By  on April 15, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Sophisticated classics and sporty newcomers are making for steady gains in men's fragrances among West Coast retailers. Even treatment products for men, always a tough sell, are on the rise.

At San Francisco-based I. Magnin, Calvin Klein's Escape is on top, followed by Hermes, Guerlain, Aramis and Calvin Klein's Eternity. Chanel, Armani and Annick Goutal also rank among the leaders. The lineup of best-sellers has changed only slightly in the last year.

"There's been a little shift -- Joop was number five last year, and now it's fallen out of the top 10, for example," said Mark Busche, men's fragrance buyer at Magnin's. "And Eternity was number three last year, so it's lost a bit of ground, but Escape has come in. What we see as a constant is that Hermes and Guerlain will stay in the top three."

Calvin Klein's three men's fragrances -- Eternity, Obsession and Escape -- are out in front at Gottschalks, a Fresno, Calif.-based chain, according to Bob Wiser, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics and accessories.

Drakkar Noir, Lancaster's Cool Water, Aramis and Ralph Lauren's Polo and Safari round out the retailer's other top men's scents, said Wiser, who indicated the lineup has remained fairly stable over the past year.

"Of the recent launches," he said, "the one we've been happiest with is Joop. It's done very well and actually got into our top 10."

Joop is also a hot seller at Bon Marche, keeping pace with The retailer's other leaders, Escape and Obsession, according to men's fragrance buyer Lori Hansberry.

"The business with Joop just keeps growing," she said. "I brought it in thinking that it would just be a nice fragrance. We didn't think it would be small, but we had no idea that it would keep increasing its business, overachieving its plan. It's really been sort of a sleeper."

The men's fragrance phenomenon of the moment, however, is Ralph Lauren's Polo Sport. The company's claims that the new scent is well ahead of plan are supported by the retailers that carry it.

"Polo Sport is tremendously successful," said Bon Marche's Hansberry. "It has surpassed its plan for us. They're approaching it as a lifestyle type of fragrance, advertising it for its real sports-minded appeal. It's a full skin fitness line, and the price points are great."Dynamic visuals of men involved in active sports, and masculine packaging that encourages men to toss it in a gym locker, beach bag or backpack complement the light, fresh fragrance, retailers commented.

And Polo Sport was strategically launched during The Olympics -- all of which contributed to its striking, early success.

Retailers have been enjoying respectable gains in men's fragrances. At Magnin's, Busche said, "We're currently up 5 percent, and that's before the two new launches for the spring season: XS by Paco Rabanne and InsensÄ by Givenchy. We're projecting a season plan for about an 8 to 10 percent increase, putting a definite emphasis on the Father's Day time frame."

The men's fragrance business is going strong at Gottschalks. According to Wiser, "Last year we were up in the teens, and this year has been even stronger," he said. "As of February, we were up in sales 29 percent."

At Bon Marche, Hansberry said, "We're up in the high single digits. The classics maintain us; they're holding their own. But I think newness is what really helps drive the business."

Retailers agreed that keeping a good balance between the fresh and the venerable is the key to success in men's fragrances.

"Most definitely, newness attracts customers," said Magnin's Busche. "They read about it in magazines, see it advertised on television, and we want to make sure that we are competitive as far as carrying new fragrances."

He added, "But our customer tends to be a lot more sophisticated, and his buying habits haven't changed that much. He may try something new and add it to his collection of fragrances, but he is also loyal to his classic fragrance and buys it continuously throughout the year."

There seems to be no unifying trend among men's preferred scents.

"We're still getting a wide range of requests at our stores," said Wiser. "Based on my business, there's no indication of what direction it's going to take. My customers' tastes are varied, and there's no one particular scent that they're looking for. A perfect example is Escape -- a very sophisticated scent, which to my knowledge is the first fragrance to have birch in it."While I'm doing very well with Escape as a newer fragrance, I'm still seeing increases with Obsession, which has been around for quite some time. By the same token, while there has been somewhat of a trend toward lighter fragrances, my Aramis business is very good right now, and certainly Aramis is a very powerful scent."

Bon Marche's Hansberry added, "A lot of the fragrances that have come out lately have been really citrusy, like Polo Sport. And while that seems to be the trend, my number one fragrance for quite some time has been Obsession. It's a great classic, more of a spicy fragrance, and the business never falters."

Busche pointed out that although Magnin's does a good business in men's fragrance year round, trends in scents can be seasonal.

"Sports are especially big in the spring and summer. So that's when you've got a very active customer who wants a much lighter fragrance, a citrus blend like an Armani or [Christian Dior's] Eau Sauvage."

Busche also noted that trends currently seem to be more attached to themes than scents.

"Right now it seems to be oceanic and environmental themes, with fragrances like Cool Water and [Paloma Picasso's] Minotaure."

Looking ahead to fall, Chanel's Egoiste Platinum and Guy Larouche's Horizon are beginning to stir retailers' interest. And Polo Sport, which is currently sold exclusively at Macy's throughout much of the West Coast region, seems to be the scent to get.

While no single fragrance trend has come to the fore, it does appear clear that treatment products are finally beginning to catch on with men. The most significant indicator is the enormous success of Aramis Lift Off, the latest addition to the company's Lab Series treatment line.

The three-in-one product, which provides the much-touted alpha-hydroxy acid to exfoliate, as well as a moisturizer and sun protection, is selling sensationally across the board.

"We've sold well over 225 pieces in less than a month, and we only have 13 stores," said Magnin's Busche, who said the secret to Lift Off's success lies in its simplicity. "Men don't want to spend a lot of time on the face. They want to shave and get out the door. So with three benefits in one quick, easy step, it's revolutionary."Hansberry from Bon Marche already has the product on reorder, because, she said, "We brought in our first hit and it's gone." She added, "Lift Off is a big focus for us going forward into spring. We're going to do a lot of in-store activity around it, particularly special events during high-traffic time in the ready-to-wear area of the store to try to nab that customer who may not come in to the cosmetics counter but is coming in to buy a suit."

While retailers are enjoying good sales with Lift Off as a single product, they are hoping it will ultimately pave the way for greater success with men's skin care in general.

"Lift Off is very exciting, because it's the first time we've seen an individual treatment product really take off in the men's category," said Wiser from Gottschalks. "We've had such success with Lift Off that I believe the customer is now ready for another infusion of treatment products."

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