Celebrities give it the juice

It has been a big year in the world of celebrity fragrance.Madonna launched her first fragrance. So did Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. Both Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber have moved on to round two. Meanwhile, Brad Pitt launched a thousand spoofs when he appeared for Chanel No. 5 in an ad where he looks into the distance and rambles about journeys and dreams and inevitability.

Industry analyst Karen Grant estimates that celebrity scents have generated $1.2 billion in sales since 2002, when Jennifer Lopez launched her blockbuster, Glow.

“It’s always a battle for the top talent,” says Grant, vice-president and senior global analyst with the NPD Group Inc.

“It’s like a sport. You want top talent on your team. It seems like it’s not going to end anytime soon.”

Last month, Jon Bon Jovi became the face of Avon’s Unplugged for Her. Unplugged for Him will be available this month. The rocker is not a bad choice, given that last year Avon sold $27 million of baseball star Derek Jeter’s Driven.

Sarah Jessica Parker, who introduced Lovely in 2005, now has offerings including Covet, Dawn, Twilight and Endless. She sold $18 million of her newfragrance, NYC, in 2011.

Fragrance giants Elizabeth Arden and Coty are battling it out for celebrity supremacy. In August, Arden announced that it aims to double sales over the next five years. Part of the plan was acquiring the fragrance licences of Justin Bieber and rapper Nicki Minaj this year. The Arden stable already includesBritney Spears and Taylor Swift, whose top-selling Wonderstruck was followed by Wonderstruck Enchanted this year.

Team Coty has Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez, who introduced Glowing, her 18th fragrance, this year, as well as Madonna, who launched Truth or Dare this spring.

But the grandmama of all celebrity scents for both staying power and profit is Elizabeth Taylor.

Her White Diamonds, introduced 20 years ago by Coty, is still a best-seller, earning the deceased star’s estate $75 million in fragrance sales, according to Forbes magazine.

The industry has come a long way in the past decade.

Britney Spears, for example, has introduced 11 perfumes since her 2004 popular release, Curious. Celebrities are enlisted to give an aging perfume a “bump,” as Charlize Theron did for Dior’s 10-year-old J’adore.

Perfume launches have become red-carpet spectacles allowing fans to see or get access to celebrities. Last month, there was a live online interview with Kristen Stewart to coincide with the launch of Balenciaga’s Florabotanica.

The actress had been announced as the “face” of the fragrance in January long before allegations surfaced that Stewart had cheated on her boyfriend Robert Pattinson, unleashing the ire of Team Edward. (Coincidentally, Robert Pattinson has scored a reported $12 million payday for pitching Dior fragrances for men)

Questions for Stewart, of course, were limited to those about her role as the face of Florabotanica.

“By making the interview live, we ensured the authenticity, spontaneity and exclusivity of the moment,” said Coty.

The appeal of celebrity scent is both simple and complex. On one side, celebrity fragrance holds out the promise that a little bit of stardust can fall on mere mortals. “In this way a famous person becomes reproducible, and has to power to be everywhere,” explains British writer Tom Payne in Fame, a book of essays about the cult of celebrity.

“This is something more pervasive and subliminal than other sorts of merchandise, such as the Desperate Housewives dolls or a Martha Stewart fitted sheet. Even so, it is successful precisely because it is fleeting.”

In in practical terms, celebrities need to maintain synergy with their fans to remain famous. They have the obligation to offer something that is consistent with their “brand.” Bieber’s new fragrance is called Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend — and what tween girl doesn’t want to smell like Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend?

Besides, celebrities are the consummate insiders in the world of fashion and trends and fans can reasonably expect that the celebs are offering juice that is consistent with their image.

Fragrance writer Beth Schreibman Gehring says she wears perfumes she likes, whether or not she cares for the celebrity, although it’s not the norm in her business.

“Perfume companies have been using celebrities for decades to sell their juice. If I like, I’ll wear it,” says Schreibman Gehring, who writes for Perfume Smellin’ Things, The Perfume Magazine and her own site, Stirring the Senses.

“I thought that (Sarah Jessica Parker) Lovely was really a well-crafted fragrance. So is Hilary Duff’s. Lady Gaga’s should have been wonderful. It tried hard, but just missed. Usher’s perfume totally rocked and I adored Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds,” she says.

“The thing is, though, that celebrity perfumes are usually created by pretty decent noses. They are, though, created for an entirely different purpose, and that is generally to sell quantity,” says Schreibman Gehring, who likes to introduce her readers to scents that are reasonably-priced.

“And fortunately some of the good celebrity scents really fit into that category. When the face is more important than the juice, this writer stops paying attention.”

So what does Lady Gaga’s new scent Fame smell like? It really doesn’t matter, said Gaga at the launch of the fragrance at Macy’s Herald Square in a horse-drawn replica of the bottle, wearing ultra-high platforms adorned with little gold figures — the same figures that climb over their naked body in the ad for the fragrance.

Rumour had it that Gaga wanted to incorporate the scent of blood and semen into the juice. This turned out to be untrue, although the scent looks black in the bottle and the rumour stirred up buzz around the launch.

Smell really doesn’t much matter in the world of celebrity fragrance, said Gaga.

“I’m not trying to be funny, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the celebrity fragrance world, you’re buying a fragrance because you like the celebrity,” she told reporters in New York.

“So the challenge for me was to say that I’m going to create something that I think you will love if you don’t like me.”

The celebrity scent strategy particularly resonates with younger consumers, who consider young celebrities to be aspirational, says industry analyst Grant. However, the success of White Diamonds and Céline Dion’s perfumes shows that the loyalty of older customers also has a lot of muscle.

“The customer there is over 45 and extremely loyal,” says industry analyst Grant. “When they find something they like, they’ll stay with it forever.”

The target market for most celeb perfumes is very young — 16 to late 20s, says Schreibman Gehring.

“And generally these are marketed to a mass audience that tends to be very influenced — and wants to identify with — by a certain name or face,” she says.

“You don’t generally see them in Vogue, Town and Country or Harpers Bazaar, but you do see them in Us, People Magazine and the Enquirer. They keep the prices reasonable so a mass market can afford them.”

At the same time, there is a saturation point. There are nine times the number of celebrity launches as those with no celebrity name or face, says Grant. In 2011, celebrity scent sales increased by five per cent, while the market as a whole was up 10 per cent, and celebrity scents make 30 per cent what they did in 2002 and 55 per cent of what they did in 2008.

Followup fragrances, like Justin Bieber’s Girlfriend, rarely top the success of first releases, says Grant.

“It’s like albums. When you churn them out, you don’t get the same kind of hit.”

And oversaturation has brought a whiff of parody to the world of celebrity scent. You can buy a perfume called Lovingly in a delicate pink-tinged bottle. It’s by Bruce Willis, the star of Die Hard. Last year Jersey Shore’s Snooki introduced an eponymous perfume. It supposedly smells like candy and driftwood.

The celebrity scent market is probably oversaturated, agrees Schreibman Gehring. But it doesn’t matter.

“There’s always a new flavour of the month when it comes to a celebrity and people who follow them will always want a piece of them.”

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