L’Oréal won big at the Fragrance Foundation Awards last Thursday. But right now in the fragrance category, there aren’t any losers.
The category, which gained steam during the pandemic, shows no signs of slowing down. According to Circana data, prestige fragrance sales grew 13 percent year-to-date through May, with brick-and-mortar sales growing 15 percent. Circana also expects sales to surpass $200 million for Father’s Day this year.
“The category is more than alive and well,” said Linda Levy, president of the Fragrance Foundation, and the event’s hostess. “We are seeing that continuing — people are not just after sex appeal, they’re about how they feel about themselves, and they’re about wellness.”
That consensus was shared by attendees. Among the big winners were Nicolas Hieronimus, chief executive officer of L’Oréal, who was inducted into the Foundation’s Hall of Fame, and IFF master perfumer Anne Flipo, who was the lifetime achievement perfumer honoree.
“Fragrances and music are very similar,” Hieronimus said during his acceptance speech — a nod to the venue, David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center — “They are crucial emotions, memories, that are made with you on your good days and bad days.”
The executive used the stage to issue a call to action for the industry to “join forces in the face of regulatory threats that are threatening our art, which is about creating fragrances in Europe and in places like California. There are regulations that are being worked on with very little scientific background,” he said.
Hieronimus was introduced by face of Armani’s Sí fragrance Cate Blanchett. Prior to taking the stage, Blanchett recalled the first time she met Hieronimus. “It was 20 years ago in Paris. We were having a general meeting and I thought it’d be 20 minutes, and it went on for two hours,” Blanchett said. “We’re eating in some nondescript cafeteria, and had this great conversation about what was luxury, what was beauty. I’ve now been with Sí for over a decade and his incredible journey within L’Oréal — we’ve been on this interesting ride together.”
Blanchett also said the company has been “very open with me and inviting into the process of how each iteration of Sí is being slightly altered. It’s been fascinating because I’ve learned so much about how fragrances are thought about from idea to actual action and the fragrance itself. It’s such an ephemeral thing, it’s such a personal thing.”
Other L’Oréal winners of the evening include Prada Paradoxe Eau de Parfum, which won two awards, in addition to Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb induction into the fragrance Hall of Fame. Maison Margiela Replica’s When The Rain Stops was named the Fragrance of the Year, Universal Prestige.
Paradoxe was especially a thrill for Megan Grant, president of L’Oréal Luxe in the U.S. “It’s all about Prada Paradoxe winning the Consumer Choice award, because it’s really all about the consumer,” she said, noting that “intense juices continue to do very well. The category’s crazy — every month we look at it, and we can’t believe the growth.”
Nathalie Gerschtein, president of L’Oréal’s consumer division for North America, echoed that. “Fragrances are also driving our growth,” she said. “We’ve always been very dedicated to fragrances because it’s such a special category within beauty — the invisible beauty accessory, and such an amazing treat.”
Retailers can’t get enough of the category. “Fragrance is doing great. It’s a big part of the Ulta Beauty growth strategy, and we’re going to continue to do best in it and drive new ways to delight our guest,” said Dave Kimbell, CEO of Ulta Beauty.
That feeling was cemented by sales during Mother’s and Father’s days, with merchants reporting brisk sales. “We had an outstanding Mother’s Day,” said Alison Hahn, senior vice president of merchandising, makeup and fragrance, Sephora. “For sure, the shoppers shopped a little later this year. But the last 10 days were incredible. The business is great on dot-com and in-stores. Through iconic designer to niche and our small incubation brands, they all hit it out of the park.”
The momentum continues at Macy’s Inc., the largest seller of prestige fragrances in the U.S., said chief merchandising officer Nata Dvir, who noted that brand activations have been particularly resonant.
“The fragrance business continues to be really strong,” she said. “Our customers are so engaged in the experiences that we create, the animation that our partners are able to throw, and amazing products. There’s been so much innovation, new brands and launches, but also a lot of the core products continue to be really strong for us. We’ve also innovated digitally, doing a lot of new marketing campaigns online.”
Brands are keeping pace, too. Stéphane de La Faverie, executive group president at the Estée Lauder Cos., said, “We have been in our ninth consecutive quarter of double-digit growth with fragrances. Every single one of our fragrances have been having such an amazing moment, and we see tremendous potential for the future with every single brand.”
Lori Singer, president of Parlux, accepted an award for Billie Eilish’s second fragrance. That license, which Parlux debuted last year, is still performing well. “Momentum is fantastic. We are still off-the-charts incredible,” Singer said. “We’re rolling out Eilish with other retailers like Macy’s, and Eilish No. 2 is exclusive to Ulta for a year, and rolling out globally.”
Indie founders report the same traction. “Mother’s Day was fantastic for us,” said Paul Austin, cofounder of LilaNur Parfums. “We did a campaign that was very innovative that got lots of eyeballs. One of our most successful Instagram campaigns ever. For Father’s Day, we are heavily promoting our Agar Épicé, which was a scent that was named by Byrdie the best [warm] fragrance of 2022.”
Shalini Kumar of luxury brand Shalini commended the sense of community in the room. “You sort of work in a form of isolation when you are a founder and a creator. You meet certain people like your retailers, your clients, but it is nice to see people here — there’s a warmth and an excitement and energy in the room… that’s the most important thing of events like this. And Linda has just galvanized the whole industry to come together,” she said.
House of Bō’s Bernardo Möller, cofounder and creative director, said Mother’s Day drove sales to two key stock keeping units. “Mother’s Day was fantastic, sales were fantastic, La Mar and Rosario were favorites,” he said, adding that the success would portend more launches. “We’re also excited about new collaborations with perfumers that we’re working on.”
That brand’s Infinitoud, a parfum which launched exclusively with Bergdorf’s last year, was just one of many indie launches up for awards. “We’re nominated for fragrance of the year with Santal Calling, which is a fragrance that we launched in the fall,” said Nelson Sanchez, sales manager and New York business coordinator at Ex Nihilo. “Hailey Bieber shouted out Fleur Narcotique and in the past three weeks, the amount of phone calls we’ve gotten — it’s made an impact.”
Chris Collins, of World of Chris Collins, also noted his Lost in Paradise fragrance was up for accolades. “We’re just creating incredible fragrances centered around storytelling,” he said.
Presenters also shared their excitement about the category, though fragrances aren’t their bread and butter. “It’s really cool to be here for a different type of event,” said ballerina Misty Copeland, who just premiered her latest film, “Flower,” at the Tribeca Film Festival. Fragrance, she said, “allows you to get into character, get into a certain mood, and it helps push you there. So many things are connected to scent and fragrance. Performing and putting on fragrance is part of my ritual.”
Added Vera Wang, also there to present an award, “I love it because this is a very exciting time in fragrance,” she said. “There is so much newness.”