Eau, My Papa : Selecting a Father's Day Fragrance Gift Is More Complicated--and More Fun--Than Ever

According to retailers, fragrance is second only to neckties as the most popular gift for Father's Day. So with only a week remaining for sniff testing, millions of children and mothers are trying to decide among familiar classics such as Old Spice, a host of designer fragrances, and provocative scents with exotic names like Drakkar Noir and Habit Rouge.

The options may seem overwhelming: There are more than 200 men's fragrances on the market, and within most lines are after-shave, soap and lotion products. Many gift givers stick with the tried and true. Old Spice, for example, is clearly the top seller in pharmacies and chain stores, according to Nancy Hall, a cosmetics analyst

for Smith Barney, the Manhattan-based investment firm. But in department stores and specialty shops, where "prestige" scents are sold, the competition is more intense. Aramis is the leader in that field, according to Natalie Salek, a cosmetics industry research consultant. Not far behind are Ralph Lauren's Polo, Halston, Giorgio for Men and Drakkar Noir.

Hall says that Calvin Klein's Obsession for Men is giving the front-runners a run for their money. With its notoriously suggestive advertising and light, sexy scent, the fragrance is "a phenomenal success," Hall says.

Some kids might shy away from giving Dad a cologne promoted with blatant sexual innuendo. But wives and daughters may give it with the intention of taking a dab or two for themselves. "I've heard from more than one investment banker who has discovered his daughter wearing it," Hall says of Obsession for Men. "It's lighter than the women's version."

Choosing men's fragrances is further complicated by the fact that men traditionally haven't taken an active role in scent selection, so it's not easy to determine their preferences.

"I never bought colognes," says a 35-year-old Santa Monica man. "Whatever I got as a gift, I wore. I didn't know what their names were. All that mattered was that they smelled good."

According to Theresa Sutton Fryback, vice president of marketing at Aramis, that trend is changing. "It used to be that 70% to 80% of men's fragrances were purchased by women. Now that figure is down to 60%."

Bullock's Patty Payne, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics, attributes this shift to men's increasing interest in treatment products. "They see the skin- and hair-care products advertised in newspapers and magazines, and they come into the stores to buy," she says. "Demonstrators introduce the fragrance as another part of good grooming." She adds that men are starting to acquire "wardrobes" of scents to suit different occasions. "Like

many women, men now choose something light for day, sporty for recreation and a heavier scent for evenings."

Although the buying trend started recently, the idea of smelling good is not new to men. Napoleon is rumored to have doused himself in cologne before every battle. Victorian dandies sprinkled essence of lavender under their lapels. But it was not until the 1930s that America's first men's fragrance products were marketed. This year, according to industry analysts, more than $1 billion will be spent in the United States on men's fragrances.

Payne explains that for the last few years the sales pattern in men's fragrances has been soft. "But sales have been up since January," she says. "Why? Many new fragrances were introduced, and there was a big interest in ancillary products like balms, scented deodorants and shampoos."

In the last few months, several new fragrances have been introduced to reinforce the wardrobe concept. Geoffrey Beene, whose Grey Flannel is a favorite of the dress-for-success set, brought out the outdoorsy Bowling Green. From Giorgio comes Giorgio Beverly Hills V.I.P. Special Reserve, a scent that's stronger and more expensive than the original. The Aramis line, which includes the country-flavored Devin, now has a citrusy scent called Tuscany. Building a man's fragrance wardrobe not only lends variety to the way he smells but also makes the gift-giving process a little more interesting. "It lets you enhance the personality that you want a man to convey," Fryback says. And because the man of the family plays so many roles--from husband and lover to dear old dad--the fragrance options are wide open.

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