The Evolution of Fine Fragrance

November 9, 2005

The extravagant 70s, the affluent 80s, the minimalistic 90's... what's the next wave in fine fragrances?

Though warnings of a dwindling economy abound, typically the personal care industry survives—and sometimes even thrives in—times of recession.

According to marketers and manufacturers, in a nationwide paring-down process of decreased spending in a variety of categories, fine fragrance is likely to stay relatively stable, due in large part to loyal consumers who consider scent a non-negotiable and affordable bit of luxury in an unstable economic climate.

Last year’s sales would seem to confirm this industry-wide opinion: prestige fragrance sales climbed out of what manufacturers feared was becoming a long-term slump with 6% sales growth for men to $960 million and a 7% increase for women last year, according to The NPD Group, Inc., a Port Washington, NY-based marketing information company, in its FragranceTrack report.

Mass fragrances have not been quite as successful at weathering the financial storm; sales of men’s shaving lotions, colognes and talcs fell 1.4% to $462 million in sales in food, drug and mass merchandising stores, while women’s perfume and cologne sales dropped a full 3% to $647 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2000, according to Information Resources, Inc., Chicago. However, gift packs remained a best-seller, with increases in both male and female categories in food, drug and mass merchandisers during the holiday season.

“What we’ve seen in this industry is that each time we’ve had a difficult economy, it was the cosmetic and fragrance industry that benefitted from it,” revealed Sue Hawkman, Liz Claiborne Cosmetics. “The consumer wants something new in her life, something to make her feel good about herself, and fragrance is that kind of a purchase.”

It is in just such times as these that consumers seek out relatively affordable avenues for expressing individuality, according to Lisa Hawkins, executive director of marketing, Aramis. “People don’t look on fragrance as a frivolous item,” she said. “Fragrance is one step in completing a personal style. It isn’t a luxury item; it’s a component of the wearer’s image.”

Fragrance can be a more feasible avenue for a little self-pampering than the high-profile expenditures of the 1980s and early 1990s, according to Ms. Hawkins: “Even if you can’t afford the Calvin Klein suit or the Ferrari, you can still indulge in your favorite fragrance.”

Targeted Solutions
Given the ever-evolving nature of the fragrance industry, it has always been a challenge for perfume houses and marketers to keep up with trends while managing to infuse enough of a unique bent to maintain consumer interest.

As always, flexibility and a knack for looking toward the future are key. “To explain the challenges to fragrances today, we have to look at the changes in the marketplace,” said Carole Nicolas, vice president, Jean Paul Gaultier. “The consumer is changing, the competition is tougher and the retail sector is evolving, especially with regard to private label stores and the internet.”

Liz Claiborne Cosmetics has weathered these changes with a combination of reasonably-priced, high-quality products and the individual attention shoppers receive in the store, according to Ms. Hawkman. “We are able to maintain consumer confidence by having our people there and accessible, discussing the shopper’s lifestyle, addressing questions and offering suggestions.”

Identifying and developing individual consumer segments is a primary concern, added Ms. Nicolas of Jean Paul Gaultier. “As far as future trends are concerned, clearly the main focus will be more and more on three categories: teens, men and wellness (aromatherapeutic products),” she commented. “You can decide to market and research these consumers today, or wait; either way, they will be your future customers.”

Indeed, those categories have been growing in recent years. The men’s category has steadily moved from a secondary to a significant focus in several areas of personal care in recent years, and men’s prestige fragrance sales increased 6% by mid-year 2000 as compared to the same time the previous year, according to The NPD Group, Inc. NPD added that half of all men who purchase fragrance now wear it every day, a 2% increase over the previous year’s findings. “Men are more sophisticated than before,” opined Ms. Nicolas. “They choose products for themselves and feel more comfortable going to a department store to make a purchase.”

Ms. Hawkins added that given the comparative lack of attention to men’s grooming products until fairly recently, the margin for growth is naturally wider. “Men’s fragrances have huge growth potential,” she observed. “For women, the fragrance category is already so large that it is difficult to sustain that kind of growth.”

She added that although at one time men generally chose a cologne primarily for special occasions, new formulas are designed with a subtlety that enables the wearer to use the product on a daily basis. “We challenged perfumers to create a fragrance that is subtle, yet enhancing, so the wearer feels both confident and comfortable.”

