Some of the top women’s fragrance launches of the last year.

After a listless first quarter, hopes are rising that Mother’s Day gift-buying will give the overall U.S. fragrance market a jolt and enliven the business for the all-important fall selling season.

This story first appeared in the May 4, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“If we have a strong Mother’s Day, it would be nice to have momentum going into the fall season,” said Daniel M. Annese, global brand president of Aramis and Designer Fragrances at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.

The two weeks prior to the American holiday on Sunday usually account for 16 percent of the spring fragrance business, but its significance can be highly symbolic. “It is an important bellwether on how the season is going,” Annese said, adding that “we would like to see uplift.”

Lauder has had a good spring so far and Annese is looking for more, betting on a new dynamic customer, the Millennial shopper, and a strong troika of Lauder franchises — Tory Burch, Michael Kors and Donna Karan’s family of Cashmere scents.

Annese described Millennials as much more involved in scents and much savvier in terms of “olfactive diversity.” He noted, “Where her mother might have worn a signature scent for the year, this consumer is “seasonal savvy. She wants a fresher fragrance for the spring season.” He pointed out that in Tory Burch, one of the fastest-growing fragrances in the market — and at Lauder — “we came up with something called Absolu, which is a richer version of the signature scent.” The 100-ml. bottle — priced at $130 — is the top-selling Tory Burch stockkeeping unit in Macy’s.

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Much has been made in the industry of the explosive growth of premium-priced and artisanal fragrances — those more than $120 a bottle — which chalked up an 85 percent gain in units for juice sku’s in 2015, while the entire U.S. prestige market eked out a paltry 2 percent last year.

“This has been one of our strongest fragrance seasons in years, with much success from gender-neutral fragrances, or those that have a broader offering of scents,” said Brooke Banwart, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of fragrance at Sephora USA. Hits included multiple offerings from Tom Ford, Derek Lam and Clean Reserve.

But the overall prestige fragrance market got off to a sluggish start, with the exception of the upper-tier and e-commerce categories. Estimates of the latest growth figures range from 1.1 to 3 percent.

Alexandre Choueiri, president of the International Designer Collections at L’Oréal USA, said despite a “relatively soft February and March,” the calendar shift of Easter gave a boost to April and buoyed Choueiri’s spirits. “April started very strongly,” he noted. In addition, the dollar has softened a bit against the euro, perhaps helping tourism.

“We are in the game and on deck on several fronts,” asserted Choueiri. “I am going to get a share of Mother’s Day.”

Two of his big hopes are Black Opium by Yves Saint Laurent, which ranks number nine in the market after a strong start, and Tender Romance by Ralph Lauren, which was launched to strong sales a month ago. There also is confidence in the Lancôme division, where president Suriya Parksuwan expects the momentum of Le Vie Est Belle — up 21 percent in sales this year — to roll into fall, aided by an omnichannel advertising campaign featuring Julia Roberts.

Mother’s Day remains a harbinger of buying habits, perhaps because it is surrounded by a swirl of market forces. Naira Aslanian, project manager on beauty at the Kline Group and project manager for the toiletries and cosmetics annual report, ticked off a plethora of trends. Starting with the luxury and specialty scents of Chanel and Dior, artisanal and personalized brands, and niche scents such as Juliette Has a Gun, then moving into layering of different olfactive categories —which Aslanian said was originated by Jo Malone — and ending with collections of fragrances, like Mixologie, which are designed to be blended into a custom, personalized scent. In addition to the blockbuster successes in the commercial market, there have been successful flankers and kits of small and travel sizes that allow Millennials especially to experiment.

Pointing to the stir high-quality fragrances have made in specialty retail, Donald Loftus, president of Parlux Ltd. and executive vice president of Parfumania Inc., suggested the broader market should follow suit. “Let’s not do 18 fragrances for launch, let’s do one and make it special,” he said. “Instead of pricing it at $48, it could be $60. It could be good for the industry.”

Saks Fifth Avenue has filled the main floor of its Manhattan flagship with more than 300 animations and events, along with the use of 30 windows, to power its Glam Gardens beauty promotion, which will run through this month. Kate Oldham, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, fragrance, lingerie and swimwear, said fragrances “continue to be a vital growth engine” for the beauty business. “For Mother’s Day, the home fragrance and set categories from brands such as Nest and Jo Malone are key drivers, as well as over-the-top, unique pieces from Bond,” she said. Oldham singled out launches by EB Florals in the Houston, Beverly Hills, San Francisco and Canadian stores; Ex Nihilo; Prada Olfactories; Diana Vreeland and Serge Lutens. For fall, she pointed to offerings from Jo Malone, Nest, Tom Ford, Diptyque and Hermès.

Bergdorf Goodman, which has long been a fragrance specialist, has put together a bouquet of brands that Pat Saxby, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of beauty, described “as a new fresh take on rose and florals.”

The brands include Eric Buterbaugh’s EB Florals, Fleur Narcotique by Ex Nihilo, Baccarat Rouge 540 from Francis Kurkdjian, Memo, Roja Dove, Fragrance Kitchen and Diana Vreeland’s Simply Divine.

“Lord & Taylor is coming off of a very strong season for fragrances,” said Shelley Rozenwald, Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor chief beauty adventurer. The top launches at L&T included Bulgari Goldea, Marc Jacobs Decadence, YSL Black Opium, Narciso EDT and Tory Burch. Gift sets are also selling strongly at the New York-based store.

Meanwhile, “at Hudson’s Bay, we are seeing healthy growth with gift-giving items and value sets. We are focused on building assortments where Hudson’s Bay leads in Canada with cosmetics and fragrances. We have even intensified our service levels in store,” she said. The best-performing launches include Narciso Poudree, Rozenwald said, adding “Valentino Donna gift sets have been popular, as well as Paco Rabanne Olympea.”

Gift sets in general have been performing well, Rozenwald said, adding that the store’s top 10 selling women’s sets have outpaced last year.

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