Q&A: Catch The Scent Of Recovery


For marketers, following your nose during recessions isn't easy. Sure, there are all kinds of action in the celebrity-scent business, with Beyonce Knowles and Coty just announcing a new fragrance set to go on sale this spring. But, overall, fragrance sales are smarting.

Women's and men's prestige fragrances both took a 10% nose dive in the first half of the year, reports NPD Group, a Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm; sales generated by new fragrance launches fell 17% in the half. On the other hand, there's plenty of evidence that women won't stop spritzing: Products just under the premium price point, priced between $75 and $99 registered a 2% increase.

To help us make sense of the scents, we asked Michael Edwards, fragrance guru and author of the exhaustive Fragrances of the World, to guide our nose to the news.



Q: Is there a scent that captures an economic mood?

A: Yes. After times of stress -- world wars, for example -- the mossy woods fragrances come to the fore. Women no longer feel like shy violets, and don't want to simply smell pretty or flirty. They want very assertive fragrances. Woody scents are not only assertive, they're strong.

Q: So will classics come back?

A: No. But what I am seeing is classics, reinvented. Take Lauder's Jasmine White Moss -- it's almost Miss Dior, reinvented. Think of Scarlett from Cacharel, it's like Anais Anais, reinterpreted.

Q: Why the upturn in some sectors?

A: Some women are saying, "I may not be going out to dinner as much, but I can smell good. And maybe, I can treat myself to a slightly more expensive perfume." It's that "spoil me" factor.

Q: What's changing about the way fragrances are marketed?

A: We're seeing the rise of premium niche brands, with price points usually in excess of $120 -- like Tom Ford Private Blend Collection, initially launched in 2007 with 12 fragrances. I was first asked to classify these niche fragrances back in 1998, for Nordstrom. They were tiny brands created with passion by perfumists, and usually cropped up in Pairs, first. Nobody took them seriously but the cognoscenti. The big companies were interested, but you could tell they really didn't think niche brands presented much of a challenge to the mainstream marketers. But they never reckoned on the power of the Internet!

The perfumistas are now calling the shots, fueled in large part by what the bloggers write. Niche brands now have about 5% to 8% of the users, but in some stores, perhaps at Barneys, it might be 30% of sales. So now the big companies have been joining the party -- Shisheido, Chanel, Hermes. Dolce & Gabbana is working with Procter & Gamble.

Q: So the perfumistas are the stars. Does that mean there may be a reality TV show with dueling perfumists soon?

A: Absolutely!

Q: When was the last big marketing revolution?

A: Charlie, launched in 1973, did more than persuade women to change brands -- it changed habits. For the first time, women started buying fragrance for themselves, not waiting for someone to give it as a gift. And she began to wear all the time, not just on special occasions. That is what persuaded all the multinationals to come a-gobbling--L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever, for example.

Q: Where will the next revolution be?

A: Women "re-entering" the fragrance world. In America, women work so hard. So when she has a first baby, that's a huge change in her life. She goes right back to work, she doesn't buy any fragrance for a few years. She's going to fewer social events. So when she goes shopping again, there may be a thousand new fragrances she's never heard of. And there's nobody to help her figure out what she likes, find her new signature -- the department stores have them all displayed all higgledy-piggledy. It's a tremendous problem, which means it's a tremendous opportunity.

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