Byline: Jenny B. Fine

NEW YORK — If Valentine’s Day sales are any indication, America’s love affair with Tommy Hilfiger — or his fragrances, at least — continues.
His men’s fragrance, Tommy, and women’s fragrance, Tommy Girl, dominated the top spots of retailer’s bestseller lists around the country last week, earning such accolades as “incredible,” “outstanding” and “spectacular.”
And there seems to be more good news. After a disappointing Christmas season, many retailers said the results from this year’s first fragrance-giving holiday show the tide may be turning when it comes to the relatively flat performance of the scent arena over the past 18 months.
“Compared to our holiday trends, this was a very pleasing Valentine’s Day,” said Michael Lewis, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of Rich’s. “After a good November and a weak December, we had a very healthy January and a solid performance in the first two weeks of February. I feel good about spring right now, because the indication is the customer is responding to the fragrance arena.”
Indeed, several retailers reported double-digit sales increases for Valentine’s Day, some as high as 20 percent, compared to last year, attributing the gains to a favorable calendar and the dominance of new brands that appeal to younger consumers.
Compared with the Christmas calendar, which was stacked against retailers with five fewer shopping days than the year before, the timing of Valentine’s Day, which fell on a Friday, was more opportune.
In addition, brands like Tommy and Tommy Girl, Nautica Woman and its brother Nautica, Liz Claiborne’s Curve for Men and Women, Giorgio Beverly Hills’ Hugo, Calvin Klein’s CK One and CK Be and Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport fragrances for men and women seem to be attracting younger consumers to department store scent counters.
“We’ve succeeded in acquiring that customer at gift-giving time, which is very exciting news,” said Jon Pollack, vice president and general merchandise manager at Belk’s. “When you look at the list of bestsellers, it’s clear that the younger market has absolutely responded, particularly on the men’s side.”
“Our top five men’s brands for Valentine’s Day — Tommy, Polo Sport, Klein’s Eternity, Curve and Hugo — are all youthful, sporty, action-oriented brands,” agreed Lewis, “which makes it pretty easy to see you’ve got a young customer really responding here.”
While retailers agreed that CK One and CK Be still constitute a major presence on department store shelves, landing in the top 10 in most stores, the CK franchise seems to be losing the powerhouse status it once enjoyed.
“CK One was truly a phenomenon,” Lewis said.
“When it launched, it was first — it brought an exciting focus on the youthful wave and the light, fresh scent. But since then, there have been a number of other brands coming into the category, and let’s face it, Tommy is reaching a lot of those same customers.”
Valentine’s Day suggests that the spring women’s fragrance launches are off to a good start, particularly Nautica Woman and Giorgio’s Red 2, both of which broke through many retailer’s top 10 lists for the week.
Their success is paving the way for this season’s new introductions, including Givenchy’s Organza, Gucci Envy and Davidoff Cool Water Woman.
“The customer is responding to newness,” Lewis said. “Anything new has a viable chance of being a success.”
Red 2 finished number two for the week at Belk’s, behind Tommy Girl. “The brand was in launch mode, and visually, it was new, it’s red, and so the tie-in was pretty easy,” Pollack said.
Overall, Belk’s saw a jump of about 20 percent in its fragrance sales for the period over last year, with Curve, Giorgio’s Ocean Dream, Nautica Woman, Chanel’s No. 5 and Allure, Jessica McClintock, Lancome’s Tresor and Poeme and Estee Lauder’s Pleasures and White Linen leading the list of women’s performers.
On the men’s side, Tommy, Cool Water and Hugo all did “extremely well,” Pollack said, also singling out Polo Sport and CK Be for praise.
White Diamonds “held its own,” and Pollack reported the overall Elizabeth Arden business is showing double-digit increases, with its fall fragrance entry 5th Avenue accounting for part of the gain.
One of the few chains to report a strong Christmas, Macy’s East continued its streak with a strong Valentine’s Day showing — posting high double-digit increases over last year, said Barbara Zinn Moore, senior vice president of fragrances and cosmetics.
“The combination of having two extra days this year compared to last, when Valentine’s Day was on a Wednesday, as well as having it be at the beginning of a weekend, led to extra gift-giving,” Moore said, noting that classic fragrances and designer scents had the strongest showing this year.
