By  on August 10, 2012

Buzz can kill. That is the fear creeping into the beauty market as the fall retail season gets underway. There is an uncomfortable contrast between fact and feeling. Business is thriving; retailers from Wal-Mart to QVC to Macy’s to Lord & Taylor to Bloomingdale’s to Saks Fifth Avenue exude much more than their usual confidence. On the eve of the launch of Lady Gaga’s highly provocative new fragrance, innovation is running rife—particularly in makeup and skin and nail care—and the sales trend in the U.S. prestige market is holding solid, although some retailers felt a softening in June. As John Demsey, a group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., points out, skin-care gains spiked at 23 percent in March and the industry is now basking in the best fragrance business in at least a decade.

But there is a chilling sense of uncertainty brought on by a sluggish economic recovery, foreboding news out of Europe and a sharply divisive Presidential election. “There is a lot of uncertainty and fear around the category,” says Karen Grant, vice president and global industry analyst at the NPD Group. “In each category, the big brands are supporting the category.” She speculates that the key factor in making fall a success is “convincing the consumer to come out and spend,” amid an abundance of innovation. The critical factor is getting the message across. “It’s the awareness,” Grant says. “Beauty has got to be the shining spot.”

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