed tea or burning wood; our perfume leanings are almost always more personal than we realise, and identifying a scent that takes us back to a heady, happy time, energises and propels us forward or simply makes us appreciate a present moment in time can be a revelatory game changer. There’s nothing wrong with CKOne and its ilk (that evokes strong memories too…), but sometimes you crave something specialised, meticulously considered and possibly rare, that you can keep all to yourself and luxuriate in. We may not be keeping the following to ourselves, but that’s because we’ve been begging to share them with you for quite some time and it’s high time we lifted the lid on these lesser lauded bottles. Click through to discover the new love of your olfactory life, or revisit a favourite you’re already familiar with…

Art Direction: Sarah McGinnis

Photography: India Block

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The new romantic: Vilhelm Parfumerie

A perfume brand dreamed up by a former model and handbag designer may set alarm bells ringing, but the minute you clap eyes on a vintage yellow Vilhelm bottle, not to mention the moment you take in one of the current eight complex, lovingly crafted fragrances, you’ll appreciate that Swedish American founder Jan Ahlgren has a nose, eye and heart for ‘knock your socks off’ scent.

Talking of matters of the heart, hero fragrance ‘Dear Polly’ was blended in honour of Jan’s wife, whom he met in an airport bar, instantly fell in love with and gallantly offered to comfort during the flight owing to her fear of flying. Clearly he did a good job, and the resulting Eau de Parfum has the same level of potential to be ‘love at first smell’, especially if you’re partial to a brew, as most Brits are. The warm middle notes of black tea were chosen to reflect Jan’s wife Polly’s love of a steaming cup of black tea first thing, while top notes of apple conveyed familiarity and musk conjured mystery. That’s the ideal relationship right there, bottled; cup of tea in the morning, cosy snuggles  and a bit of distance and enigma to keep things interesting. This was made for date nights. Also, in case you were wondering, ‘Vilhelm’ is a tribute to Jan’s Swedish grandfather, rather than a pretentious, Zoolander-esque high fashion brand name. As I said earlier, Jan’s all heart.

Vilhelm Parfumerie Dear Polly , £145

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The master of reinvention: Jo Loves

If you think you don’t know Jo, think again. It’s likely you’ve worn her characterful blends before, and potentially burned a candle of her creation or added an oil of her concoction to your bath, back when she headed up her self-made brand, Jo Malone. Having sold her first incredibly successful business to Estée Lauder, Jo Malone MBE has gone back to her artisan roots and is furthering her fragrance innovations with ‘new chapter’ Jo Loves.

Jo’s festive offering of Red Truffle 21 most certainly shouldn’t be confined to Christmas (it’s too delicious for that), but the notes of fig, pine leaves, truffle and juniper create a distinctly wintry feel. Despite the rich ‘culinary’ elements, the fragrance is light and crisp, and I think the perfect antidote to lengthy feasts and indulgent nights of partying. It doesn’t overwhelm or overpower; basically, it’s how grown ups do Christmas. I can envisage Nigella Lawson slipping it on before sneaking to the fridge at midnight in her silken dressing gown.

Jo Loves Red Truffle 21 , from £55

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The English eccentric: Miller Harris

From one expert British nose to another, perfumer Lyn Harris may have trained in Paris and Grasse but her style is resolutely homegrown, fusing natural botanicals with aromatic, exotic ‘urban’ notes. Think throwing on a pair of wellies with an elegant evening dress; somehow it works (unsurprisingly there are quite a few references to rain…)

15 years after Miller Harris was founded and Lyn and her team are still producing peppy scents, rooted in real life, as reflected in the brand’s newest collection, Editions. The three fragrances in the range are designed to complement both the routine and the spontaneity of your day, boost your spirits and settle in with the warmth of your skin as they’re worn. ‘Scent as soulmate’ is the big idea, and fittingly, a cup of char is on the agenda again in the case of Tea Tonique. Crafted to invigorate your mood and senses in a similar way to your favourite earl grey, Italian bergamot recalls both homely tea rooms and sophisticated European cafes; it’s a mellow fusion of ‘fresh’ and ‘smoky’, and it works.

Miller Harris Tea Tonique , £65

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The old soul: Atelier Cologne

If cologne brings to mind gentleman’s clubs, smoking rooms and a general air of oppressive exclusivity, Atelier Cologne’s modern, zesty takes on a classic will be a breath of fresh air. Traditionally ‘eau de colognes’ are based on citrus oils, and the Atelier stick to the formula as a base, adding dimension with both avant-garde and more familiar additions from nature, such as Brazilian sourced tonka bean and French violet. This jasmine edition smells a lot like a very expensive artisan gin to me. The effect is nothing short of ‘come hither’.

Atelier Cologne Jasmin Angélique Cologne Absolue , £110

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The young whippersnapper: Shay & Blue

Hands on and unprocessed is a good way to describe both Shay & Blue’s fragrances and work ethic. Born into life in 2012 from a Marylebone boutique, Shay & Blue is the brainchild of former Chanel senior vice president and previous global general manager of Jo Malone London Dom De Vetta and young, rising star perfumer Julie Massé. Together they bringing blending back to basics, swapping factory production and homogenous scents for hand mixing, distilling and maturing in their designated east London atelier. Fragrance oils are hand harvested too of course, but in Grasse (Shoreditch doesn’t offer much in terms of raw materials in that sense).