Aramis’ Tuscany, Gold and New West would all seem to fit this bill, but they enhance rather than replace the original Aramis fragrance, according to Ms. Hawkins. “Newer, daily-wear fragrances are purchased in addition to, not in place of, a man’s favorite ‘evening’ scent,” she said.

Last year’s sales results in the men’s fragrance category did indeed reflect a mix of traditional and newer scents. The men’s top seller in 2000 was Tommy, followed by Eternity for Men, Acqua Di Gio Pour Homme, Polo Sport and Obsession for Men. The youthful and newer Curve also made the Top 10 men’s fragrance list.

As predicted, the younger generation—consumers age 15-24—is parallel with the men’s category in fragrance advances and focus. Loosely termed Generation Y, this fast-growing consumer segment—along with Generation X—has been watched by savvy marketers for years, and a few have responded not only by creating unisex and/or upbeat scents but by strategically placing the products in lower-tier department stores and specialty shops.

“The trend in fragrance is definitely going back to a bit of elegance and femininity,” pointed out Ms. Hawkman, “but the category is still staying young. It is the young people, the Gen Xers, who are finding their own elegance, rather than having to wait until their 30s or 40s to achieve that feeling. What we’re seeing is a young sophistication—very trendy, very high fashion. This evolution in fragrance is almost faster than we can track.”

According to NPD, younger women have migrated toward fragrance and cosmetic specialty stores, accounting for last year’s boost in industry sales in those areas (39% in specialty stores and 38% in department store locations such as Sears and JC Penny). Most popular among the younger female set last year were Tommy Girl, Happy, Cool Water Woman, Victoria’s Secret Heavenly and Sunflowers.

Top contender Curve, catering to generations X and Y, was relaunched in February in the top 10-20 markets nationwide to catch the Valentine’s Day shopping surge. Marketer Liz Claiborne expects another successful response to the product, which was initially launched in 1996 as the industry’s first master brand which was offered to both young men and women. The product retails for $45 for the female fragrance and $35 for the men’s version.

“Curve represented Liz Claiborne Cosmetics’ first effort to target Gen-X and the young male consumer,” commented Neil Katz, president, Liz Claiborne, adding that the scent has remained in the top 10 and top 20 male and female categories, respectively, for the past five years.

Curve was the first of four master brand launches for Liz Claiborne, followed by Sport, Candie’s and Lucky You. The combined fragrances helped foster the company’s net sales growth from $75 million in 1995 to $175 million in 2000, according to Mr. Katz.

Added Ms. Hawkman, “Curve was really responsible for putting younger men’s fragrance on the map. The product is still growing, which in the fragrance world is a unique situation.”

The company plans on launching a new fragrance with both male and female versions this fall.

Tommy Girl, last year’s most popular women’s fragrance brand, also delivers a youthful attitude but may owe part of its success to its crossover into a number of age groups. The scent came in at No. 3 and No. 4 in the 25-34 and 35-49-year-old female segments respectively, according to NPD.

Clinique’s Happy spanned a broader segment as well, popular with women ages 15-34. NPD’s study revealed that younger women were most influenced by designer names and were more inclined to purchase a new fragrance, while women 35 and up tended to stay loyal to tried-and-true, classic scents.

A Bit of Luxury
Naturally, the women’s fragrance industry is experiencing its own share of new fragrance releases, but the focus is more on details, elegance and, surprisingly, a return to romance following the minimalist lines and unisex launches of recent years.

Though conjecture would lead one to believe that fragrances are following the popular retro-movement of the fashion industry with a “return to the 80s,” Ms. Hawkins of Aramis disagrees. “What we’re seeing isn’t a reverse movement; it’s actually an evolution,” she clarified. “As consumers become more and more savvy, educated and sophisticated, they are demanding more product benefits and higher-quality ingredients. The evolution is in paying more attention to the details.”

Versace Profumi, Milan, has embraced this movement with Versace Woman, launched in March at department stores nationwide. The fragrance represents “a perfect balance between sleek, simple lines and sheer bliss,” according to the company.

“Versace Woman will attract a wearer who is confident and sophisticated, and who is interested in fashion,” confirmed Katherine Holmes, a representative for Versace Profumi.

