It’s Show Time

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | November 4, 2013

The fine fragrance category hits its stride in just in time for the holiday selling season.

Bolstered by launches from a preppy designer, a beauty industry stalwart and a Brit boy band, the fine fragrance category appears to be hitting its stride at just the right time. The ever-critical Holiday selling season kicks off this month on Black Friday (or a bit sooner for some retailers), and what often follows is much-needed shot in the arm for sales of perfumes and colognes.

According to NPD Group data released in August, US prestige fragrance performance in the first half of 2013 was up 4%—but it was showing less energy overall than the same period a year ago, when sales increased 8%. From January 2013 through August 2013, sales of prestige fragrances at US department stores totaled nearly $1.45 billion, with women’s scents up 2.5% and men’s ahead 4.8%.

“Fragrance is positive, but it’s not dynamic right now,” Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst at The NPD Group, explained to Happi in October. “But, it is turning a corner, ramping up, and getting wind behind it.” 

Grant expects the prominent launches that hit counters during the summer months, and others making their way to the market this season, to help propel sales as the year comes to a close.

“There’s a strong lineup of brands that are coming in and there’s strong performance from classic brands that are pillars in the industry,” she said.

Newsworthy Notes
One of those is Estée Lauder, which has rolled out Modern Muse, the beauty giant’s first new major scent launch in nearly a decade. This floral woody fragrance features “dual-impression” structure, which according to Karen Khoury, SVP, corporate fragrance development worldwide at The Estée Lauder Companies, allows women to connect with Modern Muse in their own way—whether with its floral elements or its woody nature.

The scent is housed in a tall glass bottle and secondary packaging that features blush pink, to represent the soft feminine side of today’s modern woman, and deep navy, which is Lauder’s trademark color. The flacon also sports a navy patent bow inspired by the bow on Youth Dew, Lauder’s debut scent that hit counters some 60 years ago. To support the launch of Modern Muse ($98 for 3.4oz EDP), Lauder has created print, TV and digital ads featuring Arizona Muse in her debut as a brand spokesmodel.

Lauder—via its Aramis & Designer Fragrances Unit—also has its hands in another big launch this year: fashion designer Tory Burch’s first fragrance. Featuring notes of vetiver, grapefruit, mandarin, bergamot, neroli, cassis, saturated pink peony, tuberose, jasmine sambac, sweet alyssum, warm cedar and sandalwood, Tory Burch eau de parfum (3.4oz EDP/$110), made its debut exclusively at Bloomingdale’s and Burch’s boutiques in September.

Burch, who enjoys a devoted following of women, described the blend as similar to her clothes and accessories, specifically “a balance of femininity and tomboy, citrus and floral, grounded and graceful.” The packaging offers a nod to the classic perfume flacon, but it also features Burch’s signature design elements, like fretwork as seen in the brass details in her Madison Avenue flagship shop and her medallion logo that adorns everything from wristlets to flip flops.

While there’s a heavy designer presence in the category these days, showcased by Burch’s and other boldface brands like Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Michael Kors and Chanel, the music industry’s influence on fine fragrance remains strong. New rollouts are coming from women—and young men—who lead the Billboard charts and are no strangers to the fragrance scene.

Musical Mix
Katy Perry, for example, is pitching Killer Queen, which was created by Laurent Le Guernec of IFF. The juice—housed in a 3.4oz bottle ($59) that is inspired by a queen’s scepter—features top notes of wild berry, bark plum and bergamot; the middle notes include red velvet flower, natural jasmine sambac and rainbow plumeria; the base features cashmeran, natural patchouli and heart liquid praline. Meanwhile Rihanna’s newest scent is Rogue by Rihanna, which features lemon blossom, cyclamen, jasmine, rose, plum and suede over a base of musk, woods, patchouli, vanilla and amber.

Fellow performer Justin Bieber is now touting The Key, a fruity floral musk that hit stores in July. It is Bieber’s third go-around in the category, following Girlfriend and his blockbuster debut, Someday, which racked up much media attention and sales too.

Yet eyes are now on another musical act that’s big with tween girls—One Direction, a popular Brit boy band that has made a foray into fragrance with Our Moment. Having recently hit Macy’s stores in the US after debuting in the UK this past summer, the EDP is billed as a sparkling, juicy and feminine fragrance featuring fresh fruit and seasonal flowers infused with undertones of warm musk. Notes include pink grapefruit, wild berries, redcurrants, jasmine petals, frangipani, musk and patchouli.

“We know how eagerly One Direction fans have waited for the ‘Our Moment’ fragrance to launch here in the United States, and are excited to offer the collection nationwide and on macys.com,” said Martine Reardon, Macy’s chief marketing officer, in a press statement when the scent hit Macy’s counters.

Our Moment isn’t the only British fragrance invasion; Illuminum’s White Gardenia Petals, a.k.a. the fragrance worn by Kate Middleton on her wedding day back in 2011, has come across the pond too. This high-end scent is now sold at Henri Bendel in New York City and can be purchased stateside via Bendel’s website.

While scents from Hollywood A-listers and the like often benefit from an established fan base, there’s more to the equation, say industry insiders.

