Alison Garwood Jones

The celebrity fragrance trend

Originally published in June 2007 in Cosmetics Magazine

The Coty Trends Report (special supplement to Cosmetics Magazine, Rogers Media)

Summer 2007

Five years ago you would have been hard-pressed to find a celebrity striking a deal with a fragrance house. “Celebrity fragrances were viewed as commercially non-viable,” says Catherine Walsh, Coty’s senior vice president of licensing for the Americas.

It’s no secret, the past is littered with star scents that tanked, and from big names that seemed destined to do brisk sales, like Sophia Loren. Then there were the juices of those not-so famous players — like music producer Herb Alpert or socialite and quiz show panelist Dina Merrill — that only made you wonder, WHAT was head office thinking? Elizabeth Taylor was the one success story. Sixteen years after its launch, White Diamonds remains the number one celebrity fragrance in the United States.

The playing field changed, however, in 2002 when, seemingly out of nowhere, Coty launched Jennifer Lopez’s Glow, a sheer floral that ended up dramatically altering the way the industry did business. “Today celebrity fragrances account for seven percent of the prestige market,” says Walsh. “And, as of 2006, they became a separate category.”

The category may be new, but how is the concept different this time around? Walsh explains: “It used to be that stars in the middle or at the end of their careers who knew they could no longer get a great movie or a record deal, would say, ‘Now is the time to do my fragrance.’ This is absolutely not the case anymore. Today celebs, like the Olsen twins, 21, are getting into the game at a very young age because they want to brand themselves, and fragrances are just one of the many licensing opportunities available to them.”

Walsh also thinks that society no longer has an us-and-them attitude towards its stars. “The public feels directly invested in this trend,” she says. “Look at American Idol. Here you have the entire country determining who is going to become the next best thing, with guest stars who have essentially already been ‘voted in’ to mentor them.”

This breakdown of barriers between the limelight and the street affects the way consumers shop. “There are so many diverse retail outlets where you can buy celebrity fragrances today,” says Walsh — from Holt Renfrew to Sears and Shoppers Drug Mart — “that the customer will cross shop and go wherever she has to to get what she wants.”

This kind of determination is great for sales, but retailers also know that the capricious consumer can, without warning, turn what’s hot today into yesterday’s news. “That’s why our development time for celebrity fragrances is so quick,” says Walsh, “six months as opposed to two years or more.”

So, what’s it like working with the stars? “Everyone is different,” says Walsh. “I first met Jennifer Lopez on her second honeymoon in 2001. She had just come out of the shower and the minute she walked into the room, she shook my hand, leaned in and said, ‘Smell me, this is what I want my fragrance to be like.’ She approached the project from a very olfactive point of view, and never looked back. Designer Marc Jacobs, on the other hand, took his time articulating his scent profile. “Marc leads with his eyes, not his nose,” says Walsh. “It took a whole series of questions to move him away from his obsession with graphics and how the campaign was going to look in layout.” But, then, one day he walked into a meeting bearing a sprig of jasmine and announced, “When I open the window to my garden in Paris, there’s this night blooming jasmine that I just love!’ After that our job was easy,” says Walsh

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