Macy’s “outstanding” sellers for the period were Chanel No. 5, the Polo Sport fragrances, Tommy and Tommy Girl, Givenchy’s Amarige, Guerlain’s Shalimar, the Nautica scents and both versions of Curve, Moore said, adding that Red 2 was “very strong,” as were Pleasures, Tresor, White Linen and 5th Avenue on the treatment-vendor side.
Bon Marche posted a sales increase of close to 20 percent this year over last for Valentine’s Day, according to Diane Gates, divisional vice president of cosmetics, who credited a direct-mail fragrance catalog sent out in early February and new launches for the gains.
On the women’s side, the top 10 scents for the week were, in no particular order, Realm by Erox, Oscar, Klein’s Obsession and Eternity, Tommy Girl, Red 2, Amarige, Polo Sport Woman, Curve and Donna Karan.
Bon Marche’s bestseller’s on the men’s side included Tommy, Hugo, Polo Sport, Curve, Eternity, Cool Water, Aramis, Drakkar Noir and Realm.
Gates attributed the success of Realm to stepped-up radio advertising, while noting that Obsession for men and women both benefited from a gift-with-purchase promotion.
Valentine’s Day reinforced the importance of advertising and promoting fragrances to drive the business, Gates said, adding that the store will most likely boost its radio and television advertising before Mother’s Day and Father’s Day based on its results this month.
“It’s great if you have the product in the store, but if you don’t tell customers about it, they’re not getting the idea. They need suggestions about what to give as a gift, and we need to be continually out there in gift-giving times,” she said.
“I’m feeling very good about spring, and there seems to be a lot of opportunities with both new and existing brands,” she added, “but my only concern is a reduction of advertising support throughout the industry that has been the trend throughout the fall.”
Scents such as Tommy, which posted a double-digit sales increase, its sister scent, Tommy Girl, Beautiful, Pleasures and Eternity all contributed to what resulted in a “very good” Valentine’s Day at Rich’s, according to Lewis.
Red 2 posted “very impressive numbers,” at the chain, ranking in the top 10 in its first weeks in-store. Although he expects the performance of Red 2 to level off, Lewis noted that Giorgio’s newest extension to its eight-year-old Red brand should help rejuvenate the entire franchise.
“The same thing happened with Giorgio Aire,” he said. “The original Giorgio brand was running decreases, but Aire helped revitalize it. I think between Red and Red 2, I will see growth in that brand.”
Also running increases this year were White Diamonds, Polo Sport for women — which was up against its launch numbers of last year, and Oscar and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, both of which were marketed at Rich’s with a gift-with-purchase promotion. Classic scents making a come-back on the men’s side and posting sales increases for the period were Cool Water, Drakkar Noir, Aramis and Tuscany, which posted a double-digit gain, Lewis said.
Still, though, those brands paled in comparison to Tommy: “Tommy was by far number one. We picked up over 40 percent on an already humongous base, and this was with no promotional activity,” Lewis noted.
Launched two days before Valentine’s Day, the men’s fragrance Michael Jordan managed to break into the top 20 at Rich’s, a “powerful” performance that prompted Lewis to predict a space in “top 10, if not the top five,” for the year.
The outlook for Jacobson’s fragrance business seems to be improving after a challenging Christmas, said Irene Price, sales promotion director of cosmetics.
“The trend is better since Christmas; we’re starting to notice a spike in the business,” she said, reporting a single-digit increase for Valentine’s Day. “We’re advertising a lot more, particularly with scented pieces, and we did a gift-with-purchase across the board, both of which helped drive business.”
While the women’s side had some positive results, with Price singling out Donna Karan’s Chaos, Mariella Burani’s latest effort and Allure as the “best performers,” on the men’s side, “there wasn’t much action,” she said.
On the West Coast, Mercantile West had an “excellent” Valentine’s Day, according to Joni Lay, regional merchandise manager, who noted that a gift-basket program begun by the chain for the Christmas selling period was re-implemented this holiday with great success.
The top 10 women’s performers, in no particular order, were Beautiful, Chanel No. 5 and Allure, White Diamonds, Tresor, Red 2, Obsession, Tommy Girl, Eternity and Curve for Women. The top men’s brands were Tommy, Obsession, CK Be, Eternity, Aramis, Curve, Hugo, Polo Sport and Escape.
Analyzing the success of the top performers, Lay noted: “A lot of customers went out and looked at what was new and exciting. When you drive that with a basket and some tulle and ribbon, it’s ready, set, go as far as the consumer is concerned.”