When Paris Hilton introduces her fourth fragrance in October, it will not be a routine launch. It will be a referendum on the popular notion that bad girls sell.
The new scent will hit counters at a time when memories of Hilton's 23-day jail sentence are still fresh, as are echoes of the media orgy that at times seemed to overshadow the Iraq war. Even the new scent's name is a vague reminder of the incident: Can Can Paris Hilton, although its intent is more Moulin Rouge than Sing Sing. Yet the deluge of bad press had no negative effect on her fragrance business with Parlux Fragrances Inc., according to Neil Katz, Parlux's chief executive officer and chairman. In fact, the opposite was the case. "Our business saw an overall increase of more than 30 percent from last year for the month of May," he said.
Kathleen Galvin, vice president of marketing at Parlux, added, "Our experiences from the past show that controversy has had a positive impact on sales because people have become even more curious."
Indeed, Hilton's entire career seems to be mainly about controversy, including the appearance of a sex video. And that does not seem to have dampened enthusiasm for Hilton's fragrances. According to estimates by industry sources, the Hilton fragrance franchise, which was launched almost three years ago, now generates $75 million wholesale a year, about 60 percent of it in the U.S.
Katz contends the success of the fragrance franchise lies in Hilton's reputation as a style and fashion presence. "There's a difference between a celebrity who does one thing well, like acting or singing, and a celebrity that people want to be," said Katz. "She's an ‘It' girl.
"People say she does nothing, but she really looks at everything that's done under her name," Katz continued. "She's very involved in her business and lives for it."
David Wolfe, creative director at the Doneger Group, recently commented, "I think bad celebrities sell more fragrance than good ones. We've always been fascinated by maverick baddies," he continued, describing their appeal as "criminal chic."
"For some people, the trend has reached a saturation point, but celebrity seems to be the only method we have for getting a response from consumers because of the media overload," he added. "Luckily, there's a new celebrity made every 15 minutes."And while department store retailers have described fragrance as a fashion item — scents go out as fast as they come in — Hilton has exhibited staying power. According to industry sources, her first fragrance, Paris Hilton, still generated $40 million in retail sales two years after its launch in November 2004. Generally, celebrity scents have a window of vitality of about a year.
The question then becomes: When will celebrity-hungry tabloid readers tire of reports of Hilton's rich-girl antics?
For Katz, there is no issue. "The public is not losing interest in her," he said. "They understand that she went through a difficult time and they're supporting her. The fact that [journalists] want to interview her indicates that people are interested in her and her fans want to support her with things she's involved with. She's hard-working with her businesses, and the public and her fans know that and want to see her resume her life. The recent events show that there's even more of an indication that people are interested in her."
Considering the controversy, Can Can is an apropos concept, inspired by the 2001 hit movie "Moulin Rouge" and the flirty, sexy attitude of the video for "Lady Marmalade," one of the songs on the film's soundtrack.
"We wanted something elegant but fun," said Galvin. "Paris loved it and thought the overall idea was great. We gave her the choice of wardrobe [for the ad], since we wanted her to feel comfortable and let her create her own interpretation of what the fragrance should be." Feathers are incorporated into the packaging, which is meant to elicit a sense of playfulness, flirtatiousness and naughtiness.
Created by Firmenich's Jean-Claude Delville, Can Can is a blend of top notes of clementine flower, cassis and nectarine; middle notes of wild orchid and orange blossom, and bottom notes of soft musk, amber and woods. The three previous Hilton fragrances — Paris Hilton, Just Me and Heiress — were classified as fruity floral fragrances.
"We wanted something sexier, with more body," said Galvin. "Since we were seeing a trend toward oriental fragrances, we decided to incorporate fruity floral notes but moved more in the oriental direction."But unlike her previous fragrances, which have attracted a broader audience, Can Can is targeting young women between the ages of 15 and 25.
Retailing at a higher price point than Hilton's previous scents — $45 for a 1.7-oz. bottle and $55 for 3.4 oz. — Can Can will be sold in about 2,200 U.S. stores, including Belk, Macy's and Carson Pirie Scott. Consumers will receive a silver clutch as a gift with purchase. The fragrance will roll out first in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean, and then in January in Mexico, Asia, England, Dubai and Central and South America.
Industry sources estimate the fragrance could do $20 million wholesale in its first year on counter with an advertising and promotion budget of $5 million to $6 million.
To create some excitement at the counter, the company will hire models dressed in "Moulin Rouge"-style costumes to hand out feather samples, rather than traditional blotting cards.
A major print campaign shot by Mark Liddell will break in November fashion books and will also appear in heavier-stock ads featuring up to eight pages. To create a larger visual presence in stores, counters will feature a behind-the-scenes video on the making of the ad. Hilton will make about five in-store appearances in the U.S. this fall — barring any further controversy.
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