Paris Hilton fragrances have brought in more than $2 billion at retail. Photo: Getty Images.
Just when you start to think that the celebrity-fragrance boom is dying down, along comes Paris Hilton to prove otherwise. Hilton, who’s launching her 17th fragrance tomorrow, has sold more than $2 billion worth of perfume in the past 10 years. “[My brand] is one of the number-one celebrity fragrances out there and I have 17, which is a lot more than, I don’t know, most people,” the heiress told WWD.
Hundreds of celebrities have launched fragrances, but only a small group—typically, international superstars like Jennifer Lopez, Britney Spears, and Beyoncé—manage to pass the billion-dollar mark. Achieving such a feat is difficult because the market is saturated, says perfume expert Michael Edwards, author of Fragrances of the World, considered the industry bible. “If we look back 20 years, in 1993 we tracked six celebrity fragrances,” he says. “In 2003, there were 11. Last year, there were 58—and that is down from some 76 in 2012.”
The boom is quieting on the sales front, too. Notably, blockbuster scents from Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift both won Fragrance Foundation awards in 2012 and 2013, respectively; this year, parent company Elizabeth Arden saw its stocks tumble. “The decline in sales of celebrity fragrances, particularly the Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift fragrances, was steeper than anticipated,” the company told stockholders.
That’s because consumers simply aren’t as enthralled by celebrity fragrances as they used to be, according to Karen Grant, Vice President and Global Beauty Industry Analyst of the NPD Group. “I would say there’s less interest in celebrity fragrances,” she says. “We’re seeing a decline. That’s been the trend for the past two years.”
Paris Hilton’s 17th scent launches tomorrow. Photo: Courtesy of Parlux.
It’s largely because consumers are growing more sophisticated. “Right now, people are investing in things that are aspirational,” Grant says. “Celebrity fragrance doesn’t have the cachet it once did. Artisanal scents like Jo Malone or Clive Christian give you more bragging rights.” Grant adds that celebrity can still feel sophisticated when a famous face endorses a designer scent (such as Natalie Portman for Dior).
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Still, while the cool factor has died down and sales are slower, some people are still doing very well for themselves. Obviously, a celebrity’s star power helps sell perfume—which partly why Beyoncé’s scents fared so well at her Mrs. Carter tour. But wait a minute: If Taylor Swift is struggling to move perfume at the peak of her popularity, how is Paris Hilton raking in loads of sweet-smelling cash when she’s not nearly as famous?
The answer is simple: Hilton’s wattage may have dimmed at home, but internationally, she’s more popular than ever. WWD reports that 70 percent of Hilton’s perfume sales happen overseas. She’s big in Japan, literally—and in the rest of Asia and the Middle East, too. In addition, she releases a new fragrance every six months or so; it’s a tactic that has also worked for Britney Spears (16 fragrances) and Jennifer Lopez (a whopping 23).
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One thing’s for certain: high sales don’t necessarily mean excellent fragrances, and vice versa. “At the end of the day, it’s the creativity that counts,” says Edwards, who counts Britney Spears Fantasy and Eau de Gaga as two high-quality celebrity scents.
And, he adds, the genre isn’t going anywhere. “Everybody continues to pour cold water on celebrity fragrance,” he says. “But if you look back to the 1920s and think of perfumers like Guerlain, I wonder what they would say about Coco Chanel: ‘What does she know about perfume?’ I can’t help but feel that the same attitude continues to haunt celebrity fragrances.”