There's more than the traditional scents of Christmas in the air these days. An all-out olfactory battle is being waged at department store fragrance counters this month, as perfume manufacturers offer their creative best to win gift-givers' dollars.
"It's an extremely competitive business during the holidays," says Ira Levy, Estee Lauder's senior vice president for corporate marketing and design. "We have to present gift packaging on store counters that is going to knock the socks off the consumers."
And since all the top-notch fragrance companies approach this selling period with the same attitude, shoppers are being bombarded with wonderful aromas and equally wonderful visuals--a melange of baskets, boxes, treasure chests and bags filled with the essences of their choice.
Annette Green, director of the Fragrance Foundation, estimates that consumers will spend as much as $1.5 billion on women's fragrance products this year during the all-important Christmas selling period (October through December), a figure that translates to 65% of the industry's $2.3 billion yearly volume. Green also points out that men make 75% of the fragrance purchases during the holiday season.
Which labels are winning this sweet-smelling battle? Right now, local department stores report that Cacharel's Anais Anais, Calvin Klein's Obsession and Ralph Lauren's Lauren are the people's choices. (They're "blowing out of the stores," as Bullock's fragrance buyer, Debbie Matthews, puts it.)
May Co.'s Joanne Marshall also names Yves Saint Laurent's Opium, and long-playing Chanel No. 5 along with Guerlain's Shalimar as gift favorites this year. Nordstrom's Marlene Hare concurs, but adds that Oscar de la Renta's Oscar and Karl Lagerfeld's Chloe are also on the best seller list.
Fragrance gift sets are selling like designer hot cakes. The carefully designed ensembles usually include a selection of potions, lotions and lathers, frequently priced to reflect a savings over buying each product individually. The Fragrance Foundation's Green estimates that about one-third of this season's fragrance sales will be for these sets of assorted fragrance, body and bath products.
Traditional holiday fare, these specially assembled gift packs can be purchased in almost any price range: For example, Estee Lauder's Youth Dew eau de parfum for $11.50 comes packaged with Youth Dew body cream. For $75, there's a treasure chest filled with five versions of Youth Dew, two extra spray bottles and a funnel with which to fill them.
Vanderbilt, by Gloria Vanderbilt, can be found in eau de toilette and bath soap set for $14. Or, for $27.50, fragrance, bath and body products come packed with a frosted vanity tray.
One of the world's most expensive fragrances, Joy de Patou, comes in one of the season's most expensive gift assortments: five bottles of assorted Joy in a satin-lined lacquer-like box for $300.
Camille McDonald, director of marketing for Lauren and Paloma Picasso fragrance lines, notes that until recently $25 was the most popular price for fragrance gift ensembles.
"This year the consumer is not as price sensitive as we thought she would be. If the selection of products in a gift represents a significant value, 1985 holiday consumers will spend $35 on a Lauren set," McDonald says.
She also notes that Paloma Picasso sets appeal to the customer "who doesn't bat an eye at spending $40 on a gift." The scent, created by the daughter of artist Pablo Picasso, is contained in dramatic black-and-gold bottles in equally dramatic black-and-red boxes.
Gift ensembles vary widely from company to company, both in price and in what is included.
"Some companies use the holiday season to offer trial sizes of products in their gift sets," explains Susan Biehn, director of public relations at Christian Dior. She suggests that when trying to determine the value of a gift ensemble, consumers check to see whether the products included are full-size or promotional. Dior's one gift ensemble for 1985 consists of a tapestry handbag filled with full-size bottles of eau de parfum, body lotion and bath powder.
At the House of Chanel, gift packages range in price from about $24 for three bars of Chanel No. 5 French-milled soap to $115 for one bottle of perfume and one bottle of eau de parfum in the firm's newest designer scent, Coco.
Guerlain designers have created a collectible perfume flacon copied from an 1853 Imperiale bottle. Detailed in 18-karat gold, the flacon is $215 and is filled with Shalimar. Gift ensembles of Shalimar come in red lacquer-like boxes, ranging in price from $25 to $50.
"American people like fragrance candles," says Jacqueline Poupiot, director of marketing for Cacharel's Anais, Anais. "In France, the candles are not as popular as other boutique gift sets."
Cacharel offers seven gift sets ranging in price from $22 to $50, all packaged in a signature pink chintz print box. Scented candles are priced at $22.