Celebrities, Best-Selling Fragrances, Sales Figures & The Perfume Industry

A few days ago, I read an article on Stylecaster pertaining to the celebrity perfume industry, and the money that is involved. I always knew there was a lot of money involved, but that article inspired me to really explore further and to research in greater detail the issue of celebrity fragrances and the sector’s profitability.

Sarah Jessica Parker for "Covet." Source: Fragrantica

Sarah Jessica Parker for “Covet.” Source: Fragrantica

What I learnt… well, I can’t even begin to process some of the details. In fact, the numbers for Britney Spears alone left me with my jaw rather agape. It’s simply too much for my tiny, little mind. She’s not alone, however, in experiencing fragrance success. Beyoncé, Paris Hilton, the boy band, One Direction, the American baseball player, Derek Jeter, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the original celebrity perfume endorser, perhaps the mother of this whole trend, Elizabeth Taylor, they’ve all done well. Some of them (i.e., Britney) have made an absolute killing! As The Hollywood Reporter wrote in an article earlier this year, “[o]f the top-selling 100 fragrances, 31 are tied to celebrities, all of them hoping to become the next Elizabeth Taylor.

Perfume has become such a profitable business that, as you will see at the end of this article, even universities are trying to get in on the game, having their own perfumes to encapsulate their college ethos and campus feel. From the University of Florida to Penn State, and many more, everyone is trying to get a piece of the profits. Not even the fabulously wealthy, legendary baseball team, the New York Yankees, is immune to the lure.

Before getting to the Stylecaster article which triggered all this, I thought it would be helpful to first have some basic, background figures to put things into an overall context. The global fragrance industry is valued at over $25 billion a year, with the Wiki-Invest entry for Elizabeth Arden putting the number closer at $36.6B! Nonetheless, in the U.S., the perfume sales figures have recently slowed. (You can read all the financial numbers for 2013 perfume sales, as well as other statistics and reports on the global perfume industry in general in my prior piece, 2013 Fragrance Sales Figures, Revenue & Emerging Markets.)


Source: musicactivation.com

Source: musicactivation.com

One reason for the dip in U.S. fragrance sales is, in part, the absence of any major celebrity perfume blockbuster hits. According to a report from the Euromonitor International analysis group, Justin Bieber’s fragrance (“Someday”) alone, by itself, contributed enormously to U.S. market sales in the previous year! 

After growing by 9% in 2011, sales of fragrances grew by just 3% in 2012. It appears that an improving economy in 2011 combined with pent-up demand and extensive product innovation led to strong growth in 2011, but this was not able to be repeated in 2012. Fragrance sales in 2011 had benefited from higher-income shoppers who felt more comfortable spending on others and themselves as the economy improved. The 2011 blockbuster launch of Justin Bieber also contributed to strong growth in 2011 as teenagers and young girls pestered their parents to buy them the pop singer’s fragrance. In 2012, there was no must-have celebrity fragrance to entice consumers.

Justin Bieber may have had one of the most successful perfume launches in history. According to Women’s Wear Daily, his Someday fragrance “shattered” sales records, netted more than $3 million in retail sales at Macy’s in less than three weeks. The $35-$45 fragrance was priced right and, let’s face it, Justin Bieber’s fans are very… enthusiastic, to put it politely.

There may not have been any Bieber-like monster successes recently, but it’s not for the lack of trying by other celebrities. There are the Olsen Twins with their upcoming, new and very first fragrance, Nirvana Black, which Womens Wear Daily says will be a $55-$75 woody scent that is exclusive to Sephora upon its official January launch and which is accompanied by a second fragrance, a musky floral called Nirvana White. From the young fashionistas’ fragrance debut, to Jay-Z, Rihanna, and Maroon 5‘s Adam Levine, the celebrities are all trying desperately hard, putting out new fragrances to appeal to their fans. They don’t all succeed, but when they do, the profits are astonishing.


This is where we come to the Stylecaster report by Leah Bourne, entitled “Celebrity Fragrances: Why Stars Do Them, and How Much Do They Really Make.” For someone like myself who covers almost exclusively the high-end or luxury niche perfume market, the well-written piece was mesmerizing, fascinating, revolting, and depressing in equal measure. My stomach sank from the very opening paragraph:

Jay Z & his Gold. Source: Eonline.com

Jay Z & his Gold. Source: Eonline.com

Jay-Z’s latest big-budget project isn’t an album, a tour, or even a clothing line: It’s a fragrance he’s dubbed “Gold Jay Z.” The rapper reportedly picked the name after combing through hundreds of options, eventually striking inspiration when he said, “This is the shit; it’s gold.” If Gold—which hits stores on Black Friday and ranges from $39 to $70—mimics the success of other celebrity fragrances, that’ll be a pretty fair assessment.

beyonces_heat_fragranceI sighed, then sighed even more at reading about his wife, Beyoncé. Her perfume, Heat, was released in 2010. Some factoids according to Stylecaster:

  • 72,000 bottles were sold in the first hour of its release at Macy’s department store in NYC as she was signing autographs;
  • Macy’s sold $3 million worth in the first month;
  • Fast forward to August 2013, and the “Heat Collection” (which I’m assuming now involves flankers as well) was allegedly “named the current best-selling celebrity fragrance brand worldwide, with $400 million earned at retail globally so far.”


Other depressing facts from the Stylecaster article:

  • In 2012, there were 85 celebrity perfume launches, compared to only 10 a decade earlier.
  • Celebrity fragrance sales are now pulling in over $1.3 billion a year—a huge chunk of the total $5.2 billion fragrance industry in the US.
  • Paris Hilton’s perfume line is valued at $1.5 billion.
  • Britney Spears has sold over a billion bottles of perfume in the last five years, with global sales of over $1 billion. “You better believe that a huge chunk of Spears’ estimated $220 million net-worth stems from her various perfumes.”

