Tuesday, January 8, 2013

L'Artisan Parfumeur: Losing the Grip on Niche and Discontinuing Yet Another Fragrance

When does niche stops being niche? One definition of niche perfumes has to do with number of doors distributing the product (and this is the original meaning). Another has to do with maintaining a high standard of ingredients, artistic integrity and not catering to the lowest common denominator.

Pic Source: traveler.es via Julia on Pinterest

I admit even though L'Artisan Parfumeur is one of my favorite niche fragrance lines I am having some trouble to chew on their latest practices going on for a handful of years now (that unstoppable tsunami of releases for one), which definitely stem from some revamping of their marketing strategy. It was but a mere year ago that I announced the production stop on Tea for Two, one of their more "cult" scents with a devoted following, and confirming the discontinuation of the emblematic -and innovative!- Vanilia in favor of Havana Vanille (later renamed Vanille Absolument), and now they're axing -exactly!- Vanille Absolument. This boozy, dry, part tobacco, part hay fantasy of a vanilla perfume with no synthetic vanillin was a bet that artistically paid off. It's one of Bertrand Duchaufour's perfectly judged oriental perfumes, not too sweet, never cloying, stuff to earn a dedicated following much like Tea for Two had. So, guess what. It had to go and not even the perfumer had been alerted in time, allegedly!

The reason is two-fold (sewn into one): The high cost of raw materials (that natural vanilla absolute, that narcissus...) wasn't sufficiently justified by the lukewarm sales. If you're head over heels for it, grab a bottle now rather than later (there's still bigger bottles on the L'Artisan site)

To add insult to injury many fragrance editions in the 50ml/1.7oz bottles are also being axed, as plainly now shown by the recent sale. (This won't happen to the best-sellers, but if you're craving just a little bit of your quirky fav, you're out of luck). And last but not least L'Artisan Parfumeur signs a distribution deal with Sephora, at least in France (I do realize that in France the Sephora shops sell even Lutens, but still...)

How niche can L'Artisan Parfumer continue to be as judged by the above mentioned two criteria? Perhaps the answer is simpler than anticipated: L'Artisan Parfumeur is now in the portfolio of Cradle Holdings.


  1. Has Blogger stopped working in automatically sending off spam to the spam folder? If any of our readers knows please let me know!

  2. You aren't the only one lamenting this change. It seems that any scent that achieves some critical acclaim or fan-base is now greeted with a response of, "Glad you liked it, we've discontinued it though."

    I have my personal doubts that a retail arm owned by LVMH won't simply give a competing perfumer a poor deal in displaying their scents rather than more Guerlains and Diors, and certainly not the boutique varieties.

    Good piece!

  3. Even though I own a full bottle of Vanille Absolument and keep thinking I should wear it more often, it looks like I am going to have to get a backup bottle. Last year was marked by getting backup bottles instead of getting 2 other perfumes that I have been wanting for a couple years. And I will be getting a big bottle of this.

  4. annemariec20:41

    Seems like the sale bottles on the L'AP site our now all gone.

    There was some spam getting through but that was a few weeks ago. Have not noticed it since.

  5. I would have thought that Vanilla would be a best seller but I am now guessing "not with the niche crowd". Too bad, I have never tried it and I see they're already out of it. Oh well, better luck next life...

  6. Anonymous23:29

    The perfume industry has become more about money than developing strong scents and the recent actions by many niche perfume houses continues to exemplify this. I guarantee you each time you drop a large amount of money on a niche fragrance, you are adding a large amount of money into the house's pockets. When they're not making as much money off one perfume as they are on the other, they're bound to axe it and discontinue it because at the end of the day, it's all about money for the niche perfume industry. It's so pretentious. As much as I love Creed, Amouage, Mona di Oro and all the others, I'm starting to become more jaded. Doesn't seem like these fragrances are worth it anymore.

  7. Miss Heliotrope00:25

    I think my understanding of niche is when the artist/creator/impulse of whatever is being produced is in charge. The minute accountacy or economic reality or just following fashion is in charge they become mainstream in attitude if nothing else.

    This, of course, nicely ignores the need for perfumers to make money or have stable finances or anything.

  8. I suspect that Bois Farine is also a goner. I bought a bottle in their last clearance sale. Niche is definitely not what it used to be. L'Artisan and other brands that are owned by holding companies (Diptyque, Goutal) are playing in the department store luxury market. Same goes for brands that are silently backed by big money. On the other side there's the real indie market and that's where most of my perfume budget will go to in the coming years.

