Last year’s tidal wave of new fragrances is showing no signs of subsiding.
Michael Sweeney, corporate vice president of creative and commercial marketing of fragrances for North America and Europe at International Flavors & Fragrances, historically the largest of fragrance suppliers, said, “We are into a very up-tempo market. It’s publish or perish for the major companies.”
He added that last year’s flow of new project profiles “has not slowed down one beat for us.”
As for the contents in the bottle, Sweeney said progress is being driven by science. “What has happened over the last decade is that we have seen the influence of technology on perfumery,” he said.
“The living flowers technology in the last decade gave our perfumers a 25 percent increase in the available materials they had to work with, and I see no reason why that shouldn’t continue into this decade.”
As for fragrance trends, he said, “in women’s perfumery today we are into the romantic mode — the new romantics. This type has a fresh, floral, bright topnote with a warm background.
“The flip side is the sexy, subtle side of perfumery,” he continued. “It is the Obsession [from Calvin Klein] to Eternity.”
One of the more popular forms is what Sweeney called “the new Oriental, or sheer oriental. It is a clear, see-through scent, yet warm and sensuous.”
Sweeney cited the special effects that sprang out of research and development, which IFF spent around $77 million on last year. “We can affect the apparent coolness or warmth of a fragrance,” he said. “We can affect the texture of a fragrance. When you smell a fragrance, you can tell if it is creamy or if it is wet.”
As an example, he pointed to Wings by Giorgio Beverly Hills. A cool floral note — something that does not exist in nature — with a sensual background was created for the fragrance by IFF.
The techniques can apply to men’s fragrances, where the new fresh trend continues, Sweeney said, adding that the trick is not to rely on ozonic notes while looking for new fresh substances.
There always will be new fresh-type fragrances, Sweeney said, because “many men always want to feel clean and fresh. At the same time, they want to feel sexy.”
One trend in the market that has distressed Sweeney and other executives at fragrance supply companies is the increased use of market testing — sniff tests and panel tests — by manufacturers to help them pick what they hope will be a winner. “We are generating a class of mediocre fragrances,” Sweeney said. “Market testing is not the answer to selecting a fragrance. It basically is a disaster check. The successful companies — the Cotys, the Calvin Kleins, the Elizabeth Ardens, the Estee Lauders — they do not decide by testing fragrances.”
He asserted that a manufacturer can’t score a fragrance for its potential popularity and acceptance. “If you are looking for numbers, you’re looking for normalcy.
“Some of the best-selling fragrances did not test well. Beautiful did not test well,” he said, referring to the Lauder scent that continues to lead the U.S. market. “White Diamonds did not test well.”
What is conceived without daring is received without interest.
That seems to be the sentiment imparted by Geoffrey Webster when he discusses the dynamics — and frustrations — of the perfumery business today.
“Creating a successful fragrance is not about being safe,” said the North American president of Givaudan-Roure Fragrances, based in Teaneck, N.J. “Cool Water was probably one of the most remarkable men’s fragrances of the last 15 years, and it is not a safe fragrance,” he said, citing Calvin Klein’s Escape for Men as another scent that does not follow a trend.
“The basics of this business have not changed in 30 years, not since the peacock revolution, when men started wearing fragrances in the Sixties,” Webster said. “The secrets of success today are what they were 30 years ago.
“A fragrance has to last,” he said. “It must be diffusive and — most difficult of all — it has to be unique. I tell that to my clients and they nod,” he said, adding that a number of manufacturers end up falling within a perfumery trend, rather than setting one.
The problem does not seem to be a lack of conviction, Webster continued. Most major clients have it.
“But somewhere along the way the basics of the business do not get done,” he continued. Too many companies make the mistake of relying on market testing to pick a fragrance, Webster indicated, asserting that “panel testing is not a risk reducer. It promotes mediocrity.
“I encourage panel testing to make sure you have a fragrance, which — properly promoted — would work.”
He pointed to a Max Factor fragrance of 15 years ago — Just Call Me Maxi — which went down then as the “greatest flop” in the history of the industry. “Nobody ever tested it,” Webster noted.
On the other hand, using research to predict success is foolhardy, partly because the scent is only one part of the puzzle. There also is the timing of the launch and the pricing.
“Panel testing to pick a winner is easy and too deceptive,” Webster said.
One fragrance that did not test well was Opium, Yves Saint Laurent’s 1977 introduction that has become a modern classic. “It did not win the test,” Webster noted, “but the person in charge of the concept said, ‘OK, it didn’t lose the test.”‘
When asked if executives are not justified in trying to eliminate risk in an age when launches have become so expensive, Webster replied, “the fragrance business is a game for big boys. It’s not a game for marketing 101ers.”
He continued, “People who know how to do the job are comfortable making a $15 million decision.”
Webster also applauded companies that have the nerve to stick with a scent that does not immediately take off. He cited L’Oreal with Anais Anais before it found its niche in broad distribution and Coty with Preferred Stock.
Like IFF, Givaudan-Roure has experienced no letup in new project activity. He noted, “We are not less busy than last year.”
In order to survive in a glutted fragrance market, manufacturers have to bring something new to the party, according to Patrick Firmenich.
“If you don’t have something unique you will be lost in the crowd today,” said Firmenich, the vice president and the U.S. general manager for the firm that bears his name. “You have to take your own stand and then support it.”
Firmenich, the largest family-owned fragrance supplier, has had its share of recent successes, among them Liz Claiborne’s Vivid, Jean Paul Gaultier, Tuscany Per Donna, Paco Rabanne’s XS, Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport and Safari for Men and Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey.
“You need to cover every aspect to have a strong program,” said Firmenich. “All these fragrances were strong products that are benefiting from continual support.”
Firmenich singled out the Gaultier scent, which has done well in Europe, as a particularly well-conceived item.
“It has a nice, rather normal scent in very unique packaging,” he said, referring to the tin-can-like container. “This was very smart. If it had been strange in both aspects, it might not have been as well accepted.”
Firmenich spelled out two trends in the U.S. women’s fragrance market: “fresh transparents” (such as L’Eau d’Issey) and “new orientals” (such as Vivid).
“In the old days, orientals were beautiful, but they were very dense,” he said. “Women today are looking for fresher orientals. The scents are still based on vanilla, but they have floral, fresh notes.”
As for the men’s market, “it is still not as exploratory as the women’s,” according to Firmenich.
“What we call the “new fresh aromatic” is important,” he said. “Polo Sport has a minty note. There is also room for the more traditional woodsy, spicy orientals, but with a fresher, amber note.”
While fragrance vendors battle for market share, Firmenich has been reaping the benefits, said the young executive, who cited “double-digit growth” in the past year, with more of the same projected for 1994.
He would not divulge specific numbers, but sources say the company had a worldwide volume of over $600 million last year.
“With competition so heavy, everyone is keeping busy,” Firmenich said. “We have 30 projects under way right now.”
Firmenich, who is 32, was raised in Switzerland. Yet he maintains he feels at home overseeing the company’s American projects.
“This has truly become a worldwide business,” he said. “Every profile we do is with an eye toward global success.”