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Men’s Fragrance: The Next Celebrity Fray?

NEW YORK — While celebrity mania has gripped the women’s side of the fragrance business, industry observers are speculating as to whether the noise of celebrity launches on the men’s side will reach the same fevered pitch. The short...

NEW YORK — While celebrity mania has gripped the women’s side of the fragrance business, industry observers are speculating as to whether the noise of celebrity launches on the men’s side will reach the same fevered pitch. The short answer is yes.

But, despite the fanfare surrounding announcements this year by the Estée Lauder Cos. with Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and, more recently, Donald Trump, the deals are being hammered out more quietly than on the women’s side. For instance, Coty Inc. plans to collaborate with Russell Simmons for the hip-hop mogul’s second Phat Farm scent on the heels of announcing its Baby Phat fragrance deal with Kimora Lee Simmons.

“I’m next on the block for a Phat Farm deal,” Russell Simmons said backstage prior to Kimora Lee Simmons’ Baby Phat runway show weeks ago, discussing sequential fragrance introductions with Coty.

Additionally, while Kyan Douglas of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” has been in talks for months with beauty marketers, he is thought to be closer than ever to a deal. While nothing has been confirmed, Douglas’ manager on Wednesday indicated a deal is imminent for him to become a global brand spokesman for men’s and women’s products, marketed by a major, international beauty company. Such a deal would be highlighted by the uncommon step of attaching a male celebrity to women’s products.

Meanwhile, it is thought that marketers must walk a fine line when selecting a male personality to represent a men’s brand. “In terms of having a male fragrance spokesperson, it would need to be someone men admire for their persona,” said Matt Frost, vice president of marketing for fine fragrances at Quest International. Also, “as many men’s fragrances are bought by women, [a male celebrity] would also need to be someone that women find attractive.” Perhaps this is best summed up by Antonio Banderas’ men’s scent, called Spirit, which began rolling out in September in the U.S. mass market, after generating $20 million following a launch last year in international markets, including Spain, Russia, Mexico and Chile.

But whether a male celebrity deal is of a creative nature — in the case of Michael Jordan with Bijan in the Nineties and Trump with Lauder today, or a spokesman deal, like the one announced two years ago between race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Drakkar Noir, or Arden’s deal with Jeff Gordon earlier this year — one thing beauty executives agree on is the importance of someone very much in the public eye.

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“As the life cycle of a product introduction has shortened dramatically in the last decade, it’s critical to find the impulse reaction from the consumer that will spark an immediate connection,” said Kathy Cullin, president of global fine fragrances for fragrance supplier Symrise.

Michel Mane, president of Mane USA, added, “The brand equity already exists.” Indeed, an initial investment into a celebrity deal, be it a multimillion-dollar payment up front or a cut of the sales in the form of royalties, can generate the notion of potential cost savings on the advertising and promotional end — if consumers generally recognize a name and face.

Still, the question of athlete, actor or recording artist remains. There are the obvious names such as Andre Agassi, the spokesman for Aramis Life. There’s also Avon’s deal with New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington and Gillette’s deal with soccer star David Beckham, both of which were announced earlier this year. Gillette’s athlete spokesman roster also includes Major League Baseball pitcher Randy Johnson. In the Nineties, Unilever reportedly pursued Tiger Woods for a men’s grooming line. Yet another pursued actor Will Smith for a scent deal. There are even more surprising names, such as actor Alan Cumming, who created a scent along with Christopher Brosius Studio and Perfume Gallery.

But one area of the men’s side that’s been relatively untapped is the recording industry. And, with fragrance marketers’ appetites for masterbranding initiatives, some existing female musician-fragrance unions could be primed for a male celebrity. Some marketers suggested that attractive names within the recording industry — celebrities who could be ripe for the picking — include Justin Timberlake and Usher.

While male celebrity deals for men’s products are not a new phenomenon, given Ted Danson’s appearances in Aramis ads in the Eighties, some are being reemphasized, as in the case of the new distribution of Michael Jordan shave and hair products, a property that Quality King inherited when it acquired Bijan fragrances. The Jordan products are being rolled out at Rite Aid. Smaller specialty brands could get into the game, as well. Upscale men’s grooming brand Truefitt & Hill is exploring celebrity cobranding possibilities as the company prepares to celebrate its 200th anniversary next year.

In any event, executives agree that the resonance of a launch depends on the level of inspiration instilled in a consumer by a particular personality — a scenario perhaps not as common on the men’s side. “Women are looking to use fragrance to express their own individual personalities — it’s an outward expression of themselves,” Frost remarked. Conversely, “in terms of men, [celebrity scents] haven’t really taken off yet. I don’t think a male model [would work].”

— Matthew W. Evans