These are cumulative sales figures, of course, but the numbers add up. Take, for example, the year 2011 which Forbes Magazine breaks down by best-selling perfumes in the U.S. market. A few tidbits from that report, with some supplemental research tossed in as well:

  • “Topping our list this year is White Diamonds by Elizabeth Taylor. Elizabeth Arden sold $54 million worth of the scent in the U.S. last year.”
Derek Jeter's ad for his fragrance, Driven, released by Avon.

Derek Jeter’s ad for his fragrance, Driven, released by Avon.

  • The American baseball star, Derek Jeter, had $27 million in sales in 2011 for his perfume, Driven. Forbes quotes the Euromonitor research group which states that “scents for men are bought by women for their boyfriends and husbands. So the appeal of Driven probably has more to do with Jeter’s persona than with his baseball skills.” In fact, the The Hollywood Reporter article from this spring quotes Euromonitor as saying that Driven “is the second-biggest celebrity fragrance, with more than $20 million in annual sales.”
  • Forbes’ “third place” listing for 2011 takes us back to Heat by Beyoncé. It says her perfume “did well right out of the gate with $21 million in sales. It doesn’t hurt that Beyoncé promoted the fragrance with a steamy commercial deemed too hot for daytime TV in the U.K.” The Hollywood Reporter, however, says the numbers are much higher, saying that her perfumes earned $38 million in sales in 2011.

The people who I actually thought would lead the list came in fourth! The celebrities I know best for selling fragrances are people like Sarah Jessica Parker, Jessica Simpson, P. Diddy/Puff Daddy, and Britney Spears. Sarah Jessica Parker’s fragrances are the rare, few celebu-scents that often get decent praise on their own merits from perfume experts, so I certainly didn’t expect her to be far below someone like Derek Jeter! The fourth place 2011 numbers (which Forbes erroneously states as yet another “third place”) are:

Four scents tie for third place, each with $18 million in sales: Unforgivable by P. Diddy’s Sean John brand, NYC by Sarah Jessica Parker, Fancy by Jessica Simpson and Harajuku Lovers by Gwen Stefani. [Emphasis to names added by me.] [¶] NYC is an impressive newcomer. Parker has several other scents, including Lovely, Dawn and Endless, but NYC, which launched in 2009, is her bestseller.


Source: paroutudo.com

Source: paroutudo.com

One of the most successful celebrities in the perfume world on a long-term, cumulative basis may be Britney Spears. Amusingly, while her music isn’t always a big hit, her perfumes seem to be. Even when she was having her very public meltdown and her music career was stalling, Stylecaster says that she was still raking in the money — and it was primarily from her fragrances. It is nothing but ironic that Britney’s latest music single is called, of all things, “Perfume,” and seems to have bombed, when she has jaw-dropping success with actual fragrance.

Britney Curious perfumeHere are some numbers from her Wikipedia entry (with footnote links kept in if you want to double-check, as we all know Wikipedia can sometimes be dodgy):

  • Spears endorsed her first Elizabeth Arden fragrance “Curious” in 2004, and earned $100 million in sales in just five weeks.[3] .
  • To date (2012), Curious has sold over 500 million bottles worldwide[.][5]
  • On May 21, 2009, it is posted on her official website that Spears has the number one selling celebrity fragrance line on the market. Her Elizabeth Arden scents make up 34% of all fragrance sales.[6]
  • “Britney competed against other celebrities such as Céline Dion and Jennifer Lopez to succeed in becoming the number one celebrity perfume endorser of all time with global perfume sales of over one billion.”
  • “To date, Spears has grossed an estimated $10 billion from perfume sales across the globe, with sales of more than a billion.”

Honestly, I am highly skeptical about that figure of a $10 billion gross, and suspect that it is some Britney fanboy is exaggerating. I also can’t find numbers for to support that claim, though I’ll be honest and say I didn’t do extensive, exhaustive digging.

One thing needs to be noted, Britney Spears herself is not getting either $1 billion or $10 billion, no matter how many bottles of perfumes she sells. She receives only a small percentage. (More on celebrity percentages later, down below.) What she has is an exclusive multi-year trademark and licensing deal with Elizabeth Arden which is set to expire next year in 2014. I hope Ms. Spears has a good lawyer who is is negotiating a hefty increase in her cut of the profits, because she’s certainly helped Elizabeth Arden’s sales.

Plus, Elizabeth Arden can afford it, thanks to their share of the perfume market. According to the Elizabeth Arden Wiki-Invest stock page:

The global fragrance industry has a market cap at $36.6 billion dollars. Currently Elizabeth Arden has a 15% market share from their owned and licensed brands North America compared to the 2% market share in Europe. Europe has largest fragrance market at $13 billion which is currently twice that of North America.

If Britney Spear’s perfumes make up 34% of that Elizabeth Arden’s sales, and if the company’s market share is 15% of an allegedly $36.6 billion dollar-per-year industry, well, then, she clearly makes a lot. However, we don’t know what her percentage agreements are with Elizabeth Arden, and how much she herself gets back from the gross profits. The bottom line is that Britney Spears probably has probably brought in well over a $1 billion in perfume sales for Elizabeth Arden by now, but I simply refuse to believe it’s anywhere close to $10 billion, and Britney herself is not making anywhere close to those figures.

The Hollywood Reporter seems to agree, with a considerably more conservative assessment of Britney’s success. Their March 2013 article on celebrity fragrance states:

Spears, after launching Curious, which has sold more than 500 million bottles since 2004, released 10 more fragrances. Collectively, Spears’ scents take in $30 million a year.

Whichever report you believe, one thing is clear: Britney’s fragrances are doing a lot better than Perfume, her song.



Elizabeth Taylor & White Diamonds.

What would be interesting to me is to know how Britney Spears compares with the great Elizabeth Taylor who, arguably, really set off this whole celebrity perfume mania to begin with. Stylecaster disagrees, saying that there were celebrity fragrances far before La Grand Liz, but conceding that she made it the thing that it is today:

The history of celebrity fragrances dates back almost 100 years, when Elsa Schiaparelli designed a curvy perfume bottle in the 1930s modeled after actress Mae West. In the 1950s, Givenchy sold a scent created for Audrey Hepburn. However, the business of celebrity fragrances really kicked into overdrive when Elizabeth Taylor launched White Diamonds in 1991, in collaboration with Elizabeth Arden. That perfume has since grossed more than $1 billion and counting—in fact, Taylor made more money from her fragrances than all of her film roles combined.

