NEW YORK -- Light isn't just for beer, cigarettes and cuisine anymore.
In a bid for price-conscious and younger consumers, as well as women who may shun heavy or highly concentrated scents, fragrance firms have been introducing lighter products that defy the industry's traditional categories.
Quite often, the new items carry unusually low price points for the department store market and are sold in less-concentrated forms.
In many cases, only eau de toilettes and body sprays are made available, defying the inveterate tradition of offering a perfume strength as the top-dollar item.
The fragrances themselves are blends of fresh, fruity or lighter floral notes.
If it works, these offerings could lure new customers to department store counters and women who avoid classic floral or oriental fragrances or have habitually taken advantage of the lower prices in the mass market.
The new, more accessible items could also serve to maintain a customer base that has been diluted by the lingering recession.
"There's more price sensitivity than ever before," said Allen Burke, divisional merchandise manager for Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's. "Customers are buying the smaller sizes rather than the larger sizes."
Lower-priced lines have also been outpacing the higher-priced ones at Seattle-based The Bon MarchÄ, according to Diane Gates, divisional merchandise manager.
She cited as evidence the success of Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers, launched last year and perhaps the progenitor of the light trend.
"Sunflowers is going after a younger consumer who can't afford a Calvin Klein," noted Gates, adding that Klein's upcoming launch, CK One, will also carry more accessible price points.
"I think CK One is going to be exciting," said Gates. "It's in that lower-price-point category like Sunflowers."
She said she hoped that CK One, which features a fresh, light scent, will help attract "the customer who has not shopped in the fragrance area."
Chris Evans, divisional merchandise manager at McRae's, based in Jackson, Miss., agreed. "Price point has definitely made a difference for Sunflowers," he said, pointing to its price of $25 for a 1.7-oz spray, as opposed to other fragrances, which average $35 to $45 for the same size."Price point is going to be a factor in CK One's success as well," he added. "It's definitely going to work. Everything Calvin does is successful. We are aggressively going after it."
Sunflowers was intended as a push for a younger consumer, according to Arden, which launched it last year with the intention of bringing fresh faces over to the counter.
The company describes the scent as light in spirit, but not in the actual fragrance, which it characterizes as bright and fresh.
Like many of the new light products, Sunflowers is only available in an eau de toilette strength.
"Since we were looking for a younger audience we kept it to the e.d.t.," said John Turcotte, vice president and general manager of Spa. "Younger women are usually not perfume users. They gravitate toward e.d.t.'s and bath products."
Turcotte noted that Sunflowers is priced about 25 percent below Arden's Red Door, which is $32.50 for a 1.7-oz. size.
He also said that while Sunflowers is a young and fresh fragrance, women of all ages are using it as a daytime scent. Red Door, on the other hand, is describes as more of a sophisticated, evening scent.
Calvin Klein's CK One, set for an October launch, is expected to attract younger and more value-conscious consumers who may have not been able to afford the designer's products in the past.
The item's prices are lower than Obsession, Eternity and Escape, Klein's previous introductions, and the line will initially consist of only two fragrance sizes: a 3.4-oz. eau de toilette for $35 and a 6.7-oz. version for $50.
"Everybody's looking for a bargain these days," said Kim Delsing, president of Calvin Klein Cosmetics. "But what people are looking for is value. This is true with any expensive item, not just fragrance.
"When you look at our existing price points, it's clear we could get some new customers with the new fragrance," she added. "Some of our competitors have added lower price points, and they're definitely attracting younger consumers."
Delsing noted that CK One's light juice and eau de toilette-only format are also modern touches."This definitely could be the trend for awhile," she said. "It used to be that the pie was divided into orientals and florals. But now it's much more splintered and hard to define."
Riveria Concepts felt that a greener, fresher version of its Alfred Sung scent would broaden its consumer base by attracting younger shoppers. Hence, the Sung Spa fragrance and bath products were born in 1992.
"We were hoping to achieve a new consumer, a younger consumer," said David A. J. Nugent, president of Riviera Concepts Inc. "We wanted to present an attractive, yet affordable fragrance and spa line since most consumers cannot afford to experience a spa vacation."
