Byline: Julie L. Belcove and Soren Larson

NEW YORK — With the finish line in sight, the only question remaining in the fragrance business is the size of the winning margin.
The one unknown factor this Christmas season is the number of last-minute shoppers who could push the numbers to new levels with a final surge. But for now, department store retailers are projecting gains ranging
number of last-minute shoppers who could push the numbers to new levels with a final surge. But for now, department store retailers are projecting gains ranging from the mid-single digits up into the teens.
The exceptional performance of Calvin Klein’s CK One, coupled with a resurgence of classic brands and an extra Saturday on the calendar, is the underlying reason for the confidence. Scents that are in exclusive or limited distribution have been of particular importance to specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel.
Holiday hopes have been high since Thanksgiving, when many stores reported that shoppers came out early and began snapping up the myriad value offerings dished up by manufacturers.
The lone negative note was sounded by a West Coast retailer who complained, “I don’t think [customers] have shopped yet. We haven’t been hit yet by any uncontrollable shopping frenzy.”
Leading the pack of new launches since its introduction in late September has been the genderless scent CK One, which apparently has tapped into the nascent youth market in a major way.
“CK One has definitely shown itself to be a Christmas brand as well as a hot launch,” said Michelle Williams, divisional merchandise manager at Federated Merchandising Corp. She said the scent has held the number-one spot at Federated’s stores since its launch, and is head and shoulders above any other recent introduction.
“There’s been a bit of erosion with the other [Calvin Klein] brands, but the CK One numbers more than make up for it,” she added. “Obsession has also been doing particularly well.”
Williams said the extra weekend shopping day right before Christmas might have a profound effect on the final business tally.
“We’re guessing there will be a significant swing in the last two days. So much always comes in the last few days,” she said.
She said she was reluctant to mark specific goals, taking into account the volatility of the last-minute rush, but she did say, “We’re in the mid-single digits ahead as of now. I’ll be conservative and say we’re going to end up solidly in the mid-single digits. But I think we’ll be very satisfied.”
Williams said that other than CK One, the major stories of the month have been strong sales of classic brands, coffrets — the collections of fragrance miniatures that have shot to prominence in the last two years — and the various value offerings.
“We purchased more coffrets this year,” she said. “We’re very pleased with that business.
“We’re also pleased with a number of the classics,” she said. “[YSL’s] Opium has been doing very nicely. [Guerlain’s] Shalimar has had a good couple of months, and Chanel No. 5 is very strong.”
She also noted that Elizabeth Arden’s Sunflowers and True Love, Lancôme’s Trésor and Estée Lauder’s Tuscany Per Donna and Beautiful were all doing well, with Beautiful likely to end up the season in Federated’s number-two slot, behind CK One.
“The men’s business has been having a more difficult time,” Williams said, adding that Lancaster’s Cool Water and DK Men were among the few standouts. “I think some of the promotional items need to be looked at. There were too many bags [as promotional giveaways] this year. The category could use some more variety.”
Steve Bock, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks, described the holiday season as “fabulous.”
“When taken as a whole, we’re solidly in the double-digit range,” he said. “Christmas 1993 in women’s fragrance was outstanding, and we’re going to pick up in the teens, so it’s been excellent, excellent.”
Driving the Saks business, Bock said, have been exclusives, such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Flore by Carolina Herrera, and classics, including Chanel, Tiffany, Boucheron, Cartier and Joy from Jean Patou.
Bock described Gaultier, which Saks launched with record-breaking sales in September, as “a runaway success.” He said Flore is exceeding plan and is “solidly in the top 10.”
In the New York flagship, Gaultier is still the number-one scent, followed by L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake, which Bock said remains strong during its second Christmas season. Rounding out New York’s top five are Annick Goutal, Chanel and Angel from Thierry Mugler. Bock said he expects the Saks flagship to be Angel’s best-selling door in the world.
Donna Karan New York and Casmir from Parfums Chopard have also had good holiday seasons, Bock added, as has CK One, which he said “appeals to a very universal customer.”
At Bloomingdale’s, value sets, promotions, CK One and classics have been fueling sales, according to Jane Scott, vice president and divisional merchandise manager.
“I’d like to hit 10 percent for the month,” Scott said. She said the season has gone the way she anticipated: a slow three weeks followed by a powerful final week.
CK One will be the number-one scent in both the women’s and men’s categories, she said. The other leading women’s brands at Bloomingdale’s are Donna Karan, Chanel No. 5, Trésor, Boucheron, Beautiful and Ralph Lauren’s Safari for Women. Newer scents, including Jaòpur from Boucheron, L’Eau d’Issey and Angel, also have been contributing to the business.
On the men’s side, in addition to CK One, Lauren’s Polo Sport has been “a huge business,” Scott said. The other men’s bestsellers at Bloomingdale’s have been DK Men, Safari for Men, Eternity and Escape from Calvin Klein, Polo and Aramis. But overall, Scott called the men’s category “the most difficult piece” of business.
CK One is dominating business in the Midwest as well.
“CK One is off the charts,” said Nancy Schmidt, divisional merchandise manager at Carson Pirie Scott & Co., Milwaukee.
Schmidt said the holiday season’s sales are “on track,” but she added she is counting on a busy final weekend before Christmas. “It could be stronger, but we’re right where we need to be to have a good December,” Schmidt said.
Value sets and promotional offerings have been an important part of the mix, Schmidt said. In women’s, following CK One are Beautiful, Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, Jessica McClintock, Chanel and Casmir. In men’s, the leaders at Carson’s are Cool Water by Davidoff, Obsession for Men, Paul Sebastian and Drakkar Noir.
John Stabenau, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Neiman Marcus, Dallas, said fragrance sales at the specialty store chain have been consistently ahead of last year’s numbers through the fall and into December.
“We’re doing very, very well this year,” he said. “Business has been very strong, and we think it’s going to end very strong.”
He noted that store traffic has been heavy throughout this month.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of activity,” he said. “And more and more people are continuing to walk into the store.”
Stabenau said the top-selling fragrance brands at Neiman’s this season, in no particular order, have been Bulgari, Angel, the Annick Goutal scents, Quelques Fleurs, Boucheron, Donna Karan and Dolce & Gabbana.
“In our case, having brands that are exclusive or are in limited distribution has really helped the business,” he noted.
Bendel’s also has been feeling the holiday spirit.
“We were running single-digit increases up until Thanksgiving,” said Ed Burstell, the store’s fragrance and cosmetics buyer. “Since then, it’s been double-digit increases. One thing I can pinpoint is that it’s exclusives and restricted distribution leading the way.”
Burstell pointed to L’Artisan Parfumeur, La Rose de Rosine, Comptoir Sud Pacifique, Borsari and Annick Goutal as some of the exclusive and limited-distribution brands that have been leading the Bendel’s business. The one exception is Chanel, he said, noting that he has reordered the brand’s gift sets three times.
“There never is a doubt about Chanel — about whether it’s the right gift,” Burstell said.

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