Elizabeth Taylor poses with a $100,000 special edition bottle of her “White Diamonds” fragrance in New York in 1991. Photo: AP via Chicago Sun Times.

Elizabeth Taylor poses with a $100,000 special edition bottle of her “White Diamonds” fragrance in New York in 1991. Photo: AP via Chicago Sun Times.

Think of that for a second: Elizabeth Taylor made more money from her perfumes than she did in ALL her films, combined. It’s an astonishing thought at first, but perhaps completely logical when you consider what star salaries were back then.

Yet, even after her death, her fragrances sell. And sell big. White Diamonds sold more than $54 million worth in 2010, according to Forbes magazine. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, sales of all of her perfumes totaled $76.9 million in just one year. However, Elizabeth Taylor had a small hit from the very start, with her first fragrance in 1987 called Passion. The official Dame Elizabeth Taylor website states: “By 1991, sales of Passion reached an estimated $100 million dollars giving it a coveted spot on the list of top ten selling fragrances of all time.”

In short, Britney may be selling more now, but La Liz had decades of a head-start, and I would be fascinated to compare their overall sales and gross profit figures. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find how much Elizabeth Taylor or her estate have made from the sales of her perfumes since she began in 1987, but it has to be quite a lot. All I know is that Elizabeth Arden — Britney’s company — is the one who licenses Taylor’s perfumes, a fact which further explains the company’s large market share. (As a side note, Elizabeth Arden’s celebrity and designer stable also includes Usher, Mariah Carey, Hilary DuffKate Spade, Juicy Couture, Liz Claiborne, and Badgley Mischka.)


As noted above, there is a big difference between the overall bottle sales, and the amount that the star receives his or her self. The Stylecaster article had an interesting tidbit on the issue of how much celebrities really make:

Celebrities tend to make between 5 and 10 percent of sales for licensing their name to a scent on top of an upfront payment of $3 million plus. With sales in the hundreds of millions for some of these fragrances—you do the math. Bottles of perfume and cologne typically sell for between $60 and $100, and the cost of making them is usually about 25 percent of retail—so the return is enormous.

It’s a siren’s lure for a variety of reasons, as Stylecaster explains:

‘Celebrities see it as a revenue stream without a lot of responsibility, and the manufacturers see it as a revenue stream to help their bottom line,’ said Rochelle Bloom, president of the Fragrance Foundation. […]

And with traditional streams of revenue for stars drying up (album sales, back-end movie deals) the lure of fragrance money is stronger than ever. It’s also a possible revenue stream, should the fragrance be a hit, for stars to continue making money after their heyday has passed.

Other sources add to the picture. While The Hollywood Reporter agrees that ancillary revenue streams as fragrances and clothing lines are becoming more important to a star’s overall financial well-being, it quotes slightly different figures:

A top celebrity — one who appeals to the young women powering the market — now can demand $3 million to $5 million as an upfront payment, plus a 6 percent or 7 percent royalty on sales, say insiders.

The article notes that celebrity endorsements are low-risk for the star, and well worth it for the perfume company as a way to distinguish the new brand. If the cost of making a fragrance is only a fraction of the retail cost (and I’ve actually read the number is far, far lower than the 25% stated in these pieces), then the extra payout to the celebrity can be a good investment.

The problem with this seemingly win-win situation is that it has completely over-saturated the perfume market. The Hollywood Reporter states that, nowadays:

big profits hardly are guaranteed. “The domination of the celebrities is diluting the magic of the fragrance business,” says Sue Phillips of tracking website Scenterprises.com, adding that a star like J.Lo will issue less expensive “flanker” scents such as Miami Glow, Love at First Glow, Glowing, etc., after an initial hit like Glow, thus crowding out upstarts. […]

Faced with increased competition, fragrance-makers must prove their products quickly lest they be yanked from Nordstrom or Sephora. A perfume used to have three years to turn a profit. Now? “It’s exactly like the movie business,” says Isaac Lekach at ID Perfumes, which helped launch fragrances for Perry, Selena Gomez and Paris Hilton and is working on a new scent for Adam Levine. “If you don’t have a strong opening weekend, good luck relying on word-of-mouth.”


Snooki perfume ad. Source: Fragrantica.

Snooki perfume ad. Source: Fragrantica.

If not everyone makes it, then what are the factors for success? It seems to depend often on both the celebrity’s popularity, fan access to test the fragrance, price points, actual smell, and, most importantly of all, the degree of the celebrity’s involvement in promotion. Perfumes from Nicole “Snooki” PolizziKate Walsh, and Denise Richards were quick failures. (In my opinion, it helps if the celebrity’s image isn’t an embarrassing one, à la Snooki.)

Stylecaster says that success depends on a “perfect storm of celebrity involvement, celebrity fan base, and lastly, whether the perfume actually has an appealing smell.”

Why has Knowles’ Heat been such a huge hit? The singer allowed her fans to sample Heat at all of her North American shows during her The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour earlier this year. “We always talk about bringing entertainment to retail,” said Marsha Brooks, Vice President of Global Marketing, Fragrances, for Coty Beauty. “With this scent, we brought retail to entertainment.” Simply put, selling perfume at a massive concert tour isn’t a retail channel open to the Chanels and Thierry Muglers of the world, but it is open to Beyoncé.

Paris Hilton perfume ad for her second fragrance, Fairy Dust. Source: http://frillr.com/?q=node/9796

Paris Hilton perfume ad for her second fragrance, Fairy Dust. Source: http://frillr.com/?q=node/9796

Paris Hilton’s line of fragrances has had unexpected longevity, despite Hilton’s increasingly low-profile, because Hilton has proved to be a tireless promoter of her line which is valued at $1.5 billion. She released her first fragrance in 2004 and is still tweeting about it to her over 12 million Twitter followers.

