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Rethinking Fragrance: Part II

By: Ruth Sutcliffe
Posted: August 11, 2014, from the September 2014 issue of GCI Magazine.

Editor’s note: This article is the conclusion of an article that ran in the July/August 2014 issue of GCI magazine.

Michael Edwards, author of “Fragrances of the World” reference books, recorded only 85 fine fragrance introductions in 1989. In the 1990s, however, the industry experienced a large growth in women’s fragrance introductions, mostly concentrated within the fruity floral family. (Edwards’ classifications of scents have evolved over the years, and currently include floral, soft floral, floral oriental, soft oriental, oriental, woody oriental, woods, mossy woods, dry woods, aromatic fougère, citrus, water, green and fruity.) Meanwhile, fresh fougères were the go-to for men. Classics such as Beautiful, Happy, Eternity and Romance for women and Eternity and Cool Water for men were introduced, and have maintained healthy shares for years. Why? They are expertly formulated, high-quality fragrances that connected emotionally to consumers and have maintained that connection over time.

From a historical perspective, there will always be certain fragrances that disrupt the current landscape. For the 1990s, the disruptive fragrances were CK One, Angel and Cashmere Mist for women, and Aqua di Gio and Le Male for men. All of these fragrances are still bestsellers today. Once the 2000s came about, new launches kept the momentum for growth. Fruity florals were still the dominant category for women, even though we saw a few notable newcomers in the floral oriental and chypre categories, with disruptors including Narcisso Rodriguez and Coco Mademoiselle. The same momentum continued for fresh fougères for men, with some growth in the woody category, including disruptors such as Dior Pour Homme, Terre d’Hermès and Armani Code.

There is always a need for disruptors to shake things up and bring uniqueness, signature and relevance to the marketplace, while inspiring others to follow, thereby expanding the olfactive range for consumers who were most likely very ready for something new. According to Edwards’ documentation of fragrance launches, it appears that even in the midst of the global recession there were 1,313 launches in 2010.

Fragrance and Brand DNA

Just as each of us has our own uniqueness and identity, fragrance brands do as well. I have had fragrance development experience in what I believe to be almost all end-uses in the marketplace, from the most sophisticated fine fragrance brands that contain numerous raw materials to the most simplistic formulas that are incorporated into highly technical and challenging bases for toilet bowl cleaners and other functional care products, including air fresheners.

Through my experience, fine fragrance development and evaluation can be a much more tedious process than that of developing a scent for household products, especially considering that licenses are often involved. More layers of involvement equals increased sensitivities and complexities. I often smell as many as 50 formulations a day, and quite often there could be one fragrance theme with several modifications off that theme. We in the fine fragrance category smell on multiple skin types and off of blotters to judge diffusivity, longevity, overall strength and balance, compared to temperature- and humidity-controlled air freshener booths, or specifically regulated guidelines for the various stages of the laundry process. The DNA of the celebrity or fashion brands is already established before the development process, but the concepts and the “stories” being told have to be communicated by the structure and the “feel” of the fragrance.

Even though it appears that celebrity fragrances are quite new to the industry, they are not. In the 1980s, Catherine Deneuve, Cher and Sofia Loren had their own perfumes, and, in 1991, Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds was launched, becoming the top-seller in mass market fragrances for more than a decade. Celebrities have their own specific consumer targets. All have diverse olfactive and cultural differences, but there is only one Jennifer Lopez, one Beyoncé and one Britney Spears. The task for the perfumers and developers is to know and understand the celebrities’ consumers and create fragrances that appeal to them.

I have worked with quite a few celebrities who have launched fragrances—Celine Dion, Beyoncé, Halle Berry and Katy Perry, to name a few. When I meet with a celebrity for the first time, my task is to get to know them as a human being, not as the celebrity that I read about online or in publications. I always start by taking my client through exercises from which I discover and analyze their olfactive likes and dislikes. It is of utmost importance that I build trust and a good working relationship with the celebrities, because my overall goal is to be able to walk away from that meeting able to communicate to perfumers an olfactive direction that will be in harmony with marketing’s concept; the target consumers’ tastes from one market to another across the globe; and, in the end, be a fragrance that my client will approve to go forward for launch.

Many of the celebrity fragrances have to exude sexiness, but the overall “feel” and sexiness can vary from one celebrity to the next. For example, fragrances created for Halle Berry and Beyoncé must always be unmistakably sexy in their overall personality, but the sexiness is communicated in very different ways. On the other hand, a Celine Dion fragrance has to communicate romance and elegance because that is what she conveys to her audience through her musical talent. Furthermore, her target market is more mature than a Beyoncé consumer, so all these details go into consideration when designing fragrances. And all of that has to be achieved within the development process before it goes to consumer research.

The same thought process is used for developing fragrances for fashion and lifestyle brands, as each brand has its own identity, and it is my responsibility to communicate the “feel” of that brand via scent. For example, the Guess brand is about a sexy, young and adventurous lifestyle. Jeans are its heritage, so fragrances have to communicate young, hip, sexy and cool. The Nautica brand is all about clothes that are classic, easy to wear and for that everyday kind of guy. Its fragrances are clean, fresh, easy to wear and must always have an olfactive connection within the fragrance to water.