By  on June 10, 1994

MILAN -- Although Italy is still navigating in rough economic waters, executives at high-end perfumery stores agreed that calmer conditions were in sight. They also expressed optimism that the fragrance business in particular was picking up.

Still, many retailers reported that fragrance sales were at best flat compared with last year's figures, and in some cases, as much as 5 percent behind.

To weather the storm, many retailers said they have adopted new strategies, including offering discounts on a wide range of selective products, changing store display windows once a week and carrying a wider selection of mass market and moderately priced products.

On the fashion-oriented fragrance front, most executives concurred that L'Eau d'Issey by Issey Miyake was undisputedly the strongest seller.

"Everybody is familiar with it, from the cab driver to the well-heeled lady, because the fragrance is particular and unique. Maybe also because of its complicated names," said Maddalena Materno, director of one unit of the Desiree chain.

Other hot-selling fragrances mentioned the most by retailers included Eternity by Calvin Klein, Tresor from Lancome, Calyx by Prescriptives, Angel from Thierry Mugler, Eden by Cacharel, Christian Dior's Tendre Poison and Elizabeth Arden's Sunflowers.

Fresh, fruity and floral fragrances continue to be in the spotlight, especially as summer breezes in.

"Clients come to us and specifically ask for fruity and vanilla-flavored fragrances. It's not by chance, in fact, that Calyx continues to be a piece de resistance," noted Alda Cremascoli of the Baratti/Douglas chain.

However, while most perfumery stores are banking on these fragrances, some retailers asserted that they didn't believe the trend would last.

And surprisingly enough, while L'Eau d'Issey has been flying, designer fragrances -- which create a stir in the beauty world before their launch, thanks to ad campaigns -- don't currently appear high on the retailers' lists of their customers' favorite scents.

"I had high hopes for Valentino's Vendetta, but I was disappointed with the response," said Gabriele Terribile, owner of a chain called La Profumissima.

And it's not a question of price.

"The choice of a perfume reflects the lifestyle of a person. It's a business card. When a client really likes a fragrance, she doesn't pay attention to the price, but looks at the quality and packaging," said Desiree's Materno."Van Cleef sells very well in the chic neighborhoods, for example, because of its elaborate and exclusive packaging," she added.

In this sluggish market, lower-priced fragrances, especially designer ones, haven't quite taken off yet, either. In fact, the perfumery executives had negative comments for the barrage of launches of lower-priced scents from designers.

Some of the more notable recent lower-priced debuts include Versace's Blue and Red Jeans and G Gigli from Romeo Gigli.

"They only create confusion because people wonder why signature scents cost more; whether they're rip-offs, or if the quality of the lower-priced ones is not good. Arden's Sunflowers works well because it has different characteristics, such as being alcohol-free," said Rossana Curatolo, co-manager of the Mazzolari chain.

Terribile of La Profumissima added, "When designers launch lower-priced scents, they depreciate their signature ones. [Companies that make] high-end products should stick to that."

Sales patterns indicate that 100-ml. spray flacons are top choices because of the price convenience, the retailers noted.

"If a client likes a fragrance immediately, she invests in the big size. If not, she buys the 30-ml., but only if it's being promoted," stressed Baratti's Cremascoli.

Terribile of La Profumissima dissented.

"I think they should abolish the 100-ml. bottles because they are too expensive," he said. "Let's not forget that an average Italian secretary's [monthly] salary is $1,000 (1.6 million lire) and that a good 100-ml. scent costs between $62 and $93 (100,000 and 150,000 lire).

"If you add body creams, a chunk of the salary is gone," he added.

Another market trend that emerged as a consequence of the recession is that people divide up their purchases, spending less in more shopping sprees instead of walking out with a big stock of products and an empty pocketbook.

"We serve more clients, and we register more fiscal receipts than in past years, but for less amounts," pointed out Desiree's Materno.

Calvin Klein's Escape and CK One are among the future launches that the retailers are excited about, along with the just-launched Eden."A lot of women walked in and inquired about Eden even before it was out. New launches, especially if they're supported by a good ad campaign, always stimulate clients' appetites," said Materno.

According to most retailers, the rule that younger clients want to spend less is true to some extent, though with exceptions.

"We have young clients who buy Chanel No. 5 and Chopard," noted Cremascoli of Baratti.

While sales continue to creep ahead with minimal gains, if any, the retailers agreed that they were pleased with one aspect of the business: Mother's Day.

The holiday is an occasion that is slowly becoming more and more important, the retailers noted -- another way to lure recession-weary consumers.

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