Almost a hundred years ago, Elsa Schiaparelli created a curvy perfume bottle – an allusion to the sexy actress Mae West. Come 1950s, even a big name brand like Givenchy would turn to the stars to create a legendary scent for the equally legendary Audrey Hepburn. Much later, someone as big as Elizabeth Taylor would solidify the trend of celebrity perfumes with Elizabeth Arden’s White Diamonds.
Up until today, White Diamonds remains a classic; grossing more than what its namesake ever made from all her film roles combined. This is the power of celebrities to perfume, and vice versa.
The success of celebrity perfumes is far from being another hyped up hoax. Celebrity perfume sales are currently pegged at over USD 1.3 billion yearly, according to Vice President of Beauty and Senior Global Industry Analyst for NPD Group Karen Grant. This figure is a huge chunk of the total sales for the entire fragrance industry anywhere in the world.
In 2012 alone, at least 85 celebrity perfumes came out the shelves compared to the meagre 10 in the past decade. All kinds of celebrities, from singers to film stars to reality TV stars and heiresses, have been seen to cash in. And why not? Celebrity perfumes are marketed as symbols to aspire for. Apparently, smelling like your favourite star is about as intimate as you can get with your celebrity. Getting intimate and, at the same time, smelling good? No fan can possibly have it better than that.
Big money, low risk. This is what personifies the niche industry of celebrity perfumes. The cost of putting up a bottle is usually just about a quarter of the retail price. Deduct further the chunk that goes to the stars themselves: around 5 to 10 percent of the sales in addition to about USD 3 million on the upfront. Apart from these, there are no other costs (i.e. those that usually go into developing a perfume line). The celebrities’ name can drive up sales alone. Taking into account the millions (nay, possibly billions) that go into sales, there is more than enough cash coming in.
Launching a celebrity perfume is also an alternative to the more traditional revenue streams of celebrities. Like with Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, a celebrity gets a share of the sales as long as the perfume continues in distribution. That is no different from Britney Spears who, even during her dark ages, was still cashing in on her perfume sales. She was able to sell over a billion bottles in the last five years alone, and that was during her meltdown.
As the years go by, the best of celebrity perfumes will remain classics. And as the numbers of serious perfume collectors continue to grow, it is very likely that those shares will just keep on coming.
Like in celebrity award shows, not every star would go home with the trophy. While practically every star worthy of a paparazzi shot on the planet is trying to join the perfume bandwagon, not everyone ended up with success stories. Leading that list are infamous reality stars like Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and even big name stars like Kate Walsh and Denise Richards.
On the other hand, there are some reality stars who have made it big in the fragrance section. Paris Hilton and the Kardashians seemed to hit the right notes with the public. So what spells the difference between a success and an epic fail? Shelly Smyth CEO of fragrance distributor SAS & Company said that “celebrities must be at the peak of their popularity when launching a fragrance”. It must be the perfect combination of celebrity involvement, fan base and, actually, good-smelling perfume, believe it or not.
That perfect combination is what spells a miss, speaking from Jennifer Aniston’s experience when she didn’t self-promote her low-selling perfume as much as she should have. This is also what bothers perfumers nowadays. They fear that anybody with money can now release a fragrance. On the celebrity’s side, there’s also a danger to look cheap. A pop cultural joke, as Alan Cumming himself admitted.
Despite this, it will be foolish to say that celebrity perfumes have no merit. Stars and fans alike love it. So, who are we to hate?