The bottle is a transparent silhouette, imitating the lines of a woman’s body, while the outer packaging is a silvery fabric-like box with tone-on-tone details and embossed patterns. “The amethyst crystals on the bottle and the purple base reflect the beauty of the purple-hued ingredients,” Ms. Holmes pointed out. The scent blends a number of exotic notes including frangipani, jasmine, eglantine, Padparadscha lotus and blue cedar of Lebanon. Versace Woman will be available in Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Versace boutique stores nationwide this spring and will retail for $58 for a 1.7-oz. bottle and $72 for 3.4-oz.

Another new scent whose packaging is designed to evoke elegance is Boucheron’s Initial, a pure Oriental scent composed of blackcurrant, lily of the valley, tangerine, rose, jasmine, patchouli, pepper, cinnamon, everlasting flower, almond honey, amber and vanilla. The scent is housed in a teardrop shaped bottle inspired by the image of a pearl necklace. The Paris-based fragrance house is known for its distinctive, gem-inspired designs and focuses on a harmony between fine jewelry and fine fragrance to obtain an elegant end-look, according to a company spokesperson.

Pink, the first fragrance in Victoria’s Secret stores not tied to a lingerie collection, debuted in March. The fragrance is part of the company’s plan to build a fragrance platform, but is not a part of the Dream Angels collection, said Robin Burns, president and chief executive officer, Intimate Beauty Corp. The fragrance is “sexy and sophisticated, ultrafeminine and playful,” said Ms. Burns, “but it is distinctive from Angels.” The scent, created by Firmenich’s master perfumer Annie Buzantian, contains top notes of artemesia, bergamot, leafy greens, mandarin, violet leaves and juniper berry; middle accords of lily of the valley, freesia, peony and neroli flower and dry-down of musk, vetiver, sandalwood and sheer vanilla. With the exception of the Luxe version, the bottles are tall and slender, giving the scent an elegance and subtlety, Ms. Burns stated.

Estée Lauder will launch Intuition in the U.S. this month; the fragrance was successfully introduced overseas last fall. Intuition will initially be sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue but will undergo a full department store distribution starting in June. The new fragrance will also be available at Lauder’s website, marking the first time the company has used the internet to launch a new fragrance, according to company executives.

The new scent was described by Karyn Khoury, senior vice president of corporate fragrance development worldwide, as a “lighter, more fluid and modern Oriental” with what she described as three olfactive movements: warm amber, skin-like sensuality and textured floralcy. The line will consist of a 1.7-oz. bottle retailing for $45, a 3.4-oz. bottle retailing for $65 and a 6.7-oz. body lotion, for $38.50.

Estée Lauder’s Aveda brand will also have a new launch for spring: Desert Pure-Fumes. Although the Aveda brand primarily comprises hair products, Estée Lauder will invest several million dollars in the project, making Desert Pure-Fumes Aveda’s largest-ever fragrance launch, according to company executives. The line’s three scents—Dune Primrose, Sand Verbena and Joshua Tree—contain only natural oils and aromas and will retail for $20-46, depending upon size.

As a portion of Aveda’s Earth Month, the company will also offer special edition Desert Pure-Fume aroma cards and vials, boxed note cards and T-shirts throughout April. Proceeds from the sales of these specialty items will be donated to non-profit environmental groups around the country, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and New York/New Jersey Baykeeper.

Breaking With Tradition
Fragrance houses which have long held the lead in prestige scents are expanding on successful lines to accommodate consumers’ changing ideals. Though refusing to break with tradition entirely, these classic perfumers have a sharp eye out for the ever-changing fragrance landscape and are revealing a host of spinoffs—with new accords, luxury packaging and updated ads—to generate new interest in old favorites.

Yves Saint Laurent has created a sexy new advertising campaign with Paris d’Yves Saint Laurent. The campaign, which debuted in publications globally last month, features newly-discovered Russian model Anna Eirikh and two male models. The rose-based scent represents a repositioning of the legendary fragrance for a new era and a new audience, company executives said. Allure Travel, due to hit department store shelves in May, was designed specifically by Chanel as a travel-ready bit of luxury. Allure is available in his- and-her versions: Homme travel spray for men and Allure To Go for women. Allure Homme travel spray features four top notes: fresh and green, sensual and warm, woody and masculine and spicy and peppery. The 50ml, non refillable spray is presented in a champagne-colored metal casing and is shaped to fit comfortably in a man’s hand. Allure To Go balances fresh/citrus, fruity, floral, woody and oriental notes; the 15ml bottle features a classically simple polished silver top. The set comes with two refills which snap in with one click.