Sung Spa is a lighter and more diffused version of Sung, with top notes of orange guinea, bergamot, lemon, mandarin, gelbanum and ylang ylang. The scent is available in an eau de toilette version and an all-over body spray, which also contains aloe vera gel, cucumber extract and skin conditioners.
"It doesn't translate into a perfume," Nugent said, explaining Sung Spas's limited number items. "It would be an oxymoron -- light fragrance into a heavy perfume concentration."
Nugent noted that while Sung and Sung Spa are complementary fragrances and so might have some consumer overlap, generally the Spa customer is a younger or working woman.
Prices for the collection, ranging from $40 for the 1.7-oz. eau de toilette to $29 for a 3.4-oz. body spray, are lower than Sung signature.
Christian Dior's Tendre Poison, or Diet-Poison, as it was called during its developmental stages, was also a push for a younger consumer. The scent was introduced March 1 and has already made some stores' bestseller lists.
"We wanted to reach the woman we were not addressing with Dune or Poison," said Caroline Geerlings, vice president of marketing for Christian Dior Perfumes. "Poison is still a big brand for us, but it is no longer a growing business. We wanted to capitalize on the Poison franchise but to do something fresher. Poison, which is fruity and spicy, doesn't necessarily appeal to a younger customer."
Tendre Poison, which Geerlings describes as younger than Dune, which is younger than Poison, is classified as a soft, fresh floral and is only available in an e.d.t. strength.Poison is a more "seductive" scent that might be used at night or for special occasions, Geerlings said.
To further reach out to younger consumers, Dior has made the price points more accessible than its other brands. The company created a special smaller size, a 1-oz., for $29.50.
The company's other scents open with a 1.7-oz size, which for Tendre is priced at $39.50 and for Poison is priced at $47.
"Tendre, though, is not just about age, it is really also about mood or occasion," Geerlings. "It is conceivable that one woman would wear Poison, Dune and Tendre, but at completely different times."
Geerlings noted that while women of all ages are gravitating to Tendre, the company has achieved its aim and is drawing women in their early 20s to Dior counters.
She said the company has already doubled its initial projections for Tendre Poison.
Diana Waldron, senior director of fragrance marketing for Christian Dior, explained the trend by saying, "[The prestige market] is facing the facts that they need to drive business by getting a new customer. One way to get this is to appeal to the value driven."
The Donna Karan Beauty Co. recently introduced a soft fragrance form in its Donna Karan New York Bath & Body line, called Bath & Body Mist.
The product bears only a shadow of a resemblance to Karan's signature scent, launched in 1992.
"The mist was created to capture the scent that was used to fragrance the bath and body line," said Jane Terker, the company's president. Consumers liked the fragrance of the bath product so much, Terker said, that the company created an all-over body spray with the same scent. It's a lighter, fresher and cleaner scent than the signature Donna Karan fragrance, but does use some of its accords.
"The body spray is the lightest of the fragrance categories," Terker said. "It can be worn alone or to enhance the original fragrance."
This airier scent is also lighter on the wallet. The 1.7-oz. spray is $45. The opening price point on original fragrance is $55 for the 1.7-oz. eau de parfum.Chanel first lightened up in 1977 when the company launched Cristalle, an airy yet crisp, fruity scent that was designed to draw a younger consumer into the Chanel fold.
"In the Seventies, the fragrance direction was airy and dewy with a light-hearted mindset, like [Revlon's] Charlie or [Yves Saint Laurent's] Rive Gauche," said Laurie Palma, vice president of fragrance marketing for Chanel.
She noted Chanel originally introduced the Cristalle brand in only one strength, which was called simply "fragrance."
That first strength was renamed eau de toilette in the early Eighties, as heavier fragrances such as Giorgio Beverly Hills came on the scene.
Last year Chanel introduced an eau de parfum concentration, but it was not intended to "heavy up" the scent.
"It is a little bit different from the eau de toilette, but it is not stronger," Palma said. "We really did it to make a longer-lasting fragrance, since a lot of people felt that the e.d.t. dissipated too quickly."
