NEW YORK — In an era where newness rules the day, classic fragrances are still holding their own.

Panelists at the first Fragrance Foundation Think Tank of the year entitled “Protecting the Classics,” agreed that classic scents still have true staying — and selling — power. The event was held Wednesday at the foundation’s headquarters.

According to NPD Beauty Trends, classic scents such as Chanel No. 5, Tresor, Beautiful and Obsession account for 40 percent of total U.S. department store sales. Broken down, the classics account for 30 percent of men’s fragrance sales and 43 percent in women’s fragrance sales.

Annette Green, president of the Fragrance Foundation, was on hand to introduce facilitator Nancy Jeffries, editor in chief at Soap & Cosmetics Magazine; and speakers Kathy Cullin, president and general manager of Puig USA; Peter Lichtenthal, senior vice president, global marketing, Estee Lauder International; Laurie Palma, senior vice president of fragrance and Internet marketing at Chanel Inc.; Natalie Granik Seidman, director of client services at NPD BeautyTrends, and Gary Borofsky, vice president of cosmetics and fragrance at Rich’s/Lazarus/Goldsmith’s.

The discussion, on facing current market challenges and what it takes to preserve a fragrance’s classic status, touched on the success of 81-year-old Chanel No. 5, which is still in the top 10 in fragrance sales. According to Palma, there are three key elements involved — advertising, new products and spending. “You have to nurture these brands as treasured classics, not treasured relics,” she said. “And the reality is, no brand will survive without spending.”

Seidman, who noted that NPD considers a classic as being 10 years old or older, concurs: “It’s important to have a balance between nurturing the classics while cultivating the new,” she said.

Seidman also noted that sales for classic fragrances were up following the Sept. 11 tragedies, perhaps inspired by a desire to return to familiar comforts, from 34 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2001. As to who is buying these classics, Seidman said it was a combination of both older consumers and new, younger customers who think old-fashioned fragrances are chic.