The sweet smell of celebrity perfumes

Nowadays, you can bottle fame and what’s more — it’s a huge earner for the top stars. Louise O’Neill reports on big-money scent endorsement

The sweet smell of celebrity perfumes

ACCORDING to Stephen C Mormoris, the senior vice-president of global marketing at Coty Inc, “Celebrities are cultural icons and they are often beautiful, accomplished, wealthy and sexy — all dreams that consumers project themselves into if they are wearing that celebrity’s personal fragrance.”

Using celebrities to hawk perfume to the masses is nothing new. In the 1930s, Elsa Schiaparelli designed a perfume bottle to emulate Mae West’s famous curves; Hubert de Givenchy capitalised on his indelible association with Audrey Hepburn by creating the bespoke fragrance L’Interdit in her honour, and in 1954 Chanel discovered the power of celebrity when Marilyn Monroe said she wore ‘five drops of Chanel No 5’ to bed.

However, it was in the late 1980s that the concept of ‘celebrity fragrance’ as we know it today began. Faced with a fading career, Elizabeth Taylor launched her first perfume, entitled Passion, but it was to be White Diamonds, launched in 1991, for which she would be remembered. Reportedly accounting for $1bn in sales internationally, it is still the world’s most popular celebrity fragrance.

Taylor’s success was duplicated when Jennifer Lopez met with Coty on her honeymoon with Chris Judd. Just out of the shower, she motioned to her bathrobe and told the company’s executives, “Make it smell like this — like soap”. Glow, a fresh, clean scent, was the result, and it was an immediate hit, as were the less expensive ‘flanker’ perfumes like Miami Glow and Glow at First Sight.

In 2004, Britney Spears launched her first fragrance, followed by Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Jennifer Aniston, Taylor Swift, and more. In 2012 there were 85 celebrity fragrances launched, compared with only ten a decade before, and out of the top 100 fragrances sold last year, celebrity perfumes accounted for 31%.

With more traditional forms of revenue like royalties becoming somewhat precarious, due to illegal downloading of music, a perfume can be a lucrative money-spinner. An A-list celebrity — particularly one who is appealing to the younger women who drive this market — could be given up to $3m upfront and then receive a percentage of between 3-10% of overall sales. Considering that the best performers of these can sell millions of bottles, the payback is enormous. Take Beyoncé’s fragrance Heat. Macy’s sold 72,000 bottles in the first hour of release, a further $3m worth in the first month, and in 2013 the ‘Heat Collection’ is said to have earned $400m globally.

Elizabeth Arden, responsible for fragrances from Spears’, Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, are not the only company dependent on healthy perfume sales to boost their bottom line. Coty, the brand behind perfumes by Sarah Jessica Parker, Lady Gaga, Kylie Minogue and the Beckhams, recently told the Wall Street Journal that celebrity perfumes account for 6% of their overall sales. Besides the initial cost of procuring the celebrity, the fragrances can be made relatively cheaply, typically for only 25% of retail price.

However, the market place has become saturated to such a degree that results are expected, and fast. Isaac Lekach of ID Perfumes, the company that launched fragrances for Katy Perry and Paris Hilton told The Hollywood Reporter that selling a perfume is ”...exactly like the movie business now. If you don’t have a strong opening weekend, good luck relying on word-of-mouth.”

Roja Dove, known as ‘the world’s most famous nose’, told the Irish Examiner that, “If someone loves a certain celebrity they will of course be drawn to that individual’s signature scent, but it is frightening to think that nearly 20% of all celebrity fragrances are sold with scant regard to the odour. With this, we then have to question the quality involved.

“If a house is paying to use a famous face and is conducting huge marketing campaigns on TV and in magazines and newspapers, the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere — so of course the formulae cannot be as good as from some small brands who invest everything into the content of the bottle.”

It’s unlikely that the celebrities themselves are going to insist, as Roja Dove does, that ‘Jasmine from Grasse at £32,000 per kilo really does smell different to the Jasmine that costs £150 per kilo.’ IMormoris says that the celebrities involved with Coty spend, on average, about 100 hours developing their scents, which, while demonstrating more involvement than the cynics amongst us would have assumed, is still a long way from the two years it took to perfect Valentino’s 2011 fragrance, Valentina.


1. Jennifer Lopez, Glow

Containing notes of orange, jasmine, vanilla and musk, this fragrance was a huge hit when it launched in 2002.

2. Elizabeth Taylor, White Diamonds

Taylor made more money from the sales of this sheer floral perfume than all of her movies combined, and it was inducted into the Fragrance Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

3. Justin Bieber, Someday

When Bieber launched this ‘candy-tinted perfume’, it broke records by selling three million bottles in three weeks.

4. Sarah Jessica Parker, Lovely

With notes that are woody with a hint of citrus, Lovely is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the best of the celebrity fragrances.

5. Britney Spears, Curious

Celebrating its 10-year anniversary, Curious is described as a ‘lively, bright and effervescent fruity floral, aimed at twentysomethings with attitude.’

6. Derek Jeter, Driven

Jeter, a popular baseball player, has had huge success with Driven, a cologne for men sold through Avon.

7. One Direction, One Moment

Launched in August 2013, this fragrance, with its sweet notes of florals and fruit, is tailor-made for their young female fans.

8. Beyonce’s Heat

The singer has said she wanted Heat to be ‘fiery and sexy’ with notes of almonds and amber.

9. Lady Gaga, Fame

This perfume, with notes of belladonna and incense, is black in colour while in the bottle, but turns invisible when sprayed on to the skin.

10. Katy Perry, Killer Queen

The newest perfume from Perry, Killer Queen is inspired by her love of Freddie Mercury, and has notes of wild berries and liquid praline.

More in this section


The best food, health, entertainment and lifestyle content from the Irish Examiner, direct to your inbox.

Sign up