Palma noted that in the last year, largely due to the new e.d.p., the Cristalle business has tripled.
A light airy, fragrance is just part of the way Chanel hoped to attract a younger consumer with Cristalle. It also has lower price points than the other Chanel scents.
The 1.7-oz. Cristalle e.d.p. is $40, while the same size of Chanel No. 5 is $58.
Part of the reason for the price difference is due to the packaging.
"We sell No. 5 in a very luxurious refillable bottle, while Cristalle is in a much more sleek and simplified package," Palma said. "I think that the trend back to these types of fragrances is mainly due to a return to simplicity and the fact that people are less interested in being obvious about their fragrance.
"Fragrance is becoming much more of an intimate experience," she added, noting that lightness isn't just about fragrance strength or a lower price point, and that youngness isn't necessarily about age.
"A lot of these so-called light and young fragrances are really about an attitude," she said. "To us, Cristalle has always been the cool, young and hip fragrance because of the way we position it and the way it smells. But certainly, women of all ages wear it."Another integral part of the trend toward lightness and affordability has been the appearance of seasonal fragrances.
Last year, Escada sold Chiffon Sorbet in Europe for the summer only, and decided to do a repeat performance; Summer in Provence, introduced here and in Europe early last month, will be stocked only until Labor Day.
Meanwhile, Lancome brought O de Lancome, a perennial bestseller in France, to the U.S. for the first time. The scent will be in stores only for the duration of the summer.
Both Summer in Provence and O de Lancome are lighter scents than the companies' other offerings and are easier on the pocketbook.
"Women like to try something lighter during the summer," said Betsy Olum, vice president and general manager of Escada Beaute. "[Summer in Provence] has fruit notes and the scent of wood in it, for that summery appeal.
"I think lighter, fresher fragrances will make up the bulk of the upcoming launches, as well," she added.
Olum also noted the importance for a high-end company like Escada to offer accessible prices. Summer in Provence starts with a 30-ml. eau de toilette for $35, while the signature fragrance begins with a 1-oz. eau de toilette for the same price and goes much higher.
"This gives people a chance to enter into the brand," she said. " It absolutely means we'll attract new customers, especially a younger audience. Women in general have a lot more choices these days, and you have to reach out to them."
Although Summer in Provence has just completed rolling out, Olum described early sales returns as "outstanding."
Karen Rae Flinn, assistant vice president of treatment and fragrance marketing at LancÖme, said lighter fragrances were apropos of the mood of today's consumer.
"In the Eighties, fragrances were a different kind of personal statement," she said. "Now the trend is toward an easier, freer lifestyle. We're seeing it in fashion with looser clothes."
She said O de Lancome provides a viable choice to Tresor, the company's bestseller. A 1.7-oz. O de Lancome eau de toilette retails for $25, while a same-size Tresor costs $44."It's been a fragrance alternative in France for 25 years," she said. "It's natural and light. The citrus notes can be very uplifting.
"We wanted to be accessible and competitive," she continued. "There's no perfume in the line, so it's also more affordable. But I don't think people are necessarily shopping for price. They're shopping for value. With O de Lancome we can introduce the brand to a new consumer without compromising our image of quality."
If lower-priced and fresher fragrances continue to do well, the market will soon be more heavily populated by their ilk, according to some fragrance suppliers.
Victoria Alin, director of international marketing for Givaudon Roure, said the trend was based on the general market push for value, along with the need to attract a broader consumer base.
"It would make sense to lower price points right now," she said. "There is not just one type of department store customer anymore. Lower-priced and more accessible fragrances can only help prestige manufacturers grab the consumers who want a department store environment, but don't have all the dollars."
Michael Sweeney, corporate vice president of creative and commercial marketing of fragrances at International Flavors and Fragrances, said lower-priced products were already proving themselves noteworthy.
"Look at Sunflowers -- it proved there's magic in a lower price point," he said. "You can be sure there will be others who will try to use that to their advantage.
"Value is definitely an issue," he added. "These days, it seems that prices over $50 will scare people away."
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