    1. And where do I find those indie perfumes, etsy?

    2. You can browse Fragrantica.com which is a huge database and includes several indie brands. There they link to the makers' sites and eboutiques and there are several reviews of the scents by independent assessing reviewers who love scent.

    3. Cool, thank you.

  9. Oh, no, this one was on my list to get one day soon? Why are they doing this now? I thought that was one of their most popular fragrances!

  10. I was looking on the US website, and noticed Coeur de Vetiver Sacre is on sale for cheaper than Vanille Absolument.... Perhaps that's out the door as well.

    One of my favorites from L'Artisan, which to be honest didn't get a whole lot of love, L'Eau de Jatamansi, was discontinued a while back. Usually when stuff is discontinued you can find it somewhere online. It's nowhere to be found.

  11. L'Artisan is definitely going through an identity change. Sorry if I'm telling you something you already know, but their latest Mon Numero (number 7) has been released as an exclusive to... wait for it... the shopping channel QVC! I know several people who've raised their eyebrows with suspicion over this.

    But to return to your question: personally, I feel that the only truly useful definition of niche is one based on volume of production/distribution. A definition based on 'quality' is too vague. The real problem arises with brands which have 'exclusive' sub-ranges. Take Dior. Most people wouldn't argue that Dune, Addict, Miss Dior et al are "mainstream" products... but are Ambre Nuit, Leather Oud and Eau Noire "niche" products? Yes, they're in limited distribution, but can they be labelled "niche" if they come from a firm as large as Dior?

    Finally... yes, it's a real shame that Vanille is being phased out.

    Geez, this comment has turned out to be very long. Sorry! :-)

  12. Anonymous08:47

    I just picked up a bottle of Vanille Absolument from strawberrynet as a Christmas present to myself (and was not disappointed!) - they still have 50 and 100 ml bottles available for a good discount, I just checked. Now I'm wondering if I too need a backup, I love this fragrance!

  13. I met the guy from L'Artisan a number of years ago at the Sniffapalooza in Los Angeles and talked to him about Jean La Porte, and it was very clear to me that they wanted to erese his memory or identity through his perfumes. His presentation and demeanor could only be described as Corporate, with the slick smile and mambo jumbo about modernizing the line etc. I remarked that La Porte's work for L'Artisan was the epitome of "modern" but I just got that indulgent smile and another PR line. I mentally said goodbye to the L'Artisan I loved at that moment.............I could see the writing on the wall..........I also thought that French business might be following in the footsteps of the US.............too bad!

  14. Andrew,

    it's good to know, at the very least. The more consumers are aware of what is going on, the more things can go the desired way (if it's meant to be...)

    One does wonder how Sephora will place the brand, though if they have a deal, then a deal is a deal and it wouldn't be to their interest to just throw them off at some dark corner. Of course the eye-level shelves are always decked in the latest from LVMH, that goes without saying. Still French Sephoras stock Serge Lutens and I hear the sales are rather breezy, considering. (I mean breezy for a niche brand, not that the French en masse shop and wear Lutens!)

  15. Eld,

    backup bottles was my plan for the last three years as well! (Ever since I realized that my favorites would never be the same ever again). It never hurts if you have plenty of storage room and the will to visit and revisit those favorites instead of the thrill of the newest.

    Big bottles of this, I'm afraid, whether one wants it or not, are the only way...

  16. Annemariec,

    not surprising! The lure of the sale coupled with the panic of discontinuations always works.

    As to spam you haven't been noticing, it's because I have been deleting it conscientiously myself for the past few weeks! Before my uppermost comment on tis thread (questioning ways to avoid spam), there were 7 spam comments appearing THE MINUTE I posted the entry!!

    I personally deleted 1891 spam comments (on older entries, held for moderation) yesterday alone!! Clearly the spam robots have been busy. :-/ This is why -to my utter displeasure, because I know it's a drag for YOU people!- I had to reinstall the word verification process....

  17. Kosta,

    funny you saying that because you hit the nail on the head on EXACTLY a sensitive and interesting issue!! (so thank you)

    Vanilia was well-regarded, though not considered "haute" /"snob" (because well, it's a vanilla, man!) by the niche crowd, but it gained cult status as soon as Turania (hope you know who I mean) pointed out the obvious: that's it's a true pioneer (the first to feature ethyl maltol front and center, which was unthinkable, as it was considered a "vulgar" plain scent, as elaborated on my Gourmand Fragrances Perfume Primer).
    BUT by that time -when that sink in- the brand had already moved on to Havana Vanille (later Vanille Absolument, the one and the same) and were ditching Vanilia (two vanillas in one range were too much, perhaps). This of course meant a frantic search by the niche-loving crowd for...Vanilia!