“There is no doubt that a celebrity fragrance launch is significantly helped by a large fan base, and the more dedicated they are to the celebrity the better, but if the product is bad quality, or not appropriate for the audience it is targeting, for example, too musky or too floral, it will not survive long past the initial launch. There must be a feature to the product that makes it stand up on its own, beyond the cult of the celebrity,” said Nicole Desir, vice president of brand management at licensing agency Beanstalk.

According to Desir, Bieber and One Direction have opened up the fragrance market to a much younger consumer.

“They have given them a product that they can aspire to go out and buy themselves rather than being first introduced to fragrance by a boyfriend, parent or relative, which is what we would have expected before these young celebrity products were available.”
But she offered a caveat.

“If we want the fragrance category to continue to grow,” she said, “it is important that we don’t squander the opportunity presented by the young consumer. We need to make sure that the industry gets behind the right celebrities, helps them to develop a great, high-quality product and guides that product through a sustainable launch and marketing program to ensure the young consumer values the fragrance experience and stays on board.

That’s because no company—whether fragrance house or record label—wants a one-hit wonder.

Desir pointed to Elizabeth Taylor, Mariah Carey, Halle Berry, Britney Spears, Beyonce and Sarah Jessica Parker as success stories with “steady presence, who you see advertised, and who command the most shelf space in the stores.”

She contends these fragrances have “stood the test of time and are now less about the celebrity promoting them and more about a very high quality product, well distributed and marketed.”

Coty continues to expand Berry’s presence; and this season its via Halle Berry Exotic Jasmine eau de parfum (0.5oz). Top notes of violet leaf, neroli and cyclamen lead to a heart of blossoming jasmine sambac, plumeria blossom and fluid hedione, with a dry down of white cedar, soft vetiver and skin musk.

The scent, which was developed by Symrise’s David Apel, is housed in a bottle embossed with a jasmine floral pattern, featuring the “HB” monogram on the top. 

While scents from Berry and others have proved popular at mass, overall it remains a category on the slide. According to IRI, sales of women’s fragrances at mass (supermarkets, drugstores, mass market retailers, military commissaries and select club and dollar retail chains) fell 4.11% to $504.8 million for the 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, 2013 (See chart on p. 66).

Niches Are Nice
Meanwhile, the top end of the segment is faring well, with high-end niche and limited availability scents have been racking up double-digit growth, according to industry trackers.

Luxury perfume maker Bond No. 9 has two scents out this Fall—Perfumista Avenue and The Scent of Peace for Him.

Perfumista Avenue (100ml/$340) is described as an “orientalist, leather-tinged blend” that modernizes fresh, ultra-feminine rose (New York State’s official flower). The bottle is a vivid magenta with a shimmering metallic cast that’s laser-etched with a pattern of the Bond No. 9 signature token. It hit counters in mid-September at Bond No. 9’s five New York stores, Saks Fifth Avenue, select
Nordstrom stores and Harrods.

Out this month is Scent of Peace for Him (100ml/$250), a male counterpart to a scent that has been on Bond No.9’s bestseller list for several years. Scent of Peace for Him is composed of both contemporary and traditional fragrance notes—bergamot, pineapple and juniper berry at the top, blackcurrant, cedarwood and vetiver at the heart and patchouli, amber and musk at the base. What spin has the firm put on its classic star-shaped bottle? This time it is a deep royal blue adorned with a black leather bow tie.
Nest is touting a new fine fragrance range at Sephora. Based on the original Nest Fine Fragrances Collection that debuted in the fall of 2012, five scents are now offered at 160 Sephora stores across the US and on Sephora.com.

The Nest Fine Fragrance collection features three existing fragrances—Amazon Lily, Midnight Fleur and Passiflora—and two new Sephora-exclusives—Dahlia & Vines and White Sandalwood.

The first of the Sephora exclusives is an opulent combination of floral notes—think peony, dahlia, rose and daffodil wrapped in green garden vines and blended with hints of pink pepper, lychee and raspberry—while the latter features sandalwood from India and Australia combined with creamy almond, white musk and exotic spices. Each is available in a specially designed 1.7oz eau de parfum spray flacon ($65) or as a roller ball ($25). There is also a five-bottle coffret set ($38).

More to Come
More fragrances are heading to the launch pad for 2014. Avon is rolling out Instinct for men and women this season in Europe, and will bring the duo to the US and other regions in 2014. The campaign will be fronted by actress Megan Fox.

There’s been some recent activity in retail and promotion that seems to bode well for the category’s future. Leading department stores have revamped their fragrance areas to create a more open, upscale feel.

According to The New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue installed open-plan counters to entice customers to spritz on scents themselves, while Macy’s Herald Square has added new LED lighting and marble floors in addition to bringing in new luxury brands like Jo Malone that offer a variety of fragrances, from citrus to floral.

“Floors are becoming more compelling environments for beauty,” Grant told Happi, having herself recently visited leading stores to see the changes up close.

In addition, a new fragrance sampling effort is coming to consumers where they live. Hearst reports that 400,000 subscribers of its Elle, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire and Seventeen magazines will receive sample vials of Marc Jacobs Daisy and Daisy Eau So Fresh fragrances—not just scent strips—polybagged with their November issues.

Actual juice delivered to consumers’ front doors? Could it be a sign that fine fragrance is getting some much-needed attention in a category that’s been all about skin care and color cosmetics?

Said NPD’s Grant, “More manufacturers are investing in the category and looking at fragrance as part and parcel of the beauty industry.”