Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK — The key women’s fragrance business in department stores has shown signs of perking up this year after nearly a decade of flatness.
So where do we go from here?
Where the next generation of fragrance users will come from has always been a vexing question. The smart money is often bet on the swelling demographic bubble of teens and preteens, which has made beauty marketeers delirious with anticipation. But equally astute marketers see opportunity in alternative product forms, like fragranced lotions. And there even is evidence of an emerging young audience for old classics.
At Cosmair’s Ralph Lauren division, for example, the 22-year-old Polo men’s fragrance is enjoying an 8 percent sales increase, with minimal promotion and no national advertising. Andrea Robinson, general manager of Ralph Lauren Fragrances Worldwide, sees this startling fact as evidence of a new generation of users who are just discovering Polo.
And Robinson has her eye on the MTV generation. That’s who the upcoming Ralph fragrance is aimed at, and Robinson sees that as just the opening salvo. Along with the Asian market, she considers teenagers as the richest untapped vein. The trick, Robinson says, is to lure the present Bath & Body Works clientele into the department stores and indoctrinate the young in a “trickling up” process.
“We think there’s a definite youth culture ready to be exposed to something more expensive,” she said, referring to this group as the “new noses.”
The younger users, who were weaned by Bath & Body Works, now comprise an audience “that is totally influential. They are the trendsetters, and their mothers are interested in what they like.”
Quoting studies, Robinson said the 12-to-19-year-old group spends $150 billion a year, with $9 billion earmarked for cosmetics and $1.2 billion for fragrance. She said the under-25-year-olds are the most prolific fragrance consumers. On average, they buy five fragrances a year, she said.
Newness is what matters to young customers, added Robinson, and product marketers have to come up with the goods to fit their lifestyle. That also is one of the points driven home by Paulanne Mancuso, president of Unilever’s recently formed Cosmetics group. She noted that future product efforts must be segmented into end uses designed to fit into the new realities and daily routines of young consumers. These lifestyles are radically different from past behavior and marketers are going to have to take a holistic approach in dealing with the new audience, she added.
What has become clear, Mancuso and others point out, is that there has been a resurgence in the aspiration toward luxury, even though the term is being redefined. For instance, one of the marketing points of Calvin Klein’s new fragrance, Truth, is that personal time has become one of the new luxuries.
Timra L. Carlson, vice president of NPD BeautyTrends, also has been championing the coming generation of virgin users. NPD quotes U.S. Census figures in pointing out that the echo boomers, the 12-to-24-year-old children of the baby boomers, comprise 70 million people. In comparison, their baby boomer parents number 82 million.
She also sees customization and layering as a method of getting older consumers to use more fragrances.
Federated Department stores is one of the retailers that has been trying to lure younger consumers. The Souson shops were aimed at the toiletry consumer. And Rita Mangan, senior vice president of cosmetics at Federated Merchandising, has stressed the need to work with vendors to develop innovative new merchandise to lure kids out of the mall courtyards.
One of the companies that has cut a wake into the youth market is Liz Claiborne, with scents like Sport, Curve, Candie’s and now Lucky You.
But Neil Katz, president of Liz Claiborne Cosmetics, doesn’t see it as a demographic adventure. To him, the trick is teasing the psychographics within the demographics. The imagery narrows the marketing focus while the perfumery extends the reach. The goal is to make the juice as acceptable as possible.
Karyn Khoury, senior vice president of fragrance development worldwide at Estee Lauder Cos., thinks that the graduates of Bath & Body Works have learned to look at fragrance differently from their mothers. There is an increase in demand for fragrance usage with texture — in body products, in creams, in lotions — “multiple pleasures through multiple senses” as Khoury puts it. Suddenly it’s all about touch and warmth. The new fragrance consumer wants new product forms.
As Khoury pointed out, the candle trend illuminated an at-home trend. It helped marketers see that fragrance is about lifestyle, not about dressing up.
That’s a point also made by fragrance consultant Ann Gottlieb, who worked on Calvin Klein’s multifaceted Truth fragrance. Her view is that usage will shift in line with a lifestyle change toward more time spent enjoying life at home. “People will be fragrancing their environment, perhaps in place of themselves,” she said.
Meanwhile at Bath & Body Works, Jack Krause, vice president of toiletries merchandising, says the chain is moving on and developing along with its young customer base. Just as the company turned raspberry into an agent of sensuality with its Raspberry Sun Burst fragrance line, the company now is going after categories of natural products. And there is room for more complexity and sophistication in the product assortment, he added.
Meanwhile, at one of the hippest beauty emporiums in the U.S., Fred Segal Essentials in Santa Monica, Calif., Robin Coe Hutshing plans to install a boutique of historic, classic fragrances this summer. We’re talking Caron and Fracas in the store that helped introduce the world to Demeter and Smell This.