Jean Paul Gaultier’s Classique—with its trademark woman’s-body-in-a corset bottle—was joined by Fragile, an ultra-feminine scent with top notes of sweet orange and raspberry leaves, in 2000. In the coming months Gaultier will once again update its Summer fragrance and market it in packaging inspired by floral print scarves, according to the company. “The fragrance conveys freshness, lightness and transparency,” revealed Kory Marchisotto, marketing manager, Jean Paul Gaultier. “It is different, yet faithful to the spirit of the original Jean Paul Gaultier scent that inspired it.”

Le Male, Gaultier’s fragrance originally launched as part of its men’s line in 1995, is also adopting a new look and formula for summer: Stimulating body spray, a turquoise-colored fragrant water with a 3% fragrance concentration that delivers both sensory satisfaction and lightness of application, according to the company.

The bottle sports a frosted blue-glass male-torso shape, along with a tatoo, echoing the tatooed left arm of the sailor featured in Le Male’s advertising visual. A bouquet of lavender and mint makes for a refreshing, “summertime” formula, according to company executives. Le Male Stimulating body spray will be available at select department stores in mid-May and will retail for $38.

Another newcomer this summer will be a dual-spinoff of the original L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake: Soleil d’Issey and Lune d’Issey. “Soleil d’Issey is fresh and radiant, while Lune d’Issey is mysterious and feminine,” explained Elizabeth Maul, the company’s marketing manager.

Ms. Maul added that two more Issey fragrances will hit select stores shortly—Le Feu d’Issey Light, a “luminous, fresh and lively scent with sensual undertones of gaiac wood and milky amber,” and L’Eau D’Issey Pour Homme, an exclusive men’s version of the legendary scent. Pour Homme will retail for $38.

If intricacy and individuality are the new waves in prestige fragrances, Notes from Michael—the newest addition to the Michael Kors line—more than delivers. The set consists of three fragrances which can be used alone or in tandem to deliver a scent customized to the user’s tastes.

Parfumes Givenchy, Inc., the brand’s licensee, pointed out that each scent is a fully formulated eau de toilette rather than a single-note fragrance: Hounds-tooth contains freesia, Japanese pearl blossom and ylang ylang accords; Gun-Check includes notes of tuberose, white musk and water lotus and Tattersall contains accords of leather, cedarwood, amber and bourbon.

Givenchy will launch 10,000 to 20,000 sets of Notes by Michael in August at $125 a set, company executives said. Although the line will not re-launch until fall 2002, enthusiasts can re-order individual fragrances or full sets using a toll-free number. The set will include instructions on using the fragrances together for a personalized “signature” scent.

British perfumer and skin care expert Jo Malone also provides a personalized fragrance experience, but with a new technology: her new Manhattan store includes a scent booth that allows the customer to sample each of 11 scents alone or in any combination of two, for a total of 121 possible scent impressions, Ms. Malone said.

The scent booth provides a pure environment and the scents clear out completely between each trial, according to company executives.

At the scent booth, the customer is asked to select from spicy, heavy floral, light floral or citrus categories utilizing a touch-screen. The client is then treated to an accompanying themed video as the fragrance is subtly released, along with pure air, through a special nozzle. After making a selection, the customer can proceed to a demonstration table to sample the actual fragrance.

Ms. Malone’s line includes scented candles and fine potpourri in addition to her body fragrance collection. The body fragrance combined with the store’s other scented products comprise what Ms. Malone has termed “lifestyle scenting.” The Manhattan location, which opened in March, is the first Jo Malone location to be opened in the U.S.

With choices for both sexes, all age groups and a treasure trove of individual styles, the fragrance industry can expect to maintain its popularity—and sales success—notwithstanding economic factors. It’s that irresistible pull of affordable luxury coupled with an eye on trends that keeps shoppers coming back for more, a formula that has proven itself time and again and which will, experts say, keep fragrance at the top of the consumer’s shopping list.

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