    It always works that way....I'm just tired for seeing the cycle repeat itself. :-/

    Ebay might have some specimens from time to time for you. Only I'm afraid the prices would be high.

  18. Anon,

    you have an excellent point there. It all boils down to money in the end. Niche has been corrupted long ago, ever since the reports from the market showed that the ONLY sector of fragrances going well were the luxury and "niche" ones. So what did entrepreneurs do? Grab some juice (any juice), slap on a stratospheric price tag, compose ad copy talking about "rarity of raw materials", "artistic temperament", "exclusivity" and sell at innocent perfume lovers. No wonder so many of them have dropped off (or are about to drop off) the market. The consumer isn't a total idiot after all.

    Therefore only the artisanal lines are providing what I consider genuine luxury anymore: hands-on approach, care for materials, bypassing of mass appeal for personal quirkiness etc.

  19. Anon #2,

    cunning way to spam to your commercial site! Too cheap to pay for a proper, honest ad? Sorry it didn't work out. :-)

    Still you comment was not a spam robot but a human posing an interesting question I meant to address so I'm copying it below for readers to see and my reply underneath it.

    Anon comment:

    My reply:

    Honestly the survey companies need is offered them for free these days. What I mean (and this is particularly important for people who are vocal in any capacity): Bloggers, perfume boards and Facebook pages which at absolutely no charge (and primely Googleable) provide an excellent gauge into what the market will bear. When all MUA was agog with insanely priced bottles gloating on the hauls they made on X or Y brand (and Guerlain exclusives are among those!) the companies REALIZED for once and for all that there are people out there willing to pay whatever they well damn ask of them. These boards, as well as the blogs etc. are read by marketing execs and market analysts. DO NOT FOOL YOURSELVES it is not so. It is and I have proof for that. They also tapped into bloggers into making them their free advertising vehicles, just sending a sample along, so that they have stash to draw on to write, costing the company virtually nothing, but paying out in spades, because blogs and fora are considered objective and consumer-centered.

    This is why 150$ for a bottle is the new cheap! It didn't use to be that way.

    Much as the Internet has been instrumental into creating a changed market and new mores, it also backfired in some ways.

    Now, if we all vote with our wallets.... :-)

  20. Ooops, it seems the < < I put erased the anon comment. It was the following:

    "It seems like they're almost doing it on purpose. Do they have secret surveys they give out to determine what the most loved fragrance is? And do they then use the results to find out which perfumes to discontinue?"

  21. I must concur with Persolaise on two points. One, that L'Artisan is going through an identity crisis of "what do I want to be when I grow up", and the result is that it looks like it's flapping in the breeze like a limp flag. I suppose the term "jumped the shark" describes any house that turns to a TV Shopping Channel to sell a scent (it's television, not smell-o-vision).

    The other is that "niche" should be based more on quality AND limited production, which qualifies the Dior boutique collection with Mitzah and Ambre Nuit: decent scents, limited doors, high quality. Luxury/Designer line or no, sounds like niche to me.

    And Persolaise, take heart. I think you'll find few are people are bothered by the captcha anti-spam checks. I've found Akismet's works very well and removed almost all my SPAM.

  22. Miss Heliotrope,

    small companies need to survive too, unfortunately, so economic reality cannot be totally disregarded (otherwise they're discarded experiments, off the market in a flash). I understand that and I sympathize. But when the need to pose a certain way supervenes on the attention to the product itself, then something is skewed.

    As you say, it's hard to reconcile the two and it's a precarious balance few manage to play just right.

  23. Apologies, mean "Perfumeshrine" in the last paragraph. Oops!

  24. Gaia, hi there, happy New Year!

    It's disconcerting to see that all the more quirky L'Artisans are going the way of the dodo. Bois Farine is exceptional and unique and please note it's an Ellena (and his other scent La Haie Fleurie was also axed...). I also fear for Dzongha and Dzing!

    Your point is actually spot on. The financing behind these brands ends up playing a deciding role.
    I more or less feel better towards Goutal, because they do retain a duo at heart that worked with the original creator (Isabelle and Camille), and their brand was never about the odd or the mystic, so the transition was more seamless into the new reality. If that makes any sense.
    Diptyque however baffles me. Here was an esoteric brand, set up by 3 friends in the arts, who were inspired by trips to Greece (where one of them has a house), gathering herbs and stuff, and by historical personalities etc. and they're churning out SO MUCH stuff nowadays. I am really surprised that Eau Lente or L'Autre are kept in the line still! (not sure about L'Autre, I think it is, right?)

