De-mist-ifying fragrances

After 23 years of personally evaluating every new fragrance sample he has come across, Michael Edwards might be in possession of the world’s most finely-tuned nose. His olfactory gleanings can, as always, be found in the world’s most comprehensive guide to fragrances. “It has been called ‘the fragrance Bible’,” says Edwards, “but like most good things, its evolution has been almost accidental.”

Accidental or not, the Fragrances of the World manual and the corresponding online database (www.fragrancesoftheworld.com), which classify fragrances into scent combinations and families, have been welcomed by suppliers and retailers alike.

“I was looking for a tool that would allow sales staff to find fragrances for their clients,” explains Edwards. “What I didn’t realise is that if you do a guide for retailers, they’re going to say ‘add this, add this’, and so today the 2007 edition contains over 5,000 fragrances.”

The original book, which launched in 1984, featured little more than 500. With such an explosion in new fragrances, flankers and limited editions, it is no wonder that consumers, and retailers feel like their heads are swirling in a mist of eau de toilette.

Fortunately, Edwards is here to demistify things. “We can learn so much from wine… it wasn’t until the wine industry moved to a more sensible classification by cultivar so that you had the Rieslings here and the Sauvignon Blancs there, that it started to make sense for people,” he points out. “Fragrance ought to be a pleasure, not a problem, and so I think the fragrance families are enormously helpful.”

Edwards and his team deconstruct fragrances and place them on the fragrance wheel according to the composition of notes. Traditional perfumers have used fragrance families, like orientals and florals, for years, but Edwards has adapted the categories to include the Fresh notes, which include citrus, green and water notes. Fragrances of the World has also dispensed with the technical jargon of perfumers to produce a more user-friendly guide for retailers, with the aim of encouraging sales.

“The problem is that retailers lose fragrance sales all the time because their staff are asked for fragrances they’ve never heard of and they don’t stock, and they wouldn’t know what to suggest that’s in the same direction,” Edwards explains.

One of the aims of the book, then, and the even more comprehensive subscriber database, is to

encourage customers to buy a second perfume. “Most of us know what we want to buy when we get to the airport… we tend to buy our favourite fragrances, and if we’re looking for a gift for someone we tend to buy their favourite fragrances, or something that’s fairly innocuous.”

So how do retailers develop sales in the perfume category? By knowing your woody orientals from your soft florals, says Edwards.

“The fact is it’s very easy to sell one fragrance…the challenge is to persuade the customer while they’re in the shop to buy a second fragrance for themselves.”

There are a number of astute retailers around the world who are realising the value of Edwards’ classification system. As well as domestic market giants like Nordstrom’s and Sephora, travel retailers like World Duty Free (which has recently completed its online fragrance finder) and The Nuance Group have been seeking the help of Edwards and his team of experts.

But there are still many retailers that are missing out, Edwards laments. “It surprises me these days how many retailers leave it to chance,” he confesses. “I’m especially critical about duty free because very few duty free people actually sell fragrance; they wait for you to pick up a fragrance and then they take your money.”

Fragrances of the World might educate sales staff about scent families, but it also provides a comprehensive year-on-year analysis of how the fragrance market is changing. The latest instalment of this hefty handbook was published in January, and provides new insight into the

fast-evolving work of fragrance retailing, with figures on the number of male, female, unisex, celebrity and niche launches.

Perhaps the biggest trend to come from the 2006 analysis is the proliferation of niche fragrances. ‘Niche’ usually refers to a range of fragrances created as an olfactory experience, often by a single person or small group of perfumers, who are passionate about what they are doing. Edwards cites Lartisanne Perfume, which launched in 1978, and Anik Goutal, which began in 1981, as examples. “Niche fragrances are not marketing concepts,” he adds. These perfumes are often twice the price of standard retail and offer a more individual experience.

According to Edwards, niche launches have increased by almost 40% from 2005 to 2006 (87 to 121 new launches). And it is not just the numbers that are significant. For the first time, major brands are coming into the niche market. Guerlain has launched ‘La Maison’ collection, in which you can find

fragrances unlike any other in its portfolio. “I fully expect to see that opening in London and New York and in other cities, and I wonder whether or not it’s going to come into a couple of major TR areas,” says Edwards.

Armani Privé is another example of a big name showing interest in niche, as is Chanel, which is to launch its boutique collection, Les Exclusives. Tom Ford Beauty has also created 12 new boutique fragrances, while Lancôme is entering the niche sector with ‘La Collection’.

“None of this has touched duty free at all,” notes Edwards. “Duty free’s biggest problem is how to make the leap from essentially a commodities approach to a more specialist approach… As retailers, they’ve got themselves into thinking that the business will continue the way it has done in the past, but the market is changing.

“We’re still seeing no signs of travel retail innovating with the biggest trend in the market – niche fragrances. It’s not surprising because it has to be presented in a different way. What’s going to be very interesting is to see what happens when the new terminal at Heathrow is built.”

There are already signs of niche fragrances becoming more accessible to mainstream retailers. Edwards points to La Foret at Harvey Nichols, where Jill Hill, md of Aspects Beauty, has taken the most successful of the niche brands and found a way to put them in department stores under the Aspects Beauty brand.

“It’s working,” says Edwards. “It’s the first time we’re seeing niche brands going into mainstream department stores and not being swallowed up. I just wonder what implications that will have for some travel retail outlets – if they’re smart, somebody will sooner or later be talking to her.”

Meanwhile, fragrance launches in 2007 continue to spiral, and Edwards is keeping count. “We anticipate that within the next couple of years we’re going to be touching the thousand [per annum] mark. I see no sign whatsoever of any pull back. We keep a list of the new fragrances that we are sourcing to put in the next book, and as of today [January 25] we’ve identified 437 new fragrances – and I’ve got another seven months to go!”

Such an increase in launches means suppliers are going to have to do more to catch the attention, and win the loyalty, of consumers. “I feel that we’re going to have to be far more adventurous from an olfactory viewpoint,” insists Edwards. “To me it’s a bigger risk not to innovate than it is to innovate.”