Dazzling, Splendor, Ralph Lauren Romance — all these fragrance names sound like emblems of a new gilded age.
But while marketers may be correct, and this is the best of times for the consumer, the story is far different for the fragrance industry.
From Europe to Alabama, retailers are feeling the squeeze. “Fragrance as a whole is having a difficult time at the moment,” said Janet Saunders, associate director of perfumery and cosmetics at the 51-store House of Fraser in the U.K.
Meanwhile, Sharron Williams, senior vice president and corporate general merchandise manager of cosmetics at Proffitt’s Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., pinpointed the problem as a lack of new fragrance launches. “There’s not enough newness, and where there is newness, it isn’t driving enough business to overcome the decreases that the older lines are getting,” she said.
Usually, periods of difficulty tend to unlock the imagination and the market takes a new turn. This time, marketers have returned to a more glittering time, with a series of upcoming launches that celebrate style, luxury and high romance. This fall, there also will be a raft of line extensions and targeted introductions that will further flesh out the market.
A different tack has been taken in Europe. Manufacturers like Estee Lauder, Guerlain, Cacharel, Yves Saint Laurent, Chanel and Lancome have found a way to add zest to their brands by introducing limited-edition, one-shot perfumes that are gone once the last bottle is sold.
In other parts of Europe, however, more primal approaches have been taken. In Italy, for instance, retailers have responded to competition by banding together. One such perfumery association, Arcobaleno Profumerie, was formed a year ago as a marketing consortium to project a collective upscale image to consumers and to give its members the clout of numbers when dealing with manufacturers.
A hostile competitive environment has made this necessary. In the words of one of the board members, Umberto Femminella of Pescara, Italy, “the market is changing. Companies fear not making their figures.”

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