    As you wisely say, one can vote with their wallet, so why endorse skewed practices when we can encourage artisanal brands who actually listen??

  25. Flora,

    these days procastrinating on getting something one loves is equal to not getting it at all.
    Apparently it was not as popular as we thought it was. \(their best-seller still are Mure et Musc, Premier Figuier and a couple of others, basically anything that has its own bath range)

  26. Furriner,
    thanks for your observation.

    I won't cry over Vetiver Sacre, as I wasn't impressed. Some others though...shame! The old original Jour de Fete for instance was really something, for instance.

    It's odd that Eau de Jatamansi was axed so soon. I recall it was well received and its "all natural" tag rang nicely with modern sensibilities. I assume that the costs of making it were much higher than balanced by the sales. Possibly also a ratio of allergens by latest IFRA regulations coming into the equation as well.

  27. D,

    don't apologise for the length of the comment, it's perfectly fine and a worthwhile comment too.
    I agree with everything you say. The "luxe niche" within big conglomerates is especially confusing. I had said my piece years ago when Les Exclusifs by Chanel came out. I had called them "Les Pretencieux" and was almost stoned to death for that back at the time (you see, Turania had said we should clear all our bathroom shelves for them!) It was February 1st 2007!!!!!

    I hate to be the "I told you so" smartass, but unfortunately reality confirms my gut instinct time and again...It's a thankless job.

    L'Artisan used to be a small, quirky brand with a light, transparent aesthetic that was playful and individual. Ever since they signed BD I feel this changed and not because of BD's perspective/desire. It's just one thing I noticed.

  28. anon,

    that's good info, thank you!
    If you truly love sth it's worth backing up. Though I bet you're set already.

  29. Andrew,

    thanks indeed!

    I think your "jump the shark" pronouncement is right. I wasn't sure they were selling on QVC , as I don't have that here, it's all rumours when you don't have it confirmed but now it seems conclusive. Remember the fanfare of the Mon Numero launch, too? "super exclusive" etc. How times change.

  30. Qwendy,

    happy new year!! :-)

    Your experience rubs salt on the wound..thanks for sharing though, it's most illuminating! I hate when this corporate thing happens. And yes, all the Laporte-era scents are eliminated one by one. :-( Now that he's dead too...I fear for his MPG line as well, which was a class act.
    Laporte, Ellena, Flipo and Giacobetti defined the Old L'Artisan Aesthetic and consolidated in the vanguard of modernity as you so succinctly said yourself, and now it's gone, gone, gone...too, too bad. :-(

  31. Once a perfume been retired can it be revived by another house?

  32. Perfumeshrine,

    I guess the captioned link is enough proof:
    Mure et Musc on QVC

    As for the Mon Numero line, I recently had a good chuckle on my blog that it's difficult to take a fragrance seriously when it translates roughly as "My Number Two". I could just picture the conversation now beginning with, "Lord, that smells horrid! What is that?" :)

  33. "exquisite...the discerning purchaser who wants a gorgeous fragrance"


    NB I never doubted Persolaise's info. Just saying I hadn't seen it. But now I have. So thank you!!

    LOL on My Number Two!!!! Hahahahaha!!!

    (This is proof why if you want to see if something makes sense, translate it into another language! I do this with muzak Greek pop -going from English to Greek and vice versa- and the results are HILARIOUS!)

  34. Kingpharoh,

    you mean the name? The name can be when copyright expires.

    Or do you mean the formula? That isn't copyrighted (which is why they're so very secretive about them) and a gas chromatograph plus a mass spectomecter would be able to break it down and provide a cheat sheet for someone to dupe it (which is why the dupes have become so very numerous and so successful in the last 20 years; not that it didn't exist before, as apprentice perfumers are repeatedly asked to reproduce past creations by different brands)

    I guess if someone had set their minds to it, they could consult an artisanal perfumer and ask them to reproduce it. It can be done.

  35. Merlin20:29

    I finally found a store that stocked L'Artisan, in South Africa, a few years back. But they had discontinued the line and only had very few left. None were immediate loves, but, with some reservations I did buy a 50ml Vanilia - I like sweet orientals, the guide rated it highly, how wrong could I go. Pretty wrong. To me this scent is a bit like artificial sweetener; though as some reviews point out it also smells like banana pudding - to me like very frosted banana pudding. One reviewer said she liked to wear it with Avignon, however, and actually it is quite fascinating that way!