In contrast, the article implies that Jennifer Aniston barely bothered with her perfume, and the lack of promotion led to unimpressive sales.


What I’m surprised that the Stylecaster article doesn’t mention is what can only be called The Teen/Tween Factor. Justin Bieber’s sales are uniformly attributed to the shrieking hordes of his teen and pre-teen fans. Youth trumps, and Jennifer Aniston, Kate Walsh, and women of a certain age simply aren’t going to have quite the same allure to susceptible 13-year-old girls who will pester their parents for their idol’s scent. Jennifer Aniston could have promoted that fragrance as much as she’d wanted, but I doubt she’d have the One Direction effect.

Source: Daily Mail.

Source: Daily Mail.

The boy band just came out with their first fragrance in August called, quite simply, One Moment. When it launched at Harrods, 3,000 bottles sold in just two days. The entertainment site, Eonline, says that “the boys were set to earn $561,312 (or 360,000 pounds) in its first week on sale in the U.K.” According to the Daily Mail (I know, I know!!), that the figure was calculated from preorder sales plus the more than-3,000 bottles that have been sold in just two days at the Harrods in London. Each boy will “personally earn around £2 for every 30ml Eau de Parfum bottle sold, which means the group is due to bank £360,000 in 7 days.” Further numbers and figures:

Escentual.com CEO Rakesh Aggarwal said: ‘Our Moment is predicted to sell around 180,000 units in the first week alone, making it one of the fastest selling fragrances of all time.

‘It’s certainly looking like it’s going to be the most successful celebrity perfume launch of the year and sales in America are expected to be bigger still,’ says Aggarwal.

On the basis of 180,000 sales of the most popular 30ml Eau de Parfum, which retails at £19.99, the turnover for the first week will come in at nearly £3.6m.

Furthermore, the Christmas shopping period accounts for about 70% of annual perfume sales, a figure I’ve seen a lot lately. With the manufacturers adding special holiday gift sets and other products to go with the One Direction fragrance, the Escentual’s CEO estimates that those teenage boys may make £2m over the holidays from an estimated overall turnover of £10m for the range over Christmas.


The crazy profits in the perfume world have not gone unnoticed by other groups. There was Pizza Hut‘s limited-edition fragrance which The Huffington Post insists smells nothing like actual pizza and everything like cinnamon rolls or dough. (I’ll take their word for it.) But something with much less of a novelty, amusement factor caught my eye recently: university perfumes.

Source: Wall St. Journal

Source: Wall St. Journal

American educational institutions have apparently noticed everyone else was making a huge profit, and decided, “Why not us?” The goal seems to be to bottle the school’s aromatic feel or the symbolic olfactory representation of four years of the college experience, and making a profit. I’m feeling extremely sardonic and irritable at this point, so I’ll let a November 12th article by the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper speak instead:

What scent comes to mind when you think of your college? [¶] Is it aromatic, from the blossoming trees on the college quad? [¶] Or a stale beer smell from your favorite bar?

Each campus has its own fragrance identity, according to a New York company that is developing perfumes and colognes for colleges inspired by elements such as the school colors, campus style, flowers, traditions and location.

Masik Collegiate Fragrances has introduced what it calls “The Scent of School Spirit” at 17 large universities, most in the south and southeast.  […][¶]

[For Texas A&M university] Masik Fragrances developed something … aromatic. The men’s scent “captures the pride and meaning of being an Aggie,” its website says. “Refreshing top notes of Italian Lemon, Bergamot and Iced Pineapple opens in to a body of vivid florals, raw Nutmeg and Cinnamon. Robust base notes of rich Amber, silver Moss and aged woods are deeply rooted embodying the strength of the Century Tree.”

I have actually visited the Texas A&M campus, as it has one of the top veterinary centers in the entire country, and, yet, I find myself startled at the olfactory notes listed in the description. In all fairness, however, I simply cannot wrap my head around this entire concept to begin with! I know it shouldn’t be so odd, given that perfumes all have a back story; and, really, how is this really so different than trying to capture the scent of India or the Villa d’Este in a bottle? Regardless, when I read Masik’s list of notes for, to give just one example, Penn State University Men’s and Women’s fragrances, I just wanted to snort. I think it’s the obviously mercenary angle behind it all, behind an academic institution’s attempts to venture into the perfume field.

The assessment for the University of Georgia's scent. Source: Masik via the Wall St. Joural.

The assessment for the University of Georgia’s scent. Source: Masik via the Wall St. Journal.

In all fairness, however, the schools seem to be making mere peanuts, at least by the standards of we’ve talked about here. According to that Cleveland article:

To translate a school’s essence into a scent, Masik relies on Fragrance Resources, an international fragrance company with a lab in New York, the Wall Street Journal reported. […][¶] Several options are created and presented to a panel of students and administrators.

Colleges, which license a litany of products, get royalty payments from sales of the fragrances, which cost about $40 for a 1.7-ounce bottle. The fragrances are sold at campus bookstores, boutiques and some department stores.

At Louisiana State University, that revenue has amounted to just $5,500 over the past four years, said Brian Hommel, director of trademark licensing at LSU, in the article. But he says there is a benefit to having the school’s brand associated with a chic product.

The university’s tiny profit over four years is significantly smaller than I had expected, given their enormous alumni base and the role played by nostalgia. Louisiana State University made a little under $1,600 a year, a figure which stands in sharp contrast to the millions made by the next institution who decided to enter the perfume world.

Source: Yankees website.

Source: Yankees website.

According to the Wall St. Journal, the powerful, venerable baseball team, the New York Yankees, had a perfume made for them by a group called Cloudbreak that “the company says garnered nearly $10 million in retail sales in 2012.” Even if the Yankees got a mere 5% of those sales, it’s still a rather decent amount for something that required very little in actual sweat or effort on their part. That problably explains why, in looking at the Yankees’ website, they seem to have fallen headlong into perfumed products, with men and womens’ lines, bath items, and special limited-edition scents. Their marketing machine has even come up with a $5 “Fragranced Bracelet” in simple black rubber, though no actual scent notes are listed. If that thing is properly perfumed instead of being a Pinocchio-worthy case of false pretenses, I promise I’ll stop rolling my eyes.


