The U.S. Fragrance Industry: Sales Figures, Popular Fragrances & Market Changes



The numbers are in for the perfume industry’s sales in 2013 as a whole. I’m always interested in the financial side of the fragrance industry, especially how perfume is doing as compared to the overall beauty market. However, the most fascinating thing this time were changes that occurred in people’s perfume tastes, in the categories of perfumes that were purchased in the last year, and in who was doing the buying. I’m not hugely surprised by what men are doing in the U.S. and U.K., but I was a bit taken aback by a change in the American woman’s buying habits and tastes. I’ll cover all of that in this post, along with: the U.S. sales figures for market leaders like Estée Lauder, Elizabeth Arden, Coty, and Inter Parfums, along with what those figures tell us about the overall fragrance industry in America.

Another post will look at the broader picture by focusing on the global perfume market. The topics include: the most popular perfumes for women and men in different European countries; the role of Valentine’s Day in the UK; the 3 perfume houses that dominate the French market; a perfume Fatwa by a Grand Mufti in the Middle East (no, I’m not joking, but it was a positive edict); the industry’s astonishing projected growth; the degree of profits for L’Oreal, LVMH, IFF, and Givaudan; and the different international perfume markets in the UK, France, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain, India, and the Middle East. [Update: there are also posts on the Brazilian and Asian markets (China and Japan). In another 2014 post, the second half has newer figures for L’Oreal, Estée Lauder, Coty, and P&G.]

As always, I would like to emphasize that I am the furthest thing imaginable from a business expert. I often can’t make heads or tails of the specific fine point and details in financial reports. In fact, I intentionally went to law school to stay as far away as humanly possible from anything mathematical or financial in nature. Still, I hope you find some of the reports below interesting. Please note, however, that all of the articles focus on the more established and significantly larger commercial fragrance market, not the niche one.




I’d previously quoted and discussed the flat U.S. sales in the first part of 2013 in a post on the 2013 business reports for the perfume industry. To put the new figures into context, I want to start with the numbers for the beauty market as a whole. A MediaPost article quotes the NPD global market research group as saying, in part:

sales of prestige beauty products — those sold in department stores — gained 5% in 2013. But the lower-end brands sold in drugstores struggled, gaining just 1%.

Among the prestige labels, NPD reports that skincare and makeup was especially strong — both up 7% in dollar sales from the prior year — while fancy fragrances were flat. Direct-to-consumer sales grew 19%. But the more expensive products were, the better they sold. Fragrances priced $100 and higher jumped 30% in sales, and makeup priced at $60 and up climbed 28%.

Drugstore brands had a tougher go of it. […] Makeup gained 2%, while mass fragrance sales sank 6%. [Emphasis added by me.]

In short, prestige makes a difference to sales. I have to wonder how much of that was driven by niche perfumery or, to be more precise, the impact of niche perfumery on more mainstream brands (like Chanel, for example) raising their prices.



I found a CNBC article that added some interesting details. For one thing, it notes that Christmas is perhaps the biggest time for perfume sales. In fact, 45% of all such purchases usually occur between October and December. The article, which came out in November 2013, didn’t have such an optimistic view this time around. More interestingly, it quotes a Euromonitor expert on which specific perfumes were popular:

What used to be a go-to Christmas gift is no longer smelling quite as sweet.

After gaining back some of the ground lost after four years of negative sales during the economic downturn, fragrance sales are basically flat on the year, and experts predict they will continue their holding pattern during the holidays.

According to The NPD Group, 15 percent of shoppers will purchase a fragrance this holiday, which is unchanged from 2012; similarly, Euromonitor forecast that the category’s sales will tick higher by only 0.2 percent this year. […][¶]

Jo Malone fragrance via

Jo Malone fragrance via

Most of the growth in the prestige fragrance category—sales logged primarily in department stores—has come from pricier, niche fragrances such as Demeter Fragrance Library’s Oud, and scents from Jo Malone and Tom Ford, [Virgina Lee of Euromonitor] said.

She pointed to Bond No. 9Estée Lauder’s Modern Muse and Coty’s Marc Jacobs Honey as other fragrances she expects to perform well.

While celebrity perfumes continue to saturate the market—including scents from Rihanna, One Direction and Taylor Swift—the category’s real value growth is now being driven by an older, more sophisticated shopper who doesn’t care to smell like a pop star, Lee said. She also predicts prestige will continue to outperform mass offerings, as higher-income shoppers have the money to burn on a $250 fragrance, she said.

Bloomingdale’s, Sephora and Saks all listed fragrance as one of their top areas of focus for the season, with Bloomingdale’s calling out its Tory Burch fragrance exclusive; Sephora its multibranded fragrance samplers; and Saks its mini-fragrance collections and fragrance sets, including Carven and Viktor & Rolf’s Flowerbomb. [Emphasis to names added by me.]


So, what happened when Christmas ended, the sales were tallied up, and the reports were released? Well, as noted above, NPD says that 2013 perfume sales were flat for “prestige” (ie, department store) fragrances, while drug store ones sank by 6%.

