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Perfume gifts smelling good to shoppers

The fragrance industry pulls in 20% of its total sales for the year in just the two weeks leading up to Christmas.

December 17, 2007|Molly Selvin | Times Staff Writer

Dashanta Harris is the customer perfume makers dream of.

"I'm a big fan of smelling good," the 21-year-old UCLA senior said as she left Nordstrom in West Los Angeles last week with a bottle of Jean Paul Gaultier cologne, "and I want other people to smell good too."

The Jean Paul Gaultier was for her boyfriend. Her father is also on her fragrance-for-Christmas list, and she's given such gifts to her mother and brother for holidays past.

More than Valentine's Day and Mother's Day combined, this is the season when scents translate into cents for the $3.96-billion fragrance industry. It pulls in a third of its annual revenue in December and 20% of the year's total in just the two weeks before Christmas, said Karen Grant, a beauty industry consultant for marketing information company NPD Group.

Sales aren't driven only by gift-challenged husbands and boyfriends desperate at the eleventh hour. Men account for less than a quarter of fragrance purchases, Grant said. It's women who are the big spenders, buying perfume or cologne for other women or the men in their lives.

The late-year surge is partly a response to the annual blizzard of perfume advertising. In past years, Harris said, ads and her friends' recommendations encouraged her to sample Jennifer Lopez's and Britney Spears' offerings.

Many older women are like Ana Bueno, loyal to a particular scent. The 52-year-old West Los Angeles resident has worn Narciso Rodriguez for several years, though for a girlfriend she purchased Black Orchid by Tom Ford.

It's better to receive perfume than a purse or a scarf, Bueno said, "because people will tell you you smell nice."

Although hundreds of new fragrances debut annually, "people tend to wear a fragrance they like for 10 years," said Patti Kapla, a vice president for the online retailer

But few scents have a more faithful following than Chanel No. 5. First introduced in 1921, it's still among the five top-selling women's scents, according to Kline & Co. data.

The brand thrives because it "continues to reinvent itself in terms of positioning and advertising," said Grant of NPD Group. Chanel's current campaign featuring actress Nicole Kidman has introduced the scent to younger generations while cementing the loyalty of older customers, Grant said. Chanel has also burnished its image as a luxury product by limiting sales of promotional gift sets.

The most successful fragrances adhere to a formula that combines "a great fragrance, a great package and a great emotional theme," said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, which tracks the buying habits of the wealthiest Americans. Calvin Klein's Obsession, another longtime successful fragrance, appeals to baby boomers "playing out their dreams of having it all in terms of romance," he said.

And a whiff of scandal doesn't always hurt.

Britney Spears' first two fragrances, Curious and Fantasy, remain popular despite the singer's well-publicized driving mishaps, alcohol problems and bruising child custody battle, Kapla said.

But two of her more recent fragrances -- In Control, introduced last year, and Midnight Fantasy, which debuted this year -- haven't fared so well.

That's partly because of the flood of new celebrity fragrances, Kapla said, many released for the holiday season, including Paris Hilton, Jennifer Lopez, Kimora Lee Simmons, Sarah Jessica Parker, Sean "Diddy" Combs, Gwen Stefani, Usher and Celine Dion.

"You can live life vicariously through fragrance," Pedraza said. "Remember, we're selling dreams here."



The scent of success

The five top-selling women's fragrance brands:

Dream Angels by Victoria's Secret

Chanel No. 5 by Chanel

Beautiful by Estee Lauder

Pleasures by Estee Lauder

Euphoria by Calvin Klein

Online bestsellers

Euphoria by Calvin Klein

Lovely Sarah Jessica Parker by Sarah Jessica Parker

D & G Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana

Jessica McClintock by Jessica McClintock

Design by Paul Sebastian

Sources: Kline & Co.,

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