By and  on December 17, 2004

NEW YORK — What’s in a name? If you’re a prestige fragrance retailer, it’s your last hope.

Stores in the U.S. and Canada are praying mightily that this season’s celebrity fragrances will continue to sparkle at retail. But even if they do, the best they could hope for would be sales that are flat to very slightly up for Christmas, once the two extra selling days are added in.

That glimmer of hope isn’t completely without merit. According to Maria Ianni, beauty account manager for NPD Beauty, a division of The NPD Group, market information company, over the past eight years December has accounted for as much as 30 percent of yearly fragrance sales — in both the men’s and women’s categories.

And while this fall’s fragrance sales have been pretty much flat to slightly down across the board, “fragrance sales tend to depend on the week before Christmas and the week of Christmas,” said Ianni. “December’s sales will ultimately determine year-end results, and could mean the difference of a virtually flat or slightly positive year versus a declining fragrance market at yearend.”

One influential department store retailer, speaking not for attribution, said a great deal is riding on the two extra selling days. “We are all praying for flat,” the executive asserted.

Those last-minute shoppers have no shortage of new scents to choose from. Already topping the charts are  Curious Britney Spears, Donald Trump’s eponymous men’s fragrance, Prada’s new women’s scent and Donna Karan Cosmetics’ Be Delicious. A few of the classics are also cleaning up — most notably, the iconic Chanel No.5 — buoyed by luminous new advertising starring Nicole Kidman — and Christmas stalwarts Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds and Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Gio.

“As the year is quickly drawing toward an end, price increases, along with new launches, will minimize downward performance,” predicted NPD’s Ianni. “Increased competition will result in continued trends such as celebrities and spokesmodels, niche launches, limited editions, flankers, personalized scents, and promotional activity, to name a few. Signs point to a December similar to 2003, indicating a possibly flat yearend for women’s, while men’s may be hit harder, posting a decline from a year ago.”    

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