NEW YORK — The confidence of prestige fragrance retailers continues to swell as department stores face the Christmas countdown.
The fall launch schedule has reached its peak and the current crop of new scents, led by Calvin Klein’s CK One, pushed October sales gains into the high single digits and, in some cases, even more.
The solid showing, coupled with an abundance of value-oriented
programs from vendors and a resurgence of classic brands like Chanel, has some retailers predicting holiday gains of well over 20 percent.
“We had a very, very good October,” said Steve Bock, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. He projected even a better Christmas than last year’s, when the store reportedly enjoyed gains of over 20 percent.
John Stabenau, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Neiman Marcus, Dallas, was also enthusiastic.
“October was excellent,” he said, noting the store had double-digit gains. “Our trend over the last few months has been to go up and we think it’s going to continue.”
CK One, which is likely to head many top-10 lists, is the most highly lauded of the new fall scents. Also making the grade are Jean Paul Gaultier, Lancaster’s Chopard Casmir and Boucheron’s Jaòpur, and on the men’s side, Giorgio Beverly Hills’ Wings for Men. Donna Karan’s DK Men, introduced this week, is seen as a potential star.
However, Karl Lagerfeld’s Sun Moon Stars and Yves Saint Laurent’s Champagne, two highly anticipated scents which have been rolling out since late summer, drew some less enthusiastic comments from retailers.
Meanwhile, the first fragrance from Comme des Garcons was launched Tuesday at the 15 Barneys New York stores nationwide and at the Comme des Garcons boutique here. About 350 bottles were sold in the first three days throughout the Barneys chain, according to Adrian Joffe, managing director of Comme des Garcons.
At a party in her honor Tuesday night, the company’s designer, Rei Kawakubo, said sales so far have been split equally between women and men. “It is a perfume for oneself, so it could be for a man or a woman,” she said.
The fragrance is going to be “a huge success for us,” said Joyce Avalon, divisional merchandise manager for Barneys New York, noting it should end up in the store’s top three.
Sun Moon Stars was launched Sunday at Saks Fifth Avenue, a month after its introduction at Macy’s East in Herald Square. Karl Lagerfeld made an appearance at the Saks flagship Wednesday and spent an hour autographing bottles for an overflow crowd estimated at 400 by store executives.
By 1 p.m., sales totaled more than $6,000, according to industry estimates. “It met and exceeded our expectations,” said Bock.
He also credited vendors for paying attention to older brands.
“The older fragrances are getting new programs, with strong visuals and new advertising campaigns,” he said, citing the Chanel brands, the Guerlains, Cartier, First by Van Cleef & Arpels, Tiffany and Boucheron.
“We’ve also had some wonderful new ones both this year and last,” Bock noted, citing in particular CK One and Jean Paul Gaultier, along with Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey, Casmir, Flore by Carolina Herrera, Jaòpur, Champagne, St. John and Thierry Mugler’s Angel.
Value-based offerings will once again be vital for Christmas, said Bock. But coffrets — the sets of miniature fragrance bottles that have become an omnipresent staple — will not, Bock said, citing low profit margins and degradation of the regular-size business.
Michelle Williams, divisional merchandise manager at Federated Merchandising Corp., said her fragrance business was up “in the high teens” for October.
“We did better than in September, and this is primarily due to CK One,” she said. “If it’s a good Christmas brand — we don’t know, but we’re guessing it will be — it should turn out to be number one for the season.”
Sun Moon Stars has been meeting its plan, Williams said. Jaòpur is sold only in Federated’s Bloomingdale’s division, but is doing some “substantial business” there. Champagne fell short of its October plan, Williams noted, but said the brand should benefit from new promotions beginning in December.
Elizabeth Arden’s True Love has been doing well, she said, and Casmir “has been terrific since Day One.” On the men’s side, Wings for Men was in the top 10 for October, while Cosmair’s Horizon and DK Men have strong potential.
Williams said she anticipated growth in the high teens through the holiday season.
“We’ve been starting off early with the visual display setups and the advertising, and the value sets are strong,” she said. “We have even more coffrets this year. We made a major investment in them.”
