Byline: With contributions from Rose-Marie Turk, Los Angeles / Lisa Bertagnoli, Chicago / Georgia Lee, Atlanta / Rusty Williamson, Dallas

NEW YORK — Department store retailers are betting on millennium euphoria to put some fizz into the previously flat holiday fragrance season, with projected gains running from the mid-single digits to 10 percent or better for the more vibrant men’s category.
Elizabeth Morello, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for cosmetics and fragrances at the Macy’s West division of Federated Department Stores in San Francisco, predicts that the business this December “will be a little bit easier [than last year]. I think the excitement of the millennium will play a big part in what happens, as we build toward the end of the year and people begin wanting to treat themselves to something special.”
Rachel Austin, Nordstrom national fragrance director, has stronger feelings about the days after the holiday. “People will be anticipating all the millennium parties,” she said. “I feel they will be coming in for that special fragrance and that special makeup look and an outfit to go with it. So I really think we need to be prepared for the biggest Dec. 26 week we’ve ever had.”
Another unusual factor this year is the flood of new men’s fragrances. “There is a tremendous amount of launches being offered,” said Diane Gates, divisional vice president cosmetics and fragrances at The Bon Marche in Seattle, another Federated division. “We are going to pick and choose so we can do it all successfully.”
She predicted a “double-digit increase by the end of the year” in men’s fragrances.
At Marshall Field’s in Chicago, divisional merchandise manager Liz Hassler says she’s concerned about customers being awash in men’s fragrances.” We’re looking at what will be meaningful, and going after those lines,” she says. “We can’t do them all justice.”
Her “out of control” fall launch program will include Tommy Hilfiger Freedom, Ralph Lauren’s Romance for Men, 212 for Men, Oscar, Ferragamo, Candie’s, Cerruti Image and Calvin.
Fragrance bar sales are the best they’ve been in a long time, Hassler says, with Romance by Ralph Lauren leading the way. Emporio Armani and the Issey Miyake scents for women are also strong sellers, she added. Hassler says she plans on a 9 percent December increase.
Gail Gordon, vice president of fragrances at Federated’s Macy’s East division in New York, summed it up the best: “We feel we are positioned to have the strongest increase in fragrances for December in this store’s history.”
“Macy’s East is off to a prodigious start,” she said. Sales gains are now running in the double digits.
The gains are being driven by newness, she said, which also is benefiting older brands like Chanel, Givenchy, White Diamonds and Drakkar Noir.
The master branding also is adding leverage. For example, Ralph Lauren’s Romance for women has been so “outstanding” that the upcoming men’s version should catapult the brand into the top five, she predicted. In addition, the Emporio Armani fragrances have spurred growth in the Acqua di Gio brand. And Tommy Hilfiger’s new Freedom scents have not cannibalized the Tommy franchise.
Federated, as a whole, is expecting an improvement over last year’s lackluster fall and holiday. Sources say the corporation is gunning for a low-to-mid-single-digit gain in the December fragrance business. Women’s and men’s fragrances are now showing average gains in the high single digits across the corporation.
Bloomingdale’s in particular is having a strong fragrance year, due to its innovative new selling floor in the New York flagship.
Federated’s women’s business finished the spring season slightly ahead, while the men’s fragrance category produced seasonal gains ranging from the upper single digits into the double digits.
The difference this year is that the big guns are firing with major introductions. Moreover, established brands like Chanel and Donna Karan have acquired new life, and the top-priced brands — Givenchy, Issey Miyake and Boucheron — still have plenty of fire. But retailers also say pre-packaged gift sets are reaching a point of saturation and probably should be scaled back.
Taking a look at men’s, Austin at Nordstrom said that with the advent of what she terms “the office fragrance, the date fragrance, the day-off fragrance — fragrances that you can wear everyday — we’ve really seen a change in the way our customers are buying.”
Calling the women’s business “pretty healthy,” she said, “We’re still running an increase in our women’s brands.” Among women’s launches, she said “the two really big success stories this year” were the introductions of Lolita Lompicka and Thierry Mugler’s Innocent.
Along with the upcoming relaunch of the original Calvin for men, Austin said important fall introductions for women at Nordstrom include Rush from Gucci, the new Romeo Gigli fragrance and Lancome’s 2000 et Une Rose, “their millennium launch.”
According to Morello at Macy’s West, “The spring launches have stimulated the fragrance business, and now we’re seeing significant increases in both men’s and women’s.” Women’s increases are in the “single digits,” she said, and men’s in the “high-single-to-low-double-digit.” Outstanding spring launches for men, she noted, include Emporio Armani, Pi from Givenchy, Tommy Hilfiger’s Freedom, Davidoff’s Good Life and Karl Lagerfeld’s Jako.
Freedom “is going to be a very, very important part of our fall business,” Morello said, adding that she also expects outstanding performances from the men’s versions of Candie’s, Clinique’s Happy, Romance, Carolina Herrera’s 212 and the reissue of Calvin Klein’s original men’s scent, Calvin.
