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To witness the odd power of celebrities at the fragrance counter, look no further than two of today's top women's perfume stars: One is a teenage boy. The other, deceased.
Justin Bieber's women's perfume Someday is one of the top sellers in department and specialty stores, and White Diamonds, the scent launched 20 years ago by the late Elizabeth Taylor, tops in big box stores.
But for every Bieber, there seems like there's an A-lister who fails to garner buzz when it comes to fragrance. Jennifer Aniston, anyone?
The most successful celebrities to splash their name across a fragrance bottle speak typically to a niche audience, often one that's an older or younger consumer.
"The ones that do well have a strong following with a strong core audience," explains Karen Grant, beauty industry analyst at market research firm The NPD Group. "Liz Taylor has almost a cult following, and Bieber is the same thing. He's all about tweens and the moms getting it for the tweens."
Celebrity fragrances also are particularly "giftable" items, Grant notes, because if the receiver is a fan, you're going to get the "ooh," at least when he or she opens the box.
Bieber was a bona fide hit and briefly bumped perennial favorite fragrances Chanel No. 5 and Coco Mademoiselle out of the top sales spots last year. Later this month he'll be honored with the Elizabeth Taylor Fragrance Celebrity award from the Fragrance Foundation. With Taylor Swift and her perfume Wonderstruck, the two young stars revitalized the celebrity fragrance business, up 57 percent in sales in 2011.
One of the big new launches this spring is Madonna's Truth or Dare, and Rihanna's Reb'l Fleur has been a strong performer, too.
The successes, say experts, combine celebrity involvement, personal appeal, lively fans and a good "juice," industry lingo for the actual smell.
Madonna, at an event to celebrate Truth or Dare at Macy's last month, said she thought long and hard about what her signature scent would be, ending with a floral formula that includes a note of tuberose, which is also prominent in the perfume Fracas by Robert Piguet — a favorite of the pop star's. "I wear Fracas myself and I've been wearing it for years and years and years, and I try other perfumes all the time, and I always come back to it. And I know the reason I always comes back to it is because it reminds me of my mom."
She wears perfume all the time, Madonna added. "I spray perfume on me, myself like a crazy person. Nonstop. Never want to smell bad."
Rafael Villoldo, Vice President of Perfumania, which has deals with Rihanna, 50 Cent and Kim Kardashian, says the celebrity has to buy into the product wholeheartedly. "You have to look at what they stand for. I won't do a fragrance with someone who has said they hate fragrance or doesn't look like someone who'd wear fragrance."
Next, he thinks about potential customers and distribution, and he'll check out how active the celebrity is on social media because, he explains, no one can get shoppers excited about a product like its namesake.
"Look at the Kardashians. They don't sing, dance or act, other that the reality show, but you look at Kim, and she has 15 million Twitter followers," Villoldo says. "If I put on a hat that we think looks funny, it's a funny looking hat, but she'll have 15 million people considering wearing that hat — that's power."
Still, he says, that only gets you so far with a fragrance. There has to be quality to get consumers to buy into a brand for repeat purchases. The Paris Hilton line has had unexpected longevity, says Villoldo, who typically hopes for a five-year run with a celebrity, but Hilton has proven a tireless promoter.
NPD's Grant is curious how Madonna will fare. "She's a mature woman so the younger generation might feel like she's a little over the hill, but Madonna is Madonna and she has A LOT of fans. When you talk about the most loyal fragrance consumer, she's over 50, and you'll have to rip out of her hands whatever her favorite one is, so once you've got her, you have a better chance of keeping her."
Buzz doesn't necessarily drive an older woman, Grant adds, noting that Celine Dion has had many years of consistent, strong sales without too much splash.
A star with a story to tell through fragrance has a better shot, says Betsy Olum, general manager of beauty and merchandising strategy at HSN. Does the bottle design reflect the celebrity's look? Is there a scent note that has a special meaning? Consumers want to know, and they'll be able to pick out — or sniff out — the bottles that just slapped a boldfaced name on the front, she says.
On TV, Mary J. Blige, Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria all connected with home shoppers on TV in a way that a glitzy ad can't convey, Olum says.
"When Jennifer Lopez's mom came on with her, and then her sister texted in, even I wanted to buy the fragrance — and I did," Olum says.
She was equally impressed with Eva Longoria. "At the time we were talking about her second fragrance, and it already seemed near the end of 'Desperate Housewives,' and we had a discussion here, 'Would people still be engaged?'" Olum says. "But she came on, and she's one of the most beautiful women on the planet, and she said, 'Don't worry, I'm going to get on and be great.' ... And I was really impressed by how she came on and really told her life story. People really connected to her."
Men take a slightly different approach in their celebrity fragrances than women, however, says Grant, since they buy more into image, using Sean "Diddy" Combs' Unforgivable and Usher's namesake cologne as examples of scents with the "sexy, bad-boy vibe." Men are more aware of choosing a fragrance that will appeal to their romantic partners.
Mass market (big box and drugstores), first quarter 2012:
—Women's: White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor, Reveal by Halle Berry, Fantasy by Britney Spears
—Men's: Unforgivable by Sean "Diddy" Combs, He by Usher, Soul 2 Soul by Tim McGraw
Prestige market (department and specialty stores), year-end 2011, most recent available:
—Women's: Justin Bieber Someday; Wonderstruck by Taylor Swift, Reb'l Fleur by Rihanna
—Men's: Unforgivable, I Am King by Comb's Sean John brand, Usher VIP