By  on June 15, 2007

CANNES, France — Perfumers and beauty executives who gathered for the World Perfumery Congress here earlier this month were on the lookout for the most elusive scent ingredient of all — magic.

The need to infuse fragrance with a hint of enchantment emerged as one of the key messages at the five-day event, which began June 5.

Bringing back the magic to a new generation of fragrance consumers is a challenge, according to executives, since brands must adhere to ever-stricter regulations and answer growing consumer demand for natural and sustainable products.

Though estimates on the number of fragrances launched in 2006 ranged from 300 to 700 during the event's 30 conferences, which attracted more than 1,300 attendees, executives did agree that counteracting the commoditization of scents is a priority.

Speakers pointed to other industries, which have undergone reinvention and repositioning.

"Look at the paint industry, which has evolved from highly functional to emotional," said Sumit Bhasin, director of global research, development and innovation at P&G Prestige Products. He pointed out that a tub of paint once blandly named Beige 23 has become Café au Lait and lines now take names like Contemporary Classics or The Historic Collection.

Nicolas Mirzayantz, group president of fragrances for International Flavors & Fragrances cited Cirque du Soleil, the Montreal circus troupe, which became a $1 billion business by reinventing the circus through unique storytelling and artistry. He also highlighted the Starbucks coffee chain as an example of emotional branding, offering a complete experience, "not just a cup of coffee," he said.

Claudia Poccia, president of Avon U.S. Beauty, drew parallels between apparel retailers such as H&M and Target borrowing equity from high-end fashion designers and Avon's partnerships with Swarovski on its Crystal Aura scent and Christian Lacroix on its Rouge for women and Noir for men.

The hotel industry should also provide inspiration for beauty brands, according to Véronique Gabaï-Pinsky, president of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.'s Aramis and Designer Fragrances division.

"Some hotels have become the destination themselves, they've added excitement and glamour," she said, adding Apple stores have similarly become destinations. "[They're] a Mecca for the young."Other executives suggested the industry should look beyond traditional uses for scents.

"In fragrance and flavors, there are still areas of uncharted territory," said Jack Di Maggio, managing director of flavors and fragrances at Colgate-Palmolive Co.

"Banks, hotels and airlines are getting an olfactive identity," noted Gilles Andrier, chief executive officer of Givaudan.

Olfactive branding can reap big rewards, executives said. IFF, for example, said its partnership with electronics brand Samsung, which involved creating a signature scent for its stores, encouraged two-thirds of consumers to stay longer and improved consumer perceptions of Samsung in terms of innovation, according to Mirzayantz.

While looking to other industries for inspiration and growth opportunities, executives also suggested the fragrance trade should open itself to the wider world and better communicate the art of its profession.

"Where is the TV show of a perfumer? Or 'confessions of a perfumer?'" asked Ferdinand Storp, president of Drom Fragrances International, referring to the industry's so-called "quiet stars. Does openness kill the magic? I think it opens a new and wider basis to enthrall more people and open channels to better understand our perfumers."

In a similar vein, Lauder's Gabaï-Pinsky implored attendees to "stop complaining that young people don't know how to smell. They should have been trained by us."

In a recent initiative, Lauder hosted fragrance evenings at Bloomingdale's department store that were led by Trudi Loren, vice president of corporate fragrance development worldwide, during which consumers were invited to have a fragrance compatibility analysis using questionnaires, games and a tarot reading.

"We can then tell the consumer, this might be a good fragrance for you according to your lifestyle," said Gabaï-Pinsky. Lauder plans to computerize the program so it can be accessed online.

Daniel Annese, Lauder's senior vice president and general manager, suggested brands play on their heritage and teach their history to the so-called "echo boomer" generation, or people born between 1977 and 1994, a demographic estimated to number around 76 million people in the U.S.

"In 10 years, echo boomers will outnumber Baby Boomers 2-to-1," he predicted.Annese said brands with a history have a keen advantage. He named Chanel as a master of continually building on its heritage, Dior's ability to tap into the mind of its founder and Hermès' frequent use of its equestrian origins in its fragrance advertising, as examples. Equally, Lauder's Private Collection by Aerin Lauder, Estée Lauder's granddaughter, emphasizes the brand's history, craftsmanship and artistry, Annese said.

Executives can also respond to the raft of launches by drawing on the success of niche scents and introducing exclusive concepts, according to speakers.

"Niche is sharing the stage for the first time," said IFF's Mirzayantz. "Today's marketplace is segmented. Blockbusters must now compete with niche scents."

Brands can do so, suggested Avon's Poccia, by taking a niche approach themselves. She cited the "beautiful artistry" of collections like Armani Privé and Tom Ford, which are sold in limited distribution networks.

"The industry will divide in two," warned Jacques Séguéla, group vice president of Havas Advertising, referring to the polarization of extremely niche and bespoke scents and the mainstream market. He lauded the trend toward elixirs and niche scents costing as much as 300 euros, or $400 at current exchange.

Séguéla implored the industry to take risks and admonished brands for not changing the style of fragrance advertising in 25 years.

He also noted brands are creating their own television channels.

"In the future, every brand will have its own 24-hour television broadcast permanently on the Web, or in airports and train stations," he said.

Séguéla told attendees they do not need Chanel's millions, referring to the big-budget Nicole Kidman campaign, to create a buzz.

"The 'Net is there, for a new, different idea," he said.

Creativity should also trickle down into scents themselves, according to Drom's Storp, who proposed brands rely less on fragrance testing.

He compared market testing to sitting in a dark football stadium with a flashlight that illuminates for three seconds.

"You will be able to see where the game takes place and perhaps who is playing who, but it's unlikely you'll be able to see the game's outcome," he said.Executives remained upbeat about the future of the fragrance industry.

Storp reminded attendees they are in a fortunate position compared with some other industries.

"There won't be technology to download any number of scents, there won't be a garage perfumer making electronic scents in his basement," he said. "Fragrance remains a material matter, it cannot be duplicated and spread around the globe in seconds."

And consumer emotion and preference will always factor in the equation, executives said.

"Sixty percent of beauty purchases are decided by olfactory hedonism," said Karine Lebret, director of fragrance creation and development at L'Oréal.

Added IFF's Mirzayantz, "fragrance has more of an emotional impact on people than anything else in a product."

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