LOS ANGELES--Is the fragrance bottle half full or half empty?
Calvin Klein's CK One is easily still number one for both sexes at West Coast department stores, giving retailers something to smile about. But when the numbers for Klein's unisex offering are subtracted to gauge the rest of the business, the smiles turn to frowns.
Nonetheless, retailers say sales are growing by at least 10 percent and the Christmas season looks to be merry.
Fragrance sales at Macy's West/Bullock's are up in the high teens. But Mike Lewis, vice president and administrator for cosmetics and fragrance, stressed the need to be aggressive in California's tough business market.
"Because we have recently merged, we pulled CK One numbers completely out of the picture so we could analyze both men's and women's business. It makes a huge difference in my numbers," Lewis said. "There are a lot of trade-off dollars going to CK One. Without CK One, women's fragrances had a difficult first quarter, and men suffered more."
Lewis is bullish on lines in limited distribution and is looking to add new brands to that category, which now includes L'Eau d'Issey from Issey Miyake and the Boucheron, Tiffany and Kenzo fragrances.
"A lot of sophisticated customers want fragrances that aren't found everywhere," he noted.
Besides CK One, the top sellers at the chain include Guerlain's Shalimar and Amarige by Givenchy, along with recently launched items such as Donna Karan New York and DK Men, Tommy Hilfiger's Tommy, L'Eau d'Issey and Jean Paul Gaultier.
And then there is Estee Lauder Pleasures, launched at Bullock's in late August. "The first day, stores were calling in worried that we don't have enough stock. Estee Lauder has hit a home run," said Lewis.
Other key fall launches include Jess by Jessica McClintock, which Lewis predicted will be a top-five seller because of McClintock's strong profile on the West Coast, and Forever by Alfred Sung.
At Gottschalks, the men's and women's fragrance categories combined are up 10 percent. CK One leads the bestseller list, followed at the women's counter by Klein's Eternity, Elizabeth Taylor's White Diamonds, Klein's Obsession, Wings from Giorgio Beverly Hills, Jessica McClintock, Giorgio's Red and Yves Saint Laurent's Opium.
At the men's fragrance bar, the top brands are CK One, Eternity for Men, Obsession for Men, Escape for Men, Jaguar, Ralph Lauren's Polo and Cool Water by Davidoff.
Robert Wiser, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics and accessories at Gottschalks, said he now credits his CK One sales to the men's fragrance department. "We're planning on carrying our 10 percent year-to-date increases through Christmas. Women's will slightly outperform men's fragrances, if I take out the CK One factor," he said.
Strong upcoming launches at Gottschalks include Pleasures, Jess, Black Pearls by Elizabeth Taylor, Tommy, and Elements and Hugo from Hugo Boss.
"We do a big portion of our Opium and Guerlain sales at Christmas," he added.
With a 7,000-square-foot department, Dana Drug Store in Burbank claims to have the largest collection of prestige fragrances and cosmetics outside the department stores in the West. For the past three months, the bestseller has been CK One.
Lauder's White Linen, Beautiful and Tuscany Per Donna are also strong-selling women's items, while Aramis and Cool Water are both winners in the men's category, along with Christian Dior's Eau Savage. The YSL fragrances, Jean Patou's Joy, Bal e Versailles, Chanel and other French fragrances also do well at Dana Drug.
Michael Stern, the store's owner, is the most bullish on Pleasures.
Stern said year-to-date sales are running about 6 percent ahead. He also said his store had the best Christmas season ever last year in 32 years of business, and he's anticipating equal success this year. "If fragrance is up, everything goes up with it," he said.
Meanwhile, the Mervyn's chain walked back into the fragrance business last November, testing the waters with an open-sell department. Encouraged by the results, the store launched cosmetic departments in six Minnesota stores in late July.
"We've expanded the test to 10 cases. Going from four shelves to 10 cases is a substantial jump for us," said Candace Frediani, buyer for bath, body and cosmetics.
With less than three weeks of selling under her belt, Frediani said the business is solid: "So far, it's going very well, exceeding our plans."
The top fragrances at Mervyn's are White Shoulders, Taylor's Fragrant Jewels, Eau de Gucci and Chloe Narcisse.

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