NEW YORK — If this fall’s fragrance business was a reality show, it would have to be called “Celebrity Smackdown.”

What began as a redux of a popular Eighties fragrance genre — celebrity scents — with Glow by JLo in September 2002, has erupted into a full-scale version of star wars.

And it’s about to get more intense. This fall, Jennifer Lopez, the celebrity who single-handedly revived the genre by racking up first-year global sales of $100 million with her maiden fragrance, is going head-to-head with Britney Spears, the celebrity who blew out $30 million worth of her first fragrance in a mere three months last fall, earning her number-one launch props.

Spears’ sophomore effort, Fantasy Britney Spears (see related story on opposite page), and Lopez’s fourth scent, Live Jennifer Lopez (see related story on opposite page), are both being hotly anticipated by department store retailers, most of whom credit the duo with drawing in a younger consumer who previously had not shopped at department store fragrance counters, and luring lapsed shoppers back into the stores.

While Lopez’s first fragrance had drawn skepticism before its launch, its naysayers were soundly rebuffed by the results — and hordes of fragrance companies rushed to sign their own celebrity deals. The field currently includes, among others, Coty’s stable for its Lancaster and Coty divisions — Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kimora Lee Simmons, Shania Twain, David and Victoria Beckham, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and Celine Dion — Elizabeth Arden’s Spears deal; the Estee Lauder Cos.’ agreements with Enrique Iglesias, Beyonce Knowles and Donald Trump; Parlux’s deal with Paris Hilton, and Alan Cumming’s deal with Christopher Brosius.

“My feeling is that this trend is going to last as long as celebrities do — I don’t see it ending, only accelerating,” said David Wolfe, creative director for Doneger Creative Services. “Anybody who crosses the celebrity radar is in a viable position these days to do a fragrance, given the public’s overwhelming appetite for stars. What it’s saying is that the consumer has no sense of self-identity. The same thing is happening in apparel — everyone wants the style of a celebrity.”

But how long does a star brand stay on top? While Glow by JLo did $100 million globally its first year, sales have cooled. Lancaster, Lopez’s fragrance licensee, has kept the afterglow going by launching a raft of other Lopez-backed projects, including Still Jennifer Lopez, a scent intended for slightly older consumers, in October 2003, and Miami Glow, a flanker to Glow by JLo, this past February. They’ve also expanded the franchise with limited-edition color cosmetics kits, launched last year, and a body care line tied to the Glow by JLo franchise, launched in May 2004.

This story first appeared in the June 24, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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In February, Bernd Beetz, chief executive of Coty, Lancaster’s parent company, conceded that, during the life cycle of celebrity brands, there are “certain phases” that fluctuate on a global basis. He acknowledged that, for instance, Glow by JLo is no longer doing $100 million a year: “It’s in year four and it’s generated the launches of other products,” he said at the time. “It’s a brand which continues to have global appeal.” Lopez’s license remains Lancaster’s second-largest fragrance license; its largest is Davidoff.

Executives at Arden, Spears’ fragrance licensee, don’t deny that they’re looking to create a stable of Spears-branded products and, in fact, structured the initial deal so that Spears was locked in for skin care and color cosmetics, not just fragrances.

The laws of declining returns are something that E. Scott Beattie, chairman and ceo of Elizabeth Arden, frankly acknowledged during the launch interview for Fantasy Britney Spears. “The reality in the U.S. market is that you have a great launch, and then it stabilizes,” said Beattie. “The trick is to stabilize the business, but not to lose it. We’re doing that with the Britney Spears business by growing it internationally as well as sustaining our [advertising and promotional] spending against both of the brands.”

Both brands also are paying close attention to where their target consumers are spending their time — notably, with their mobile phones and their computers. Beattie and his team employed interactive Web site banners, e-mail blasts, text messages and voice-mail messages from Spears at Curious’ launch, and will do the same for Fantasy. Over at Lancaster, a number of Internet initiatives are planned for Live Jennifer Lopez’s launch, including an interactive dancing game.

“One thing we’ve learned [with Jennifer and our other celebrity licenses] is that the concept has to be one that many people like, and it has to be bigger than the name of the celebrity,” said Catherine Walsh, senior vice president of cosmetics and American licenses for Lancaster Group Worldwide, during the launch interview for Live Jennifer Lopez. “Take Glow. We called it that for a reason — among them, the suggestion that the scent would give you Jennifer’s glow.”

There’s a reason for the continual addition to celebrity scent empires, Wolfe believes. “It’s all about this constant need for reinvention,” he said. “There has to be a new J.Lo scent every six months because there has to be a new J.Lo every six months.”

For better or for worse, say many, this is a trend that has deep roots.

“The trend for celebrity fragrances can be traced to a confluence of factors, namely, the consumer mind-set, the current state of the fragrance industry and the goals of celebrities themselves,” said Daniel Rachmanis, president of fine fragrances Americas at Firmenich. “Each of these three elements is contributing to the wave of successful celebrity brands, and all three appear to be here to stay. Consumers right now are ravenous for celebrity information — and celebrities have become 360 degree brands, with an unprecedented number of magazine titles, television shows, Web sites and other media exclusively devoted to celebrity news and lifestyle content.

“Fragrance is another medium for experiencing a connection to a beloved celebrity; at a time when the pace of new fragrance launches has never been more frenetic, celebrity brands help cut through the clutter at counter,” continued Rachmanis. “Furthermore, celebrity awareness and appeal crosses international borders in an especially evocative way, with a clarity that transcends conceptual or olfactive appeal alone. But we couldn’t do this without the enthusiastic participation of the celebrities, and this is something relatively new to the marketplace. Until recently, many A-list movie stars, musicians and sports figures were only willing to become the face of a brand outside their primary markets. Today, so many celebrities are supporting brands, it’s just become an accepted business practice. This is not likely to change anytime soon.”

But who will win the Spears-Lopez showdown? Only the market will tell, although Wolfe thinks he knows.

“Jennifer,” he cracked. “Have you seen ‘Monster-in-Law’? She’s tough!”

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