Rita Burke, senior vice president at Macy’s East, said CK One is “the biggest launch we’ve ever had at Macy’s” and is showing no signs of slowing down. “It’s currently number one, and it’s going to be number one for the year — that’s our prediction.”
Burke said October was the best month for fragrances the store has had in a long time, with gains in the high single digits. She projected more of the same through Christmas.
Macy’s just introduced Jaòpur, which Burke thought would add a boost, and has been meeting plan with Sun Moon Stars and Champagne.
“We’re satisfied with their sales so far,” she said.
Burke also credited the early implementation of value offerings for the fall surge.
“We’ve seen a 20 to 30 percent increase in the number of value offerings this year,” she added. “It’s hard to believe, but there will be more promotions and more value offerings than last year.”
Jane Scott, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Bloomingdale’s, said a broad distribution may be diluting sales of Sun Moon Stars. She noted the fragrance might be boosted by a scent strip the store is distributing with a catalog for Beauty Benefits, a week-long event that began Sunday.
“We’re already seeing business going up because of it,” said Scott. “We’re up over 20 percent as a total department. It’s affected everything.”
She added that the Lab Series line of skin care for men from Aramis, featured prominently this week, has “catapulted Aramis into my top five fragrance brands.”
Stabenau of Neiman’s said the Bulgari fragrance was the top performer among recent introductions. St. John, launched last week at Neiman’s, is also off to a solid start.
On the men’s side, DK Men has been “doing very well,” and Havana, which had been delayed because Aramis thought it tacky to launch during political turmoil in Cuba, is now on the way and highly anticipated.
“We’re also doing tremendous business with our classics,” Stabenau said, citing Chanel, Cartier and Joy by Jean Patou.
“Our October was very strong in women’s, and relatively strong in men’s,” said Marty Richner, corporate regional manager for Mercantile Midwest. “Chopard [Casmir] and CK One are leading the way.”
Richner said business was up in the “high single digits” in October. “We were strong in September, too, but we were just starting to get the launches in,” she said.
Richner said more manufacturers were getting into the miniatures game this Christmas.
“Everybody has put their toe in coffrets,” she said. “There’s also a lot more selection with the value sets. Where last year a vendor might have had a couple, now they’re offering four or five.”
“October was outstanding,” said Margo Scavarda, senior vice president at Broadway Stores, Los Angeles. She said fragrances were up in the double digits and should continue that way through Christmas.
“We’re being led right now by CK One,” she said, noting it is the chain’s number-one seller. “We’re also doing well with the classics — the Chanels are good, along with Opium and Guerlain.”
Scavarda said Sun Moon Stars was “no blockbuster” and that Wings for Men was the most successful men’s launch at The Broadway. CK One should head up the December charge, she said, along with the bounty of value sets.
“We’ve had the sets for weeks now, and some are already sold out,” she said. “The customers know the routine by now.”
Mindy Dunn, divisional merchandise manager at Rich’s in Atlanta, said that while the men’s business was “soft,” the women’s category had shot up by 24 percent in October.
“We’re extremely positive about November and December, as well,” she said. “We’re planning to have similar gains.”
CK One and Casmir have been very strong, she said, while Wings for Men is leading the way on the men’s side. She added that while Beautiful should rank at the top for the season, CK One and White Diamonds will be battling for the number-two spot.
“Sun Moon Stars should do better in November and December,” said Dunn, adding that Rich’s will be advertising the scent in the coming months. “It’s been meeting plan. Champagne should also do better in November and December — it hasn’t been as strong as we hoped.”
While retailers are on the whole confident about the all-important holiday selling period, they still have one thorn in their side: competition from discounters, who are able to sell diverted fragrances at reduced prices.
“It’s a big issue and a big concern,” said Bock of Saks.
“We’re even seeing some discounters getting the brands before we do, and then they’re offering prices that are 20 to 25 percent below ours,” said Richner of Mercantile. “It’s a constant battle, and you hope that some day you’ll wake up and it will all have gone away.”

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