It seems very, very easy to put out ridiculous or novelty perfumes, let alone celebrity fragrances, but none of these figures should make you forget the simple bottom line: you still need backers with very deep pockets to succeed. As the university example demonstrates, not even institutions with a big support base in the form of alumni can profit easily in this game. Those who do, have not only millions behind them, but also a wide network of distributors and the power of multi-national conglomerates. Justin Bieber and Derek Jeter have Avon, while Britney Spears and Liz Taylor have Elizabeth Arden. At the higher end of the scale, Tom Ford succeeds, in part, because of the sheer might of the Estée Lauder behemoth.

The most famous perfume houses now have to pay a pretty penny to stand out and make a splash in the highly saturated perfume market. Take Chanel, for example. According to Adage, the fashion house owned by the Wertheimer brothers (whose grandfather helped co-found Chanel Parfums) spent “$139 million on measured media in the U.S. in 2012, with magazines accounting for $78.3 million. In 2011, it spent $130 million on total U.S. measured media.” In 2004, Chanel reportedly paid Nicole Kidman $4 million to be the face of Chanel No. 5, and spent £18 million on a 2-minute ad by Baz Luhrmann that was later cut down to 30-seconds. Last year, it was $7 million to Brad Pitt, with a video that was widely mocked. The rising costs of marketing and publicity may explain why, this year, Chanel is going with a dead celebrity, Marilyn Monroe, for their latest Chanel No. 5 campaign.

Less wealthy perfume houses don’t have the same resources, so they are looking to technology and futuristic inventions for help instead. According to The Hollywood Reporter article, there are efforts to integrate scents with digital devices to bring fragrance into a more multi-dimensional, lifestyle experience:

Jean-Paul Gaultier and Azzaro quietly are working on next-generation celebrity-scent convergence. Soon digitally powered fragrances could be incorporated into computer ports and cable TV boxes so that when consumers play songs or watch shows, they will be hit with a multisensory experience. If that happens, fragrances could end up marketing celebrities instead of the other way around.

Celebrities, however, don’t have to bother with any of that, at least not for now. Their efforts can be much simpler, and yield much more immediate results. When Rihanna launched her perfume, she tweeted to her millions of followers about it. As the Stylecaster article noted, Beyoncé gave samples of her fragrance away at her concerts, and watched the profits subsequently pour in from full-bottle purchases. Chanel paid Brad Pitt $7 million for the much ridiculed Chanel ad last year; Justin Bieber simply has to show up and point at his gaudy, plastic flower-topped perfume bottle for his crazed fan to go completely insane. Britney Spears has an epic meltdown, and her perfumes still rake in the cash.

We live in a celebrity driven world, and the perfume industry is no exception. With the money that is involved, none of that is going to change any time soon. So, get use to Britney Spears laughing all the way to the bank, as she exceeds that reported $1 billion dollars in sales. To use the very famous, very vulgar quote, “It’s Britney, b****.”

56 thoughts on “Celebrities, Best-Selling Fragrances, Sales Figures & The Perfume Industry

  1. Mind shattered. I had no idea that celebrity fragrance is such a big and profitable business. I guess it works this way – if someone is not into perfume but wants to use perfumes, they are most likely to opt for a scent advertised by their favorite star

    • I was sent reeling by the Britney Spears numbers. I still can’t wrap my head around it. I just can’t. Over a BILLION $$ of perfume??!?! It makes me feel like taking some aspirin and lying down. But you’re right, if someone is a big fan and not really perfume savvy, then that is what they will buy.

      But that one billion figure hurts my head.

  2. Hi Kafka. Great Sunday am article. If you have the time I would love to read a similar review contrasting the cradle to grave development of a designer and high end luxury fragrance, how designers are chosen, paid and how the final recipe is “blessed” and put into production. It would also be of interest to learn the final price of my product at the store after the many hands put in developing, marketing and distributing.
    Kind Regards

    • I would LOVE to write about something like that, Martin, and if I can find the information, I most definitely will. The problem is that a lot of the details you’re talking about fall under confidential business information and aren’t released. How much a perfume “nose” is paid, how much the company actually spends on a commercial, mainstream perfume that they then turn around to retail at Sephora for $60, how much is spent on development, etc. — that’s all pretty confidential.

      Andy Tauer recently spoke about the percentages and the numbers in very vague terms when talking about the impact of “splitters.” It was an interview he gave to The Perfume Shrine where he said:

      You mentioned “a perfume’s inherent value”: Basically it is close to nothing, for most fragrances. Be it 50 $ or 500$. In the end you pay for the margin of the retailer (50% of a fragrance’s retail price), maybe the margin for the distributor (25-30%), the margin of the producer (10-20%), you pay for the publicity around a scent (free samples, ads, ..), the packaging and at the very, very end you pay for the scent (usually less than 1-2% of the fragrance’s retail price. The more expensive a fragrance, the smaller the percentage of what goes into the scent). You bet that you need great marketing to push and pull.
      Of course, some brands do it differently, and there are always exceptions, rare gems in the market, where the scent is actually more expensive than the packaging, where promotion is minimal, where prices are moderate and where promotion is mostly word of mouth. But then: You can’t really grow beyond a certain level using this marketing model.


      General percentages is about as specific as he got, and I suspect other perfume houses would be even more tight-lipped on this subject. ESPECIALLY the commercial, big perfume houses or the really big niche ones. You see, they don’t WANT you to see behind the curtain. They just don’t. It would have a very negative impact on perfume sales if their real cost of production were revealed because I suspect it would shock buyers. Even if you factor in things like Chanel’s publicity costs, I find it hard to believe that their cost of production warrants two massive price hikes in 8 months, taking Coromandel’s price from $110 or so, to $150 or $160. In just a few months…..

      No, I highly doubt I’d find the sort of detailed numbers you’re talking about in terms of development, production, marketing and salary costs. But I am sure they would be very eye-opening indeed!