In women’s, she said Chanel No. 5 and Donna Karan’s Cashmere Mist are among what she calls “some of the the classics that have reemerged with some very strong growth.” In addition, she said Happy, which was introduced last year, “continues to be one of the strongest launches.” Other strong newcomers include Romance and Emporio Armani.
Estee Lauder’s Dazzling Silver and Dazzling Gold perfume sticks,which were introduced a short time ago, she said, “are doing very, very well.” Her list of “big fall launches that we think will energize the women’s fragrance business” includes Rush, Freedom, Candie’s and Givenchy’s Indecent, which is due out in December.
Bon Marche will launch Freedom for Him, Candie’s, Givenchy’s Pi, Clinique’s Happy for Men, Romance for Men, Cerruti’s Image and Calvin. They follow on the heels of successful spring introduction’s of Emporio Armani and Jako, Gates said, noting “high-single-digit increases” in men’s this spring.
Although the women’s fragrance business, she agreed, “has been more difficult than men’s,” she is optimistic about the future, noting, “Spring ended a lot better than I thought it would. I’m very excited about the possibilities for the fall season.”
Fall introductions include Freedom, Candie’s, Rush, Shiseido’s Energizing Fragrance — and Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea, which, Gates noted, had just been launched and is doing “phenomenal.”
Robert Wiser, Gottchalk’s divisional vice president, said he was “very excited” about the upcoming flood of men’s products. “The activity generated by the new fragrances at the men’s bar will help the whole category. Excitement breeds excitement.”
He predicted a 10 percent increase for men’s through Christmas, an improvement over the single-digit gain in the spring.
The “best spring launches,” he explained, were Emporio Armani, Chanel’s Allure Homme and Jako. Good Life, he added, “has been ahead of plan.”
For fall, Freedom, Happy for Men and Romance for Men are “the three dominant launches” for men. In addition, Wiser said, “We’re also excited about Candie’s [for Men] and Calvin.”
Women’s has been lagging, he said, noting, however, “We’re having some good increases in some of the fragrances from the dominant cosmetics lines, such as Happy. And some of the Lauder fragrances continue to do very well.”
The fragrance bar business,” he added, “has been pretty difficult and basically flat for the spring season. We’re up year-to-date about 3 percent.” The problem, he noted, is “the lack of launches.” But fall looks brighter with women’s launches, including Freedom for Her, Emporio Armani and Candie’s.
At Rich’s, the Atlanta-based Federated division, men’s fragrance increased in high single digits year-to-date and should continue on that pace.
Gary Borofsky, vice president and general merchandise manager, said too much newness could take away from existing brands. “Men’s is more competitive than ever,” he said. Women’s fragrance has shown mid-single-digit increases, which he described as “good compared with the rest of the marketplace.”
Rich’s will strive for more focused internal execution of launches, with better signage and displays. This year, Rich’s will stress the week after Christmas with more advertising to capitalize on millennium fever.
Carson Pirie Scott & Co. in Chicago will launch 10 new fragrances, said Rosemary Escamilla, men’s fragrance buyer. Among those is the latest from Michael Jordan, which excites Escamilla the most. “It’s more upscale than the original,” she said. Escamilla expects Candie’s to be huge this holiday season, as well as Curve. Men’s fragrance sales are up 11 percent.
At Proffitt’s in Knoxville, Tenn., men’s has done well this year. Growth should continue into Christmas, boosted by new fall launches. Proffitt’s will rely heavily on gifts, which have had a 100 percent sell-through rate in recent seasons, and scented inserts, while decreasing newspaper advertising.
At McRae’s, men’s is up 10 percent year-to-date. A 15 percent gain is planned for Christmas.
Newness has driven sales, including recent launches of Jako and Allure, said Chris Evans, divisional merchandise manager. Women’s fragrance is up 2 percent year-to-date, with 5 to 10 percent gains projected by yearend.
December should be 5 percent up, said Evans, adding, “Women’s has been difficult.” Exceptions include White Diamonds and Curve. Happy gained 40 percent this year, and Chanel increased 20 percent. Dazzling’s anniversary launch was also strong.
Steffenie Yates, men’s and women’s fragrance buyer at Halls in Kansas City, is counting on what she calls “millennium hype.” A mailer, highlighting gift sets as part of new launches and from classic fragrances, will go out the beginning of November.
Women’s introductions will include Patou Forever, an exclusive. Faberge’s Princess Grace collection will be new to Halls, as will Le Baiser, the new Lalique fragrance. Overall, sales are up in single digits in men’s and women’s fragrances, Yates said.
Julian Gold, a women’s specialty store based in San Antonio, Tex., with branches in Midland and Corpus Christi, Tex., repositioned its fragrance business about 18 months ago with better in-store real estate, more floor space and more stock, said Susan Glover, cosmetics manager. Sales are growing each month.
Classics are helping the business, including Bal a Versailles, Jean Patou’s Joy, Oscar de la Renta, Piguet’s Fracas and Alexandra de Markoff’s Enigma.
“Our customer uses fragrances like accessories,” Glover said, “and they don’t want to wear what everybody else has.”