ATLANTA -- According to retailers in the Southeast, some major changes are under way in the fragrance industry.
While stores reported moderate sales increases, retailers were talking about fragrance wardrobes, summer-only scents and shared fragrances - concepts that the merchants hoped would lure reluctant customers and translate into increased sales.
According to Howard Koch, divisional merchandise manager at Parisian, Birmingham, Ala., the fragrance business is becoming more of a fashion business.
"We're trying to encourage the customer to build a fragrance wardrobe," he explained.
He pointed to summer-only fragrances as one way to do that, but said it was still too early to predict the success of Escada's Summer in Provence and Lancome's O de Lancome, two scents launched for this year's warmest months.
He also pointed to Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers as a great new fragrance concept.
"It's not just an issue of price, it's a matter of positioning. Everything they've done has been very targeted," he said.
Koch said Parisian has experienced double-digit increases in fragrance sales year to date, and attributed a good portion of the gains to the customer's increased demand for newness.
"I think we are getting into a period of time where women are beginning to understand the fashion cycle of fragrance," he said.
While Koch said customers were looking for newness, he felt there was also still a strong interest in the classics, as evidenced by Parisian's bestsellers list.
The store's hottest fragrances included Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds, Oscar de la Renta, Wings from Giorgio Beverly Hills, Calvin Klein's Escape and Givenchy's Amarige.
Products launched this spring that were doing well include Sublime by Jean Patou and Tendre Poison from Christian Dior, Koch added.
He said he saw the introduction of Calvin Klein's CK One, a unisex item due this fall, as a fascinating concept and a refreshing change.
"They have a great track record, and they understand the customer. I think in the Nineties, we all have to be willing and able to accept change," Koch noted.
Pat Joyce, divisional merchandise manager of Rich's, Atlanta, agreed that change was key in fragrance right now."Change is the most important reason women buy a new fragrance," she said.
Joyce said she also thought Calvin Klein was right on target with his new scent.
"Calvin is the best at knowing when to bring out what," she said. "I think it's going to be a wonderful change for fragrance. He knew what the Seventies were about, and the Eighties and the Nineties. This is the next step in the evolution."
Joyce also agreed that the fragrance business was more of a fashion business now, especially since all the major apparel designers have moved into fragrance.
She pointed to the Donna Karan New York fragrance as being particularly successful.
"The name recognition helps drive sales," she explained. "Parts of the business are becoming more fashion, but parts of it are still rock 'em-sock 'em volume business. Brands like Donna Karan are different and have to be treated differently."
Joyce pointed to cannibalization as one of the main differences between fashion and fragrance.
"It's different in fashion; you don't just buy one dress or pick a new style over an old one," she said. "The old style is gone already."
She said Rich's spends a lot of time protecting its top 10 fragrances, but cannibalization is something stores have to accept.
She pointed to White Diamonds, Oscar, Giorgio's Red and Wings, Ralph Lauren's Safari and Calvin Klein's Obsession as being among the top sellers.
Recently, though, Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers has been outpacing every other fragrance.
"Part of it is the price, but it's really the whole product," said Joyce. "The packaging, the ancillary products -- and it's a wonderful fragrance."
Although it is too early to gauge the success of the summer-only scents, Joyce said she felt they were a great marketing concept. She thought they would be especially strong in the South, because the length and intensity of the summers lead women to look for lighter fragrance options.
The fragrance category has experienced single-digit increases year-to-date, Joyce said.
"There haven't been a lot of new launches for spring. We're looking forward to all the fall launches," she added.Rich's fall launches include Yves Saint Laurent's Champagne, Gale Hayman's Delicious, Karl Lagerfeld's Sun, Moon & Stars, a new Boucheron scent and Chopard's Casmir, distributed by Lancaster Group USA.
Casmir has vanilla overtones, which Joyce said could spur a new trend in vanilla-scented fragrances and possibly other food-scented fragrances.
"It showed up in the mass market first, and I think it is going to be important," she said.
At McRae's, Jackson, Miss., Chris Evans, divisional merchandise manager, said he was also awaiting the fall launches to spur sales, although he said fragrance sales were up 18 percent year to date.
He said since there have not been many new scents this spring, he was seeing classic fragrances making a comeback. He pointed to new growth in scents such as YSL's Opium, the Chanel brands, Halston, Nina Ricci and the Guerlain line.
"If they can't find something new they like, women are going back to scents they liked in the past," he explained.
McRae's had just received the summer-only fragrances, and Evans said he thought they were going to be a great change for the business.
"They offer a sense of urgency and are something new. It makes fragrance more of a fashion item," he said.
Evans said the idea of fragrance wardrobes, in which a woman wears different fragrances to match her different moods and her different clothing choices, was an important concept right now.
"It's hard to get across to the customer, though, especially since so much fragrance is bought as gifts," he added.
Evans said the seasonal fragrances would push the concept. He also thought lower-priced lines would help.
"Price point has definitely made a difference for Sunflowers," he said, pointing to its price of $25 for a 1.7-oz. eau de toilette. spray; other fragrances average $35 to $45 for the same size.
Sunflowers was McRae's second-best fragrance for the last quarter, behind Estee Lauder's Beautiful, but Evans pointed out that those fragrances were tabulated as part of the cosmetics and treatment category.
In the fragrance category, White Diamonds was number one, with Wings and Red running second and third.Evans said he was excited about the fall launch of Sunflowers' home fragrance collection, which is being created by Claire Burke. The store plans to market the collection with the fragrances.
He thought price point was going to be a factor in CK One's success, as well.
"The price point is right. It's definitely going to work. Everything Calvin does is successful. We are aggressively going after it," Evans said.
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