  36. Just to be clear: I didn't say that I think L'Artisan is going through an identity "crisi"; I merely used the word "change".

    A few curious decisions notwithstanding, I feel L'Artisan is one of the best brands around at the moment. Nearly all perfume houses - indeed, nearly all businesses - have to adapt and evolve in order to survive. In my opinion, L'Artisan is doing a much better job than most of keeping its head above water in a dangerously over-saturated market.

  37. Persolaise, I do stand corrected, thanks for the feedback. Though it might be simply a matter of semantics.

    Consider that their company in marketing in the TV Shopping Channel venue is none other than that world class perfumer herself...Snooki Polizzi. Definitely a 'change', it may not be much of a leap to say 'crisis' though.

    Could we safely say "sell out"? :)

  38. M,

    no matter how expertly one guides another through perfumes there's always an agent X which has to do with the wearer herself. at least your Vaniilia is highly swappable!

    Avignon + Vanilia, now that's a Hieronymous Boch painting all right! :-)

  39. D,

    don't worry, point taken! I know you don't want to appear accusatory (Don't think there will be lawsuits just yet, LOL, but I know what you mean)

  40. Andrew,

    well, let's agree to call it a "turnpoint". Especially in view of what Qwendy told us above.

  41. Aw, I didn't know that M Laporte was no longer with us, a true visionary, too bad! I suppose it is a final nail in his coffin to sell Mure et Musc on QVC, still their best seller and no doubt very inexpensive to produce. That way they can preserve their business creds and minimize the star standing of his creation. Here is a great story of his contributions to perfumery on Grain de Musc http://graindemusc.blogspot.fr/2011/11/niche-perfumery-loses-pioneer-jean.html?m=1

  42. brie11:22

    Indeed let us put our money toward the artisanal houses which produce high quality (not quantity) and are not as concerned about profits.

    For someone like me who does not have access to sampling many of the niche brands(without paying $4 to $10 per sample) having bottles in my local Sephora would be quite nice :) ! Yet I can see how this would take away from the niche status.

  43. Happy new year to you too! Xxx

  44. Wendy,

    he died a while ago. It was all very quiet when he did and only later did people mention it and notice what a big influence he was. It's good to be reminded of what an innovator he was on many levels.

    And thanks for the 2013 wishes! :-) Hope everything goes perfect for you in this new challenge of an earthy turn around the sun :-)

  45. Brie,

    see? there's a discrepancy and an irony there wrapped in one.
    The market and its exigencies are a complex matter. The love of perfume quite another.

  46. Anonymous19:21

    I wonder how do we define niche? Is it hard to get? or exquisite craftsmanship? high quality ingredients? An unusual take on a scent, or a scented memory?

    I used to think niche was a combination of all of the above. I work in petroleum distribution, and realize you can have the best product in the world but if the distribution channels fail you it's all pointless: it's no good having a great product of people cannot get that product. So maybe the QVC idea is not so bad. Maybe availability is a good thing. I mean QVC is kind of odd-but I would rather good fragrances be distributed by QVC than having to sit in a theater close to a person wearing a load of celebrity crap (Britney fragrance fans, I mean you).
    Ideally we would all have access to L'artisan' s stores, but we don't. So here is hoping that whoever is distributing the line is doing a good job, and that the quality of the fragrance is not compromised at all.
    That being said something must be going on with L'artisan, because I bought a lot of body oils and candles yesterday at my local Winners store. And I live in NS, so where did this stuff come from?
    Thank you, Helg, as always, for giving us food for thought.

  47. Carolync20:32

    Oh dear. I have partial bottles of tea for two and havana vanille. Sounds like I better get bottles of dzing and dzonga tout suite!

  48. You are so darned articulate, it's a pleasure to "know" you!

  49. Carole,

    good point. Perhaps if the trade off is more people wearing quality juice, then it's all for the better. You're right. It's just the suspicion that it might open the gates to "diluting" the brand that leaves me a bit apprehensive. But as long as they remain faithful to the quality standards they had...

    Niche is primarily defined by number of doors. This is the industry definition. Quality, artistic freedom, possibly better raw materials, unusual concepts etc .all derive from the quintessential requirement of limited production (and therefore limited distribution as a result). Otherwise there are the constraints of mass market.

  50. Carolync,

    only if you really love them :-)

    In any case, I have found that it's better to have more of what one enjoys, just in case, than not having it and then having to search high and low or pay overboard for it.
    A perfumista precaution. ;-)

  51. Wendy,

    *blush* The pleasure is all mine, I assure you! :-)


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