Just out of their workshop is the rich, velvety deep and dark Framboise Noir. It evokes all things enticing as winter creeps along; think red wine, dark chocolate, berries and spice. Wear it and swoon.

Shay & Blue Framboise Noir , £55

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The outsider: Byredo

Although possibly the most well known of the bunch, Swedish brand’s Byredo founder Ben Gorham is somewhat of a maverick in the fragrance world, given his background in fine art and lack of formal perfumery training. Passion and creativity replace formal credentials in this case, and Ben partners with prestigious perfumers to bring his ideas to fruition.

Aptly, product design and concept is visionary, with the new Night Veils being a case in point. Inspired by flowers that bloom at night, you need just a drop of these highly concentrated elixirs to create some serious nocturnal sophistication. It feels almost olde worlde in its elegance and simplicity, but it’s a very bright idea indeed for our frenetic modern lives; one drop and go couldn’t be more appealing during the party season. The black bottles are keepers too.

Byredo Night Veils , £325 each

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The Swede deal: &Other Stories

We’ll let you in on a secret; the brains behind Byredo also blend for stylishly economical Stockholm based &OtherStories (there’s something in the waters in Sweden at the moment as far as fragrance goes). This makes for pots of perfume gold, minus the steep price tags.

Take the new Bonbon Tree EDT; it was a GTG office favourite before anyone was aware of how much/ little it costs (£26), and the minimalist bottle is clever in that it looks expensively understated, but in reality is just kind of sensibly underdone, as the majority of investment goes into the sensually spicy, warm and violet spiked scent. It’s the ideal festive fragrance in terms of notes, both olfactory and monetary. The perfume’s notes of sandalwood and vanilla are bountifully rich; you don’t need to be.

&OtherStories Bonbon Tree, £26, available exclusively at  &OtherStories stores

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The heritage heirlooms: Chanel Les Exclusifs

Nº 5 is only the beginning of the fragrance discovery as far as Chanel is concerned. Les Exclusifs is a collection of 15 pure and poignant perfumes, all inspired by the life and loves of Gabrielle Chanel. From jersey fabric to sport to Chinese art, each scent is highly symbolic and either a reworking of a past EDT composed by Ernest Beaux, or a modern day blend devised by Chanel master perfumer Jacques Polge. Nº18 evokes Chanel’s jewelry boutique on the Place Vendôme in Paris, opposite The Ritz, and appropriately it’s luxuriously smooth. Les Exclusifs may be lesser known, but they’re very personal to Coco, and by proxy personal to you too, as they’re not as habitually worn as the famous Chanel classics.

Chanel Les Exclusifs

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The buried treasure: Eight & Bob

If you like your scents complete with colourful, historic backstories, you best be sitting comfortably, as Eight & Bob has a lot to say.

Based on a cologne gifted by perfume connoisseur Albert Fouquet to his inner circle in the 30s, the blend is so called due a supposed request made to Fouquet by a certain John F Kennedy for eight samples plus “another one for Bob.” Fouquet dressed the box in the same print as Kennedy’s shirt when the two met, labelling the package ‘Eight & Bob’. Soon Hollywood came calling, with reportedly the likes of Cary Grant seeking out the scent. Unfortunately Fouquet passed away shortly after the cologne’s success got off the ground, and while the family butler apparently continued distribution by hiding bottles in books on the outbreak of World War II (reflected in the modern day ‘book’ presentation), he was unable to continue sending them for any length of time. Eight & Bob went underground, but has now been restored to its former glory and prestige.

The cynic in me whispers that the tale could be clever marketing spin, but I came across it last year in Amsterdam, and despite having been designed for men, I instantly fell for its woody, wintry, slightly soapy loveliness, Bob or no Bob.

Eight & Bob , £125

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The family business: Dear Rose

Dear Rose: Perfume Voices is a mother-daughter brand and the coming together of not only two generations, but serious perfume prowess and musical panache. Mother Chantal Roos has travelled the world and had a hand in creating some of the most seminal fragrances ever produced, from Yves Saint Laurent Opium to Issey Miyake L’eau D’Issey. Daughter Alexandra Roos is similarly creative, but in the musical field, having released four albums in her native France.

Dear Rose becomes even more of a family venture when you consider that Alexandra’s daughter’s name is Rose, and the focus on rose is consistent throughout the perfume collection, representing eternal, multifaceted femininity, and of course, love. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin, who hails from a Grasse fragrance dynasty, was brought on board for his quintessentially crisp style, and the likes of enlivening A Capella were expertly arranged. There are roses by many names within the perfume portfolio, and if you love florals, you’ll be in heaven.

Dear Rose A Capella , £105

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The florist: Grandiflora

On the subject of florals, who better to make up an intoxicating fragrance bouquet than a talent who gets their hands dirty while flower arranging on a daily basis? Founder of Sydney based floral design studio Grandiflora Saskia Havekes has a flair for flowers both in a practical and olfactory sense, and has collaborated with the great and good of the traditional fragrance world to learn the fundamentals of analysing and creating a more permanent distillation of her favourite blooms. Magnolia is a particular hero flower in her co-creations, and her most recent scent captures the unusual Stephanotis jasmine. There’s refreshingly potent, refined flower power in every inhalation, and it’s a real tonic if you’re stuck in a stuffy office.

Grandiflora Madagascan Jasmine,  click here  for stockists and delivery