Britney's Curious perfume.

Britney’s Curious perfume.

However, some specific companies really took a hit. Elizabeth Arden, a huge corporation which distributes everything from Brittany Spears‘ many lucrative fragrances to the super-popular ones from Justin Bieber and Elizabeth Taylor, fared poorly in its second-quarter, in part because of those flat U.S. perfume sales. According to Medill Reports:

  • Net income fell 22%;
  • On an adjusted basis, quarterly earnings fell 32%; and
  •  “Quarterly sales totaled $418.1 million, a 10.6 percent drop from $467.9 million in the second quarter of 2013. Revenues from its North American business, which account for about two-thirds of total sales, fell 13.3 percent to $269.6 million from $311.1 million.”

It’s actually a pretty big deal if a company like Elizabeth Arden does poorly in the U.S., because it controls such a big portion of the market here. 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.

Photo: Bruce Weber for Bottega Veneta. Source:

Photo: Bruce Weber for Bottega Veneta. Source:

Coty didn’t do enormously well in 2013, either. The company’s fragrances generally seem to average out to the mid-level range in terms of department store offerings, as its brands include: Bottega VenetaCalvin Klein, Chopard, CerruttiMarc Jacobs, Chloé, Roberto Cavalli, Sarah Jessica Parker, BeyoncéLady Gaga, Madonna, Vivienne Westwood, Vera Wang, and Davidoff. Coty said its fiscal second-quarter earnings for 2013 dropped 33%, though much of that was from weak cosmetics sales. The fragrance sector reported a 2% loss in revenue, but the company’s revenue as a whole sank 4.1% to $1.32 billion.

For the Estée Lauder behemoth, fragrance is only a small portion of their sales. According to Trefis, 49.9% of their stock price comes from skin care, 39.5% from makeup, and only 7.5% from fragrance. The company continues to beat all quarterly estimates with a very strong performance. The full Trefis report states:

The contribution of fragrances to overall revenues has seen a consistent decline for the company, from 19% of total revenues in 2007 to 13% by 2012, driven by higher skin care product demand globally. During the same period, skin care revenue share increased from 37% to 44% by 2012. The skin care product market worldwide reached $100 billion in 2012, growing at an annualized rate of 4.1% between 2007 and 2012 while the worldwide fragrance market reached $37 billion. [1] [2] […]

However, despite its declining share, the fragrance division witnesses a strong growth rate in Q2, supported by holiday season spending on luxury fragrance products.



The fragrance division registered a 32% growth in revenues during Q2FY13 while other divisions such as skin care, hair care and make up registered growth rates of 15%, 16% and 9% respectively. Premium fragrance brands such as Jo MaloneModern Muse and Tom Ford have historically been strong drivers for divisional revenues. Furthermore, the company launched various limited edition fragrance products exclusively for the holiday season which could boost revenues. We expect another quarter of strong performance from the company’s fragrance division. [Emphasis added by me.]

Another company with slightly more “prestige” fragrances also did well. Inter Parfums reported a 19% increase in fourth-quarter sales, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. You may not know Inter Parfum’s name, but you certainly know the perfume brands it distributes: Lanvin, Van Cleef & Arpels, Balmain, Agent Provocateur, Boucheron, Jimmy Choo, Karl Lagerfeld, MontblancPaul Smith, S.T. Dupont, Repetto, Alfred Dunhill, Anna Sui, Shanghai Tang, Oscar de la Renta, Gap, Brooks Brothers, bebe, and Betsey Johnson

There is clearly a vast divide in the fortunes of Elizabeth Arden and Coty, on the one side, and Estée Lauder and Inter Parfums, on the others. It comes down to the nature of the respective companies’ perfume brands, and underscores the conclusion of one market researcher: prestige sells, even in today’s economy. The NPD global research group states:

Value is important to consumers, but premium-priced offerings are thriving is US prestige beauty. Even though sales for the total prestige fragrance category were flat, fragrances priced $100 and over grew 30 percent in dollars, while face makeup priced at $60 and up increased 28 percent, and skincare for the face gained 15 percent in dollar sales (compared to 2012).


Now that you have the context as a whole, I wanted to talk about one of the more interesting things I discovered. When the average American woman wants to buy a new perfume from a department store, they are increasingly choosing woody orientals! According to an NPD report entitled “The Shifting Scent of a Woman“:

While total industry dollar sales declined slightly to $2 billion in the 12 months ending December 2013, sales of woody oriental scents, the second largest fragrance family, and smaller segments grew during the same time period.

“Floral fragrances aren’t fading away, but less traditional scents are gaining more of the attention from female consumers than ever before,” said Karen Grant vice president and senior global industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc. “Fragrance is a powerful tool that can exude an image and even empower an individual as an expression of personal preference. With the emergence of more artisanal scents on the market, women are welcoming the opportunity to experiment and explore different options.”

