Macy’s Herald Square is teeming with tweenage girls this muggy, late June afternoon. One of them, Miranda Santiago, has chosen to spend part of her vacation from Argentina camped outside the store, near a life-sized cardboard cutout of singer Justin Bieber promoting his just-released fragrance for women, Someday. Never mind that most of the “women” here today are in middle school.
“I love him! I love him!” wails Santiago. “When I use the perfume, I feel him!” She and the others are vying to be among the first 325 to buy Bieber’s $135 VIP gift set the following morning, which comes with a chance to meet Bieber at Macy’s later in the week.
Bieber himself saunters down the purple carpet two days later, ensconced in rings of security, as 300-some fans shriek in unison. He’s already finished a “Today” show appearance that morning,
during which Bieber circled Rockefeller Plaza spritzing wrists with perfume.
As Bieber mounts the stage, the chanting swells: “Justin, Justin, Justin.” He stares blankly into the swirl of journalists, fans, store employees and perfume execs. Then he instinctively straightens up, remembers to smile, and calls out: “OK, love you, peace,” before heading offstage.
The 17-year-old singer sold more than 3.7 million albums, nearly 14 million digital tracks and 987,730 concert tickets in the U.S. in 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan and Pollstar. So why, he’s asked in the green room of the “Today” show, is he bothering with perfume, with all net profits being donated to charity?
“I wanted to create my own [scent] that I liked on a girl,” he says with all the succinct polish of a well-edited press release. Bieber acknowledges that perfume is also a great way to interact with fans. “I’m able to be, like, ‘Oh, you’re wearing Someday.’ And it’s just — I don’t know,” he says. Then he shoots a look at one of his handlers. “And I wanted it to be charity as well.”
Bieber’s arrival as a perfumer is another de rigueur part of the 21st century celebrity lifestyle, as much a part of the portfolio as a robust Facebook page, an active Twitter feed and an adopted charity. The trend has even become part of TV content itself: an episode of E!'s reality show “Khloe & Lamar” followed the couple sampling scents while developing their new unisex fragrance, Unbreakable.
“Most talent in this day and age are not only focused on being an actor, they’re focused on creating a sort of 360-degree wheel of opportunity for themselves,” says Peter Hess, CAA’s co-head of commercial endorsements. Hess helped put together the deal for Sarah Jessica Parker’s hugely successful perfume, Lovely. “Now clients are wanting equity and ownership of companies and stuff like that.”
Though sales of celebrity luxury perfumes have declined in the U.S. — from $168 million in 2005 to $106.2 million in 2010, according to market research firm NPD — there are actually more star fragrances crowding store shelves than ever before. Last year saw 69 new celebrity perfume launches — as compared with 31 in 2005, says Michael Edwards, who produces one of the industry’s most comprehensive databases for Fragrances of the World.
This year alone in the U.S., Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Fergie, Rihanna and Kate Walsh added their scents to the glut of Hollywood “juice,” which already includes fragrances by Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Katy Perry, Halle Berry, Paris Hilton and Celine Dion, among many others. Parker has nine perfumes, Britney Spears 10. Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Bieber’s girlfriend, Selena Gomez, have fragrances in the works for 2012.
“It’s a virtual rite of passage for celebrities — you almost have to have your own scent,” says Chandler Burr, fragrance-culture expert and author of “The Perfect Scent.” “If you’re willing to put in the face time, it’s a phenomenal way to talk with fans. If you do it, and it’s a success, it’s insanely lucrative.” That money, in standard licensing deals, typically comes from royalties of net sales — on average a range of 4% to 6%. Sales of Bieber’s Someday have been through the roof, netting over $3 million for Macy’s in its first three weeks. It’s considered by those in the industry one of the most successful celebrity fra?grance launches.
Left to his own devices, Bieber might have started a sneaker line — he loves shoes, he says. But perfume is more prestigious, according to Robert Hollander, president and cofounder of Give Back Brands, the new, L.A.-based philanthropic beauty company that’s producing Someday with Bieber, its first client: “It solidifies that talent is major talent, particularly when you’re in big department stores.”