  3. To borrow a quote from Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, “The mind reels.”

    Brava on an excellent article. I was riveted from start to finish.

    • Aww, I’m so glad you found it interesting. And, yes, the mind does reel. Honestly, once the complete shock and numbness wore off, I found it all rather depressing. Almost demoralizing, in fact. *sigh*

      • Well the bright side is that perfume will survive in what ever way it is presented and I am sure many Tweens will grow up and into the good stuff. After all I started with British Sterling and the dreadful English Leather. What did I know at 16?

  4. Given the criteria for success noted in your article, and indeed how successful initial sale numbers for Lady Gaga’s Fame were (6m in a week), I was surprised at how quickly Fame has ended up being deeply discounted and even showing up in drugstores. Did you come across anything in your research about this, or does it just reflect the short life cycle of celebrity fragrances?

    • No, I saw no mention of Lady Gaga in any of the pieces I read anywhere. I had thought of her, but my article was becoming far too detailed and long for me to investigate further. By the same token, I was surprised that nothing and no-one mentioned the Kardashians. I will be honest and confess that I didn’t want to investigate them. I simply couldn’t bear what might be found. LOL! (No, seriously, it might have traumatized me if they were successful in perfumery.)

      My guess with regard to Lady Gaga is that her perfume was simply not very good and, therefore, became a victim of the very short shelf-life for celebrity fragrances even faster than perhaps some others. That Hollywood Reporter article that I quoted had Roja Dove giving his opinion of various celebrity fragrances at the very end. His assessment of the Lady Gaga perfume: “Clever black color, wonderfully designed bottle, but the scent is nondescript. I’d ask, ‘Lady, where has your gaga gone?’ “

      • Yes, it was a surprisingly nondescript fragrance, given all the sturm and drang marketing. Pleasant but forgettable was how I remember the sample I received.

  5. What a great article. When do you find time to do all of your research?? The celebrity fragrance is just craziness. Britney Spears on all accounts is pretty much of a music has been but 1.5 billion in sales? Staggering! But it makes perfect sense. If all you have to do is to sign a dotted line without any effort and get at least a small percentage. Hell, why not. Fascinating my dear K.

    • Hahaha, I tell you, I don’t sleep. 😀 Really, I have an actual sleeping problem/disorder from childhood. On top of it all, I have great difficulty turning off my mind lately. I’ve been getting about 2 hours of sleep some nights, when I’ve been lucky. Some days, I don’t sleep at all. That leaves a lot of time for things, and I’ve always been fantastic at research from my history days, never mind the attorney ones. 🙂

      As for Britney, don’t you love the irony that her “Perfume” single bombs, but she sells BILLIONS of really synthetic, crappy perfume? More surprising to me still was reading that Paris Hilton (talk about a has-been) has a line that is worth over $1.5 Billion!!! It’s incredible, and so unbelievably depressing to me. Fairy Dust…. *sigh*

      On the bright side, Snooki and Pizza Hut haven’t sold millions of dollars worth of perfume. That might have just killed me.

    • Very much so, Haefennasiel. BTW, I hope you have been well, and unaffected by recent weather events in your corner of the world? I’ve been thinking of you.

      • Many thanks for your concern, Kafka – it is very much appreciated …

        My family and I are all fine since our city wasn’t in the direct path of the typhoon. We have relatives who live in certain affected areas though, and we don’t yet have a complete accounting of all of them. 🙁

        • Oh dear God, that’s horrible and must be the most stressful, difficult, emotionally tormenting thing. 🙁 I’m so, so sorry, Haefennasiel. I hope that they’re okay, that it’s just a question of the phone lines, and that you hear from them soon. My thoughts will be with you and your family.

  6. I am a little surprised (not really) that he scents that were actually interesting and of some quality by Kate Walsh and Jennifer Aniston didn’t do well. It points to what really disturbs me about this trend, specifically that the quality of the art has little to nothing to do with financial success. There are so many genuinely talented artists out there who could, with this level of financial support, blow a hole in the sky and take the art to new heights. It saddens me too that people willing to throw money at this art form are coming away with so little to show for it. There are many $30-$60 Indy perfumes that blow the socks off people who truly want to be educated about perfume.

    • I was surprised about Kate Walsh, too, as I’d always thought her Boyfriend was singled out as something that did well when people would talk about how badly Jennifer Aniston’s fragrance did. I suppose by the standards of Britney, Derek Jeter (???! that one I won’t ever understand, no matter how they explain it), Bieber and the like, I suppose that by THOSE standards, Kate Walsh did badly.

      As for the rest of your comment on the larger picture and philosophical issues, I couldn’t agree more. Every demoralized part of my being agrees with you. *sigh*

      • That’s really interesting to me that Kate Walsh’s perfume didn’t do well – as I’ve heard really good things about it, though have never smelled it myself. Did she not have a limited distribution deal for some period of time, though? For some reason, I seem to remember it was sold on the Home Shopping Network, and I thought it was sold there exclusively, but perhaps that is merely a figment of my imagination. At least SJP seems to be doing well, and I’ve heard good things about her fragrances. For some reason, and it may be totally incorrect, I’ve always had the feeling that of all the celebrity scent “designers” she may be one of the few who actually had an active hand in creating her fragrances. Again, could be completely wrong, but she’s never really struck me as the kind of person who would attach her name to something purely for the sake of exposure.

        • I’ve heard good things about Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend myself, and even have a sample somewhere around here that Baconbiscuit sent me. I know it was in Sephora for ages and ages, so I don’t know about QVC.

          As for Sarah Jessica Parker, you’re right, she’s one of the only ones who had/has a hands-on role in creating the perfumes under her name. That involvement, her natural perfectionism, and her overall taste levels are probably why her perfumes are the only celubscents that are generally praised as being good-quality, good-smelling fragrances.

        • I seem to remember reading that SJP also was gunning for something very unique so she had to restrained which no doubt resulted in a much more interesting and better scent than the usual celel juice.