The standalone oriental, woods, citrus, and fruity fragrances are still a small portion of the market, at just 7 percent of women’s fragrance dollar sales, but they are growing at the expense of the larger segments, including the top selling fragrance family, floral. Woody oriental is the only one of the larger blended fragrance families to experience growth in 2013. Two of the top 5 women’s prestige fragrances sold in the US are part of the woody oriental fragrance family, while the other three in the top five are florals and a soft floral.

“The recognizable classics remain strong, but new players are important rising stars to watch,” said Grant. “Today, the opportunity for reinvention afforded by a novel scent coexists with the instant indulgence provided by the classics.”

In my admittedly biased opinion, I am going to credit niche perfumery as having some role in why less traditional categories of perfumery may be gaining ground with the average American women. Just as with fashion being influenced by trends that slowly trickle down from Haute Couture, so too must the more inventive fragrances put out by niche houses eventually trend the commercial perfume giants. You can see it with oud which started as a revolutionary failure with YSL’s M7 (under Tom Ford), but which has now trickled down into every conceivable type of perfume at every price point.




It seems American and British gentlemen really, really love their fragrances. The Yanks in particular are spending a fortune, which is why I’m including this section here and not in Part II with the rest of the global analysis. An NPD report has the figures for men’s purchases between November 2012 and October 2013:

men’s fragrance juice sales drove positive dollar performance for the overall fragrance category in the US and UK[.] Total fragrance performance was soft elsewhere in Europe, with declines across men’s and women’s offerings, primarily in the EDT segment.

“While women’s individual juices continue to be the top selling fragrance segment across the US and Europe, new launch activity has been a boost for men’s sales across most countries,” said Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc.

In addition to men’s juice sales, the other positive growth segments for both the US and UK prestige* fragrance industries in the 12 months ending October 2013 were women’s juices, and both men’s and women’s fragrance gift sets. With the exception of Spain, which had declines across fragrance segments, there were segments of flat to positive performance in other European countries. Men’s gift sets were the star in France during this time period. In Italy, men’s juice and women’s gift sets held steady.


Although there seems to be movement in specific areas, I think if you look at the picture as a whole, you will see that the perfume industry in the U.S. continues to struggles. Sales are generally soft, not dynamic and huge. The percentages reported are always very small, moving upwards by about 2% in a lot of cases, or else dropping by 6% to 7%. If you take a bird’s-eye view, make-up and skin care do gangbusters in the U.S., but not fragrances. Even the expensive ($100+) perfumes are only selling moderately if you look at picture as a whole, as opposed to taking a narrow view of “prestige” fragrances vs. drugstore ones.

And remember, the definition of “prestige” here revolves around department store perfumes, not niche. Given the nature of a niche or artisanal company, and the fact that it is privately owned with no need to report to shareholders, I think it would be virtually impossible to find data on how that sector of the industry is doing. The individual companies are certainly not going to report it. I also can’t see niche distributors like Luckyscent, Osswald, First in Fragrance, or Essenza Nobile releasing sales figures by perfume house.

Still, I think it’s always interesting to know how the industry as a whole is doing. To that end, Part II will focus on the global picture, from market titans like LVMH and Givaudan, to popular perfumes and sales in individual countries such as the U.K., France, Germany, The NetherlandsItaly, Spain, India, and the Middle East.

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.)




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:

Jay Z & his Gold. Source:

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.




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, 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:

Paris Hilton perfume ad for her second fragrance, Fairy Dust. Source:

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: 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****.”

Perfume News: 2013 Fragrance Sales Figures, Revenue & Fragrance Markets

I’m always interested in the financial side of the fragrance industry, even though I sometimes can’t make heads or tails of the specific fine point and details. I recently found some numbers for a few of the corporate giants like Givaudan whose ingredients are often the building blocks for the perfumes we wear and whose perfumers create some of the many fine fragrances released each year. The numbers demonstrate something we already knew: traditional Western fragrance markets are weakening, and the future for many perfume companies lies in emerging markets. [Update: In 2014, I took a more in-depth look at a number of Western perfume markets, from Germany to the Netherlands, France, Italy and the UK, but also examined the Indian perfume industry and the Middle Eastern one. There is also a look at the revenue figures for various industry leaders like LVMH, Givaudan, and IFF. You can read all that at: The Global Fragrance Industry. There are also posts on the massive Brazilian market, the Chinese and Japanese ones, and a 2/2014 post on the U.S. market. In another 2014 post focused more on the niche market in the context of Frederic Malle, the second half talks about Estée Lauder, L’Oreal, Elizabeth Arden, Coty, and P&G.]

What’s interesting is that Latin America is one of those emerging markets, but the Asian one isn’t quite as strong as everyone may think. In fact, analytical reports from the Euromonitor indicate both the Chinese and Japanese perfume sectors are impacted by socio-cultural issues regarding fragrance use. Still, some of the numbers involved in terms of overall, global perfume sales and revenues are astronomical. Please note, however, that almost all of the articles below focus on the more established and significantly larger commercial fragrance market, not the niche one.

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