NEW YORK -- The men's fragrance market is stronger than ever.

While the dollar volume of women's fragrance sales is roughly twice that of men's brands in the $3 billion domestic wholesale market -- in part because women's scents are more expensive -- the men's category has been gaining parity over the last five years.

It has even shown stronger percentage growth than women's in some key department stores. It is an industry that has come to be dominated by giant brands propelled by blockbuster launches.

In terms of units shipped, the two markets are much closer together than they used to be. The women's category sold 155 million packages last year, according to industry estimates, while the men's totaled 140 million. Comparative figures are hard to come by. But one executive, Peter Zegras, president of Khepra Beauty Group LP, estimates that men's fragrances now generate 35 percent of the $4 billion in retail department store sales, compared with 30 percent five years ago.

"For spring, the most exciting thing by a long shot was [Ralph Lauren's] Polo Sport," said Allen Burke, divisional merchandise manager at Dayton's, Hudson's & Marshall Field's. He added that the season was the first in memory in which the top men's launch was bigger than the best women's introduction.

"The men's market has come of age -- all the things we predicted 150 years ago have happened," said Jack Wiswall, senior vice president and general manager of the Ralph Lauren Fragrances division of Cosmair.

He noted that men have begun to "wardrobe" their fragrances and have also caught onto skin care, such as Polo Sport's Skin Fitness Collection. Both trends, he said, are contributing to the increased use of fragrance.

"It's a very receptive market at the moment," said Wiswall, adding that the men's industry overall had sales gains of 18 to 24 percent in the spring season, while women's trailed with increases of only 4 to 7 percent.

While the men's market is on the rise, retailers are also looking forward to the round of upcoming women's introductions, as detailed in the regional roundups on the following pages.

Boucheron's Jaòpur, Carolina Herrera's Floré, Jean Paul Gaultier, St. John from St. John Knits, Tocade by Rochas, Dolce & Gabbana and Karl Lagerfeld's Sun Moon Stars, among others, were cited as welcome additions to the roster.Also hotly anticipated is Calvin Klein's CK One, a scent with a genderless image that is due on counter shortly.

As part of WWD's global cosmetics coverage, this supplement contains the annual listing of the world's top 50 beauty companies. The rankings have been featured in Fairchild Publications' W Fashion Europe and Beauty Reporter for three years, but this marks the list's first appearance on this side of the Atlantic.

In addition, now that the industry's holiday season is just around the corner, this supplement includes a look at the gift sets that will be used to lure Christmas shoppers to the fragrance bar.

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