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Get personal with the nicest niche brands

Bespoke beauty brands are in the spotlight, as more people expect individuality from their products. Indu Saksena Bedi looks at what it takes to go from nice to niche

  • By Indu Saksena, Friday magazine
  • Published: 00:00 February 10, 2012
  • Friday

  • Image Credit: Getty Images
  • Some niche labels often use exotic, unusual ingredients to deliver effective results, which makes their brand stand out from the rest.

For years, we had to scout traditional perfumeries and secret boutiques around the world for that exclusive beauty find. Until now, ‘hard-to-get' was a desired attribute when we whispered about the luxurious niche cosmetic brands. But as consumers become more discerning, and with a growing demand for ‘something different', niche brands have started to become available closer to home.

In fact, thanks to more people seeking undiscovered, individual labels, niche brands are managing to sustain themselves in an industry where even luxury products are dominated by corporate bigwigs. These lesser-known brands are often helped by celebs publicly proclaiming their preference for them, because of the personal touch.

Small and privately owned - often family run - the common vision niche brands share is to evoke the image of a one-of-a-kind product. With their USPs ranging from fine-quality ingredients and tales of tradition to innovative packaging and environment-friendly practices, niche brands usually cater to a small, yet extremely loyal, clientele.

Niche brands consciously keep their labels exclusive with limited stocks. And the main reason for this is that raw materials are too difficult or unviable to source for mass production. But this translates into a huge benefit for the customer, namely, better quality control. "As a niche brand, our production runs are much smaller than those of commercial luxury fragrances and that's why we can afford to select and then work with the finest raw materials," says Enzo Galardi, the owner of Bois 1920, who inherited this niche perfumery from his grandfather.

Standing out from the crowd

Some niche labels often use exotic, unusual ingredients to deliver effective results, which makes their brand stand out from the rest. Take luxe hair brand Miriam Quevado, whose creator Miriam decided to include caviar and real gold in her products. While caviar and gold have been popular as skincare ingredients for some time, it was only Miriam who has successfully used them in haircare. Her luxurious formulae have paid off and her products are now coveted all over the world. Similarly, cult haircare brand Philip B uses potent, sometimes unheard-of-in-the-industry concentrations of botanical ingredients and essential oils in his products. But the ingredients are worth the cost as the label now boasts a reputation for being one of the best in hair repair.

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Niche perfume brand Clive Christian is keeping its focus on the signature, highly concentrated eau de parfum, rather than diversifying into lighter eau de toilette versions, or bath and body products. "For many people, perfume buying has come to mean quickly picking five fragrances at the duty-free shop, so it's important that traditional scents like ours help revive the idea that perfumes are a luxury indulgence," says Victoria Christian, daughter of the British designer and perfumer.

Many of these non-mainstream brands passionately focus on laborious human touches or eco-friendly practices in their production and packaging processes. Bois 1920 uses local artisans in Empoli, Florence, to hand-finish its perfume bottles.

Snowberry also stands out from the crowd, thanks to its innovative packaging. This New Zealand-based natural skincare brand, which uses sustainably harvested ingredients - cultivating several of these in its own gardens - and eco-friendly packaging materials, found inspiration in art. Soraya Hendesi, the founder, came up with the idea of using the whimsical artwork of London artist Rob Ryan on the packaging to bring her brand's eco-friendly ideals to life.

Many niche brands also have a story or a legacy behind their creation. In the case of luxury fragrance brand Humiecki and Graef, designers Sebastian Fischenich and Tobias Mueksch each had a profound formative relationship with their grandmother, Helena Humiecka z Humiecina and Katharina Graef. And they pay homage to these two remarkable women with the rare and evocative fragrances in the Humiecka and Graef portfolio.

"The prime driver for these brands is the individualism they bring to their customers who don't want to look and smell like everybody else they meet," says Michael Jackson, the Managing Director of Dubai-based niche cosmetics distributor Mitonia Cosmetics. "Most commercial beauty brands - even the high-end ones - are available in so many multiple retail locations at any given point of time that they no longer mean real luxury. But niche labels with their smaller retail networks are the answer for those looking for exclusivity and that's why you see a loyal clientele for them."

Celebrity influence

Dubai-based Makeup Etc. is one such niche haven. "When we are looking for brands to stock, we look for the smaller, hard-to-find labels where the creators are personally involved with everything related to the product," says Maha Abuseedo, the boutique's Marketing Manager.

Alison Raffaele and Julie Hewett are just two of the top-selling brands at Makeup Etc and both are niche labels created by make-up artists with a celebrity following. Julie Hewett is the baby of a LA-based film make-up artist who's worked with A-listers Kate Beckinsale, Jennifer Garner and Nicole Kidman, while Alison Raffaele worked with Hollywood stars including Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kristen Davis to then go on to create her own line. Being movie make-up artists means they often create products based on celebrity feedback.

So, if you like all things unique, don't mind paying a bit more for quality, and love products that tell a story, then go on a journey of discovery with some of these niche brands - your beauty cupboard will never look the same!

Here's where you can join the beauty bespoke ‘in' crowd:

1. Philip B hair care - Beyond Beauty at Harvey Nichols (Mall of the Emirates)
2. Snowberry skincare - Beyond Beauty at Harvey Nichols (Mall of the Emirates)
3. Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier fragrances - Harvey Nichols, Areej (Mall of the Emirates)
4. Miriam Quevado hair care - Saks Fifth Avenue (BurJuman)
5. Julie Hewett cosmetics - Makeup Etc (Palm Strip Mall, Jumeirah)
6. Bois 1920 fragrances - Bloomingdale's, Saks Fifth Avenue, Beyond Beauty
7. Alison Raffaele cosmetics - Makeup Etc. (Pam Strip Mall, Jumeirah)

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