LONDON — In Britain’s sluggish market, consumers are buying fine fragrances to the detriment of mass market fragrances. But they still aren’t buying enough to turn around the nationwide decline in men’s and women’s fragrance sales that has been ongoing since 1993.

Nationwide, sales of men’s fine fragrances increased less than 1 percent to $223.45 million (145.1 million pounds) from $222 million (144.8 million pounds) during the 12 months ending June 1994 compared with the previous year, according to A.C. Nielsen data.

But overall men’s sales, including mass market fragrances, fell by 1.2 percent from $335.87 million (218.1 million pounds) to $331.87 million (215.5 million pounds).

Women’s sales nationwide also have dropped off, as total fragrance sales declined in both the holiday period and for the year as a whole.

According to Nielsen data, fine fragrance sales dropped slightly to $420.27 million (272.9 million pounds) for the year ending June 1994 from $422.11 million (274.1 million pounds) in June 1993.

But because of a 9 percent drop in mass market fragrance sales over the same period, fine fragrances actually increased their share of the total fragrance market from 70.8 percent to 72.7 percent.

“Fine fragrances have become more accessible due to discounting and because department stores don’t hold the monopoly on fine fragrances anymore,” said Cathryn Coles, account director at Nielsen, by way of explaining the shift of the prestige brands.

Coles pointed to Boots the Chemists Ltd., a nationwide chain of about 1,000 stores that has taken a large share of the market, as a prime example of the change in shopping patterns.

“Their men’s fine fragrance share has increased from 37.5 to 39.7 percent in 12 months,” she said.

In London, however, department store merchants say shoppers are still flocking to their fragrance bars to purchase scents.

“Our men’s fragrance and skin care sales for the first half of 1994 have increased by 40 percent, aided by our exclusive launch of Calvin Klein’s Escape [for Men] in March,” said Hilary Dart, perfumery buyer at Selfridges.

“Even without including Escape’s incredible effect on sales,” she continued, “the men’s business increased by about 17 percent.”

Sue Peel, men’s grooming buyer for Harrods, had similar news, noting, “There has been 20 percent growth in the whole of the men’s skin care and fragrance department on the last 12 months.”

Harrods had the worldwide exclusive launch of Givenchy’s Ultramarine from its Insensé collection in August, which was scheduled to be followed by Wings for Men from Giorgio Beverly Hills in September and L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme from Issey Miyake in October.

Both Selfridges and Harrods are also launching Havana from Aramis this fall.

Peel and Dart agreed that the new fragrances would not hurt sales of the established names, noting that the men’s market is not nearly as cluttered as the women’s.

“The cake hasn’t got too big yet,” said Peel. “But men seem more loyal. Business is growing at both the Chanel and Christian Dior counters. Paco Rabanne and Eau Sauvage are popular again.”

Harrods’ top five best-selling men’s fragrances as of July were Dunhill for Men, Aramis, Escape for Men, Jaguar for Men and Davidoff’s Cool Water. “A new fragrance heightens the awareness of named brands,” said Dart, adding that it has been a particularly good year for the Ralph Lauren scents, Herrera for Men, Cool Water and Aramis.

According to Nielsen, the nationwide leading brands for the 12 months ending June 1994 were Yves Saint Laurent’s Jazz, YSL’s Kouros, Aramis, Paco Rabanne and Brut by Fabergé — knocking Ralph Lauren’s Polo out of the top five.

Both stores had an increase in the gift-with-purchase sales promotion method. Peel said Harrods’ most popular gwp’s were a dressing gown from Dunhill and a watch from Jaguar.

“For the Christmas season, Aramis and Davidoff are offering blockbusters, where the customer pays a lot less for certain products,” Peel said. “For instance, Aramis is selling a collection of full-size goods in a toilet bag valued at 80 pounds ($123) for 40 pounds ($62.50).”

Harrods was also planning another mail-order catalog to promote mainly new fragrances for the holiday season.

“We had 600 men’s and women’s lines available last year and couldn’t keep up,” said Jenny O’Donoghue, perfumery, cosmetics and men’s grooming section manager at Harrods. “We have cut down this year and will focus on more exclusive products.”

At Selfridges, promotional gifts such as sports bags and overnight bags were the fastest movers. Dart, however, didn’t think customers were buying fragrance just to get the gifts.

“Customers are enjoying the gifts as a bonus rather than hiding behind them,” Dart said. “Although 40 percent of the purchases are still made by women, men seem more comfortable with skin care and fragrances. This is due to the barrage of men’s magazines and the women in their life persuading them to look after themselves.”

Peel agreed that men are paying more attention to grooming in general. “Older men are buying skin care products too,” she said. “In fact, they have been quietly looking after themselves for years by going to places like Trumpers.”

The leading nationwide brands in the women’s market, according to Nielsen, were Cacharel’s Anais Anais, Chanel No. 5, Cacharel’s Loulou, YSL’s Opium and YSL’s Paris — unchanged from the previous six months.

Only one of the top five bestsellers nationwide appears in Harrods top five bestsellers for the six months to July 1994 — Chanel No. 5 — coming in in fifth place. The four scents ahead of it are, in order, Jean Paul Gaultier, L’Eau d’Issey and Calvin Klein’s Escape and Eternity.

O’Donoghue said that the women’s market was somewhat lacking in activity and that fragrance companies were focusing on building the brands they already have.

“There haven’t been as many launches this year,” O’Donoghue said. “A lot of people have actually delayed launches until 1995.”

Women’s scents are moving away from the ozonic and fruity scents, O’Donoghue said, toward softer, more oriental and sexy smells, such as Kenzo’s Kashaya, which Harrods will launch in October.

At Selfridges, which had a fall launch schedule that included an exclusive on Nicole Miller plus Karl Lagerfeld’s Sun Moon Stars and Nina Ricci’s Deci Dela, Dart said women were still attracted to new fragrances.

Dart said the more summery fragrances, such as Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers and Chanel’s Cristalle, were doing well, along with Paloma Picasso, Gaultier, Lauren’s Safari and the Calvin Klein scents.

Sales at Selfridges were up 5 to 6 percent in the first half of the year. Dart noted, “We are seeing the stabilization of the women’s market.”