PHEROMONES TAKE SPOTLIGHT WITH THE RELAUNCH OF REALM
Byline: PETE BORN
NEW YORK — Erox Corp. keeps on ticking.
In a continuing effort to disprove the industry adage that there are no second chances in the fragrance business, Erox is about to stage a second retail coming for its two pheromone fragrances, Realm Women and Realm Men.
The two scents, which had a short-lived introduction at the ill-fated I. Magnin last fall, will be relaunched in April at selected Bloomingdale’s stores and throughout the 24-unit Rich’s chain.
The progress of Erox, based in Fremont, Calif., is also noteworthy because its fragrances are the latest manifestation of an age-old debate: For as long as perfumers can remember, the industry has hunted for an olfactory Eldorado known as human pheromones. These elusive biochemical ingredients theoretically possess the power to turn people on and trigger strong emotions. They certainly have egged on researchers.
Although industry experts have concluded that human pheromones do exist, most major fragrance companies have decided that evolution has made them irrelevant with regard to Homo sapiens.
Some houses continue to hunt for the magic ingredient, but most others have broken off the laboratory pursuit. Meanwhile, the giant firms — such as International Flavors & Flavors, Givaudan Roure and Firmenich — are steadfast in their belief that pheromone-like effects can be achieved through new perfumery techniques, similar to aromatherapy.
Researchers and perfumers are trying to shape fragrances that alter moods, such as fostering a sense of well being or giving wearers more pep, in what some industry notables have advocated as a seminal category: scents that actually do things.
But details are sketchy. Fragrance suppliers hesitate to show their hand because of the usual fear of tipping off the competition. Also, there is the unspoken concern that the mood altering nature of their work may take on some characteristics of a drug in the eyes of federal regulators.
Much of the early research into pheromones was done by IFF in the Sixties and Seventies, when the company was working with primates in England. The company even developed a Jovan fragrance in the early Eighties containing IFF’s version of a human pheromone.
“Part of the challenge is that pheromones will always be the holy grail,” said Eugene Grisanti, chairman and chief executive officer of IFF. “People will always look for a magic bullet that causes a sexual turn-on.”
Grisanti echoed other supply executives in stating that human pheromones do exist, although the human mind has become too complex for such instinctive reactions. He pointed to “man’s ability to intellectualize, romanticize and fantasize” as complicating the process.
“The use of human pheromones in fragrances seems to have had a negligible marketing impact,” Grisanti said.
Dragoco was another supplier which marketed a synthesized pheromone, called Aldron, in the Seventies, but it was inconclusive in its performance.
Francois Robert, senior perfumer at Dragoco USA in Totowa, N.J., said the difficulty in dealing with pheromones is in producing one that not only works but affects everyone the same way. The company, however, is continuing in its search. “We hope one day to find one that is universally accepted,” he said.
IFF has continued with its non-pheromone research, doing sensory studies for the last 15 years and psychological tests for the last 10 years. Around 20 years ago, the company did sexuality studies with Masters & Johnson in laboratories in Sweden and Switzerland.
The company has been concentrating the last few years on using different combinations of ingredients to produce a matrix of behavioral effects, called Mood Mapping. “Some make you relax while others make you more alert,” Grisanti said.
He declined to cite fragrances that benefited from this technology. But Giorgio Beverly Hills has said that its Wings and Wings for Men brands benefited from the technology.
Bob Aliano, vice president of product development and creative at Giorgio, said IFF created a special accord of nine notes, which Giorgio calls the Sensory Vortex, that was added to Wings to make the feminine construction more sensuous. It was also used in the men’s fragrance.
Aliano said IFF tested the fragrance against other brands on hundreds of consumers. He noted, “It scored very high on sensuality.”
Givaudan also has taken the approach of trying to improve the performance of fragrances through advances in perfumery, rather than pheromone research. “It is not an area where we are investing the corporation’s money,” said Geoffrey Webster, president of the North American fragrance division of Givaudan Roure Corp.
William P. Horgan, president and chief executive officer of Erox, thinks the fragrance industry simply has failed to find the right key. Many of the substances isolated in the past have been pig pheromones, he acknowledged, and research has shown that the biochemical ingredients are “species specific,” meaning that an animal substance cannot act as a biochemical messenger between humans.
Erox claims to be the first company to isolate a human pheromone, but it does not bill the Realm fragrances as sexual attractants. Instead, the scents are portrayed as enhancing the wearer’s sense of well-being and self-confidence.
That was the pitch; but the realization has given Erox a rough ride. The Erox board aborted its initial infomercial test in September 1993 after registering a stunningly low sales-to-media cost ratio of 1.3 to 1. Horgan then entered the picture, and the infomercial was revamped and relaunched last Aug. 21. The sales ratio has been running over 2 to 1, according to Horgan.
Then the fragrances were launched at Magnin’s on Oct. 16. In the aborted debut, the fragrances sold out before Thanksgiving, he said.
According to sources, sales at Magnin’s were about $50,000. However, another $30,000 in Realm fragrances held by Magnin’s catalog division did not sell through, since the chain closed down before Christmas.
But now comes the second stab. Federated Department Stores executives confirmed that plans are being made to launch the Realm fragrances in four Bloomingdale’s branches — Minneapolis and three doors in South Florida — in April. Federated said it is also thinking about adding Chicago, and Horgan said the two Philadelphia stores are under discussion. Also, the Realm fragrances were included in the Bloomies by Mail catalog that went out this week.
The fragrances will also be rolled out in the Atlanta-based Rich’s in April.
Erox is reportedly shooting for a first-quarter volume of $1 million, with about 40 percent derived from sell-in orders from department stores. For the second quarter, a total of $1.5 million to $2 million is reportedly projected.
Jane Scott, vice president of cosmetics and fragrances at Bloomingdale’s, said the Realm launch will be staged outside the New York flagship because the scientific positioning of the fragrance requires a quieter environment.
“The story concept and scientific positioning is beyond a typical fragrance launch,” she said. “It needs tender loving care.”
In addition, Erox is planning to add four ancillary products: a women’s body lotion for $35 and shower gel for $30, plus a men’s bath and shower gel for $20 and an aftershave balm for $25.
One indication of the fragrances’ viability comes from Neiman Marcus in Dallas. The Realm fragrances were included in the store’s Silks catalog, which appeared in late January, and the reception was strong.
“It has indeed taken off like a rocket and exceeded expectations,” said a store spokeswoman, who noted that the fragrances also will be featured in the chain’s Accents for Spring catalog, which was mailed last week.
Neiman’s does not break out figures, but sources indicated that the fragrances are expected to do $250,000 to $300,000 in catalog business this year.
The Neiman’s spokeswoman quoted the buyer in the catalog division as saying that consumers were attracted to the scents, which surround the odorless pheromones. “The fragrances have such a broad appeal,” the spokeswoman said. “They are not definitely a floral,and they are not definitely spicy — just lean and likable.”
Not the least of it is the chief selling point, she added, saying that “people are very curious about the pheromone effect.”