  7. I was certain the “celeb perfume” was a profitable industry but I had no idea it was a HUGE MONSTER! Somewhere along the article I got lost, I had to take a break and come back to read the rest. I am still in a bit of a shock. It is my personal opinion but these kind of fragrances make people lose respect for perfumes, It is the wide open gate for many future mediocre launches, Ah…. I wish natural artisans would get this kind of attention, promotion and money.

    • Haha, I’m actually a bit glad that I’m not the only one who was so shocked by all this that they needed a break. When I first read some of the figures, I had to put it aside for a whole day because I simply couldn’t wrap my head around it. Honestly, I still can’t. And I find the whole thing utterly demoralizing and depressing, primarily for the reasons you (and another commentator, Grace, just above you) noted about the business.

      I think you’re very right in feeling that this demeans perfume, making it a bottom-line Madison Avenue-created thing by people working with focus groups and PR types, instead of trying to create something really special, beautiful, rare and unique. It’s all about mass output and money, not about individuality and quality. It’s certainly not about actual beauty.

  8. I had not idea how huge the celebrity fragrance industry was either but yet I am not surprised. I believe that in my long history of being a perfumista, I only bought one celebrity fragrance when I was much younger and that was Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds. Now a celebrity fragrance would be the last fragrance I would even sample let alone purchase.

    • Hi Filomena, welcome to the blog. 🙂 I’ve never tried White Diamonds, now that I think of it. I have a vague memory of Elizabeth Taylor’s purple one, but I couldn’t tell you the name or the smell. lol. What is White Diamonds like on your skin? 🙂

  9. Mind utterly blown. I always knew celeb fragrances had to be cash cows, but never to this extent. Bravo dearest Kafka for assembling all this information! My mind is really, truly reeling.

    Sidenote 1: I truly, truly like and wear often Kate Walsh’s Boyfriend.
    Sidenote 2: I’ve MISSED you like BANANAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Entirely my fault. Been running after 100 students this semester. I am lucky to have a great group of them this fall, but they also consume all of my energy leaving little left!

    • I’ve missed you, too, Baconbiscuit, and it’s lovely to see you. I hope you are well, and that things calm down after this term. I thought of you when I saw the stuff about Kate Walsh, as I know you like her Boyfriend perfume. 🙂 I’m glad you found the rest of the article interesting as well.

      • It’s so lovely to be back! I hope things calm down too . . . I also hope this is what they mean by paying your dues because I would not want a semester like this every term.

        Hope things are going well with you!

  10. Bravo Kafka. Extremely well researched and I appreciated the links to the sources so I read more. I too am working on a scent which I hope is not viewed a celebuscent! Ha, not that have delusions, I am joking there. But not about the scent. I wish I could tell you the name. A review sample should be ready soon. Clayton is also composing something himself while I am working with a perfumer in the Middle East. I will be back to read all the comments shortly. Really this was an interesting and informative read. Interesting is my most used adjectives in comments across Perfumistan I know, but I do find everything interesting.

    • Congratulations on developing your own scent!! That’s wonderful, Jordan! I bet it’s a smoky, woody one, perhaps with oud? 😉 No, don’t tell me, I’ll wait to be surprised. As for the article, I’m glad you found it interesting.

      • A prophetic comment indeed Kafka. Branching out to other writing genres I see. No sales predictions from the Oracle of Kafka?
        (Lol; No, I do not want predictions on the figures).

  11. Celebuscents ARE big business. What we don’t know and what we may never know is the amount of seller incentives that may be lurking under the surface to push certain brand(s). Perhaps I’m generalizing as my comments are based on informal conversations over time with SAs. At Nordstrom, SAs are given a variety of brands to “push” and while they will never NOT sell brands that are not theirs, their recommendations invariably get somewhat (or maybe a lot) colored by the brands that will bring them the most $$$s.

    I’ll relay this story only because the Britney Spears machine got a lot of ink in this excellent write-up. At a perfume store in San Antonio (where I visited April 2012), as soon as I walked into the store and before I answered the SA’s question as to what type of scents I was interested in, she steered me towards, you guessed it, Britney Spears’ perfumes! First of all, I was there by myself (no tweens or other people trailing after me)…and secondly, those of you who know me KNOW that I am NOT in the demographic targeted by Britneyscents so I can conclude that either the SA was stupid or the SA was being paid extra to push Britney.

    • Seller incentives is a good point, my dear. And no, I cannot imagine trying to fob a Britney Spears perfume on you! LOLOLOL! Perhaps Paris Hilton instead? *ducks and flees for dear life*

  12. Perfume to fund educational institutions is brilliant. A captive audience, future memories and a demographic not specially catered to after the teen market and prior to the professional market. If education is the key to world peace and harmony I applaud this funding technique.

    • Well, the perfume would have to be a monster hit for it to actually have the impact of helping the academic institution! As we can see here, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Honestly, if I were a student and saw my university’s perfume in their campus store, I wouldn’t be interested in buying it except perhaps the week before I graduated as a mere novelty token and memento, if you would. I’m sure people with limited interest in perfume would be even less inclined.

  13. Hey there Kafka,
    Excellent article. I am relying on these Celebuscenters to grow up in the next 10 years. They are primed by youthful fragrance purchases and will hopefully make the leap to the real deal. If only 10% of these kids transition to buying the good stuff then the fragrance industry will have a very bright future indeed.
    What are your thoughts?
    Portia xx

    • I think you raise an excellent, wonderfully positive and optimistic point, Portia. Yes, I’m sure a celeb fragrance can be a launch pad for a fraction of these people who start off as novices. What demoralizes and depresses me, however, is not the taste of the buyers so much as what all this says about the industry as a whole. With celebrity scents bringing in SO much money, but having such a short shelf-life in popularity, it inspires companies to focus even more on creating cheap, PR-friendly fragrances, one after another after another.

      There is no incentive to create a truly beautiful perfume that may be a monster hit with a long-term future, with body, depth, and originality, just to produce the next immediate “one hit wonder” to make a quick buck before it hits the discount shelves. All of this is going to impact the actual, established, big perfume houses, too. They have to compete, they have to rush to churn out stuff, and it becomes a bit like the modern day news cycle, if that makes sense. The days when Dior or YSL would spend years to create one beautiful fragrance that really stood out are long gone. Now, we have even Estee Lauder’s Tom Ford putting out 8 perfumes in a single year. They have to have something for their annual cycle to fill the hole and meet anniversary expectations, as Hypoluxe’s Jeffrey Dame said recently in another thread here.

      And, with the over-saturation of the perfume market, the only way for some of these houses to succeed in terms of their profit lines and annual shareholder reports is to continue to increase perfume prices. So, you see, this all feeds into each other. What I find the most demoralizing and depressing about the numbers is what it says about the perfume industry as a whole, and where it’s going.

      • The only thing that can be hoped for is that niche houses never die and cointinue to create high quality perfumes, even if you have to go to Paris to get them. Just hope that they never dissapear, and that maybe in the future the industry changes, remember that sometimes things go from one extreme to the other, and right now it may be going to the extreme of quick and large production of low level fragrances available to all, but in the future it could easily return to the higher class perfumes produced in smaller numbers, that only a few know and care enough about to buy.

  14. Fascinating article! I never considered just how many celebrity perfumes were out there, nor did I think about how much they all made. It’s amazing.

    I shudder to think what Justin Beiber’s perfume smells like- Capuchin monkey tears and urine, probably. I did think that Kate Walsh’s scent would do better, as I know it’s very well spoken of.

    Don’t give up hope yet- lots of us started out with cheesy scents, and now we like things like Tabac Blond!

    • Hi Aurora!

      Your comment about Justin Bieber’s perfume reminded me of a statement made by a US TV talk show host – “I’ll bet it smells like puberty and scented entitlement!”

    • HAHAHAHA @ “I shudder to think what Justin Beiber’s perfume smells like- Capuchin monkey tears and urine, probably.” Hilarious! Re. my giving up hope, it’s more about what these numbers tell me about the perfume industry, its mindset, and its bent, than about buyers who may start with cheesy scents and later grow into something better. I wrote it all out for Portia just a minute ago, so I won’t repeat it, but my worry is about how this sort of money will influence actual perfume houses and their perspective on the sorts of things that they should put out.

  15. Fascinating! Thank you so much for accumulating all this information into one easy-to-read post. I find some of these numbers truly staggering. It’s hard for me to even fathom the number of bottles some of these celebrities are able to sell, especially compared to the niche world which is probably selling only a small fraction of these amounts. I guess what’s shocking to me is that even cheap perfume I consider a “luxury” item, so it’s so crazy to think about just how many bottles are being sold. As much as I make fun of these celebrity scents and how cheap so many of them smell, if I had any marginal level of fame, I would definitely be very tempted to slap my name on a fragrance as a means of a good income stream. I have to imagine for some people like Snooki, where they can see their 15 minutes vanishing before their eyes, it’s probably a no-brainer. Of course, not everyone ends up a Briney-level mega seller, but still, you can basically set yourself for life if you have one even 10% as successful as someone like Britney Spears.

    It’s sort of a double-edged sword, though, I guess. Even if a celebrity wanted to be involved in creating their scent, they would be quite restricted in what they could use given that the company probably won’t exceed a certain cost per bottle in terms of ingredients. They have every reason to make the bottles as cheap as possible to increase their profit margin. Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing!

    • I can’t fathom the number of bottles either. I find it too, too much to wrap my head around. I think you raise an excellent point about the limitations of what a celebrity can produce given the price points, cost of ingredients, and the company’s desire to keep the cost of production as low as possible to maximize profits on a $35-$60 bottle. It is a vicious cycle, and probably explains why there is such a low shelf-life for so many of these and why that one chap compared it to a Hollywood movie which has to make it BIG on the opening weekend, because it will otherwise die away and bring in very little.

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  17. I must be an alien because I couldn´t care less about celebrities, really. It´s mind blowing to me that so many people think of them so higly and go crazy to buy “x” celebrities fragrance. I don´t know why but I always thought of celebrity fragrances as ordinary, unimpressive and unimportant, even when I was 13 or 14 a decade ago that was my impression about celebrity perfumes. Back then I thought the highest quality perfumes were made by Guerlain, Chanel, Ysl, Dior, Dolce&Gabbana, Cacharel, Givenchy ( the commercial one that you can find at any Mall not the niche lines, that I didn´t even knew existed back then) and so on. But never celebrity perfumes, I remember the craze over the Britney one, the Fergie one, Paris Hilton one etc, I just always thought those were no good lol, celebrities are glorified average joes and janes really . To me it´s crazy that celebritiy perfumes make so much money, considering how sickly sweet and average those scents are even for the commercial market, that is full of Ajax cleaner perfumes and sickly sweet scents currently. I still have the Fergie perfume sample I was given in my University in a gift pack with a note book, hat, and shirt (all these related to the university, not Fergie). It´s truly sad that the perfume industry is currently this way, since I just recently realized how different true, high quality niche perfumes are and how different they smell from the commercial scents. They are two entirely different things, nothing to do with each other. Regretable that the celebrity perfumes, the lowest of the lowest of the commercial perfumes are gaining so much 🙁 .

    Sorry for long post.

    • I don’t think you’re an alien, my dear. You’re simply not swayed by the marketing of celebrities as idols. But I’m so happy to read that you finally had the chance to explore the world of niche perfumery, and to learn how very different the scents are from commercial perfumery. It’s really a world apart, and I wish that those who hate perfume as something that gives them headaches, etc., would realise that it’s not all perfume, but the common, cheap, commercial stuff which are stuffed with synthetics.

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  20. Oh so u CLEARLY ARE A BRITNEY HATER? she made 500 millions only with ONE perfume, Curious and she have more than 17 perfumes, so the 10 billion are obviously true

  21. I just cant believe that Britney Spears perfume had sold over a billion dollars and she only got like 30 million. Thats a pathetic figure. She should really2 negotiate with Elizabeth Arden for a higher royaltiies

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