Hollander, a marketing and branding specialist, says Bieber had been approached by several big manufacturers to do a men’s fragrance. But he and Give Back Brands chairman and cofounder Paul West, a former executive at Elizabeth Arden, wooed the pop star with the promise of charity — net profits will be donated to Pencils of Promise and Make-A-Wish Foundation among others — and that Bieber would be the first male pop star to debut with a female fragrance.
Teens already make up the majority of celebrity perfume fans, and Someday will likely draw the age down even younger. The perfume, which sells at Sephora and in department stores like Nordstrom for $35, $45 and $55, is decidedly young in its appeal — floral, fruity and with lingering notes of vanilla and marshmallow. The bottle, topped with a crimson and pink flower, comes with dangling charms, and there’s a mobile phone app component for collecting virtual charms.
Despite having a clear picture of Someday’s demo — Bieber’s loyal fanbase — Give Back Brands still did a fair amount of market research, says Hollander. Then the company collaborated with Firmenich in New York, one of three fragrance houses that creates most celebrity scents. The others, also with labs in New York, are Givaudan and International Flavors & Fragrances, inc.
Firmenich’s slick offices, in a high rise on Madison Avenue, house two on-site laboratories. The office has a private elevator for celebrities as well as a special conference room with a remote-controlled curtain for foiling paparazzi. Celebrities get personalized lab coats as souvenirs. In the lab, hundreds of tiny, tinted bottles crowd countertops and technicians in white lab coats hover over them with liquid-filled droppers. There’s a pervasive sense of secrecy. Perfumers work from reservoirs of thousands of natural and synthetic ingredients. But no specifics are uttered in the presence of visitors, a reminder of what’s at stake.
Luxury and mass market celebrity perfumes combined — just a narrow slice of the overall perfume industry — are seeing a slight growth and accounted for $550 million in U.S. retail sales last year, says Euromonitor International.
Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds — the longest-standing celebrity perfume, having launched 20 years ago this fall — grossed $61.3 million globally for Elizabeth Arden in 2010, says Euromonitor International. Jennifer Lopez’s Glow, when it came out in 2002, was in the top 20 not just of celebrity perfumes but of all women’s prestige fragrances.
“We look at JLo Glow as the beginning,” says Jason P. Kakoyiannis, an executive at Givaudan. “I think that reinvigorated the idea of celebrity scent.”
Not all celebrities lend themselves to fragrance, though. Theo Spilka, a vice president at Firmenich, says actors and musicians with global appeal, like Bieber, are obviously ideal partners for big beauty companies. “Real Housewives of New Jersey”? Not so much.
“I can’t tell you the number of reality stars I’ve had in this office wanting to do a fragrance — and I can’t sell it to a marketer who has interests outside the United States,” Spilka says, noting Paris Hilton is an exception. The Kardashians? “That’s where the marketer will say...'I can make enough business in the U.S. to compensate.’”
One reason celebrities are drawn to the fragrance business, says Spilka, is because of how easily the product travels internationally. “It immediately becomes multinational through duty free, distributors, all sorts of heavy fragrance consumption markets like the Middle East, Latin America, Central and Eastern Europe … Asia and India,” says Spilka. Someday will launch in Britain this fall and elsewhere around the world in 2012, says Hollander.
Celebrities participate in the creation of their perfumes to varying degrees, says Spilka. Unlike endorsement deals ( Uma Thurman for Givenchy, for example), licensing involves far more input from celebrities. The perfume is in their name, for one; and it’s in their best interest to promote it, because their payment is based on royalties. Still, personal involvement ranges “from ‘you guys are the experts, you know what sells, just send me my checks’ to … someone like Usher, who was here on a regular basis smelling, rolling up his sleeves,” Spilka says.
“Private Practice” star Kate Walsh is taking her signature scent, Boyfriend, into her own hands by forming her own beauty company, Boyfriend LLC, with the help of independent consultant Pamela Vaile.
“I wanted creative control,” says the actress. “I had a very specific idea of fragrance and a very specific idea of packaging and design. So I started a company and got a loan from the bank, and now I’m a perfumer. This is a totally risky, totally different way to do it.”
Bieber falls somewhere in the middle in terms of participation. Give Back Brand Executive Vice President of Global Marketing Noreen Dodge brought Bieber samples to smell while he was on tour. “They’d ask me … whether I wanted it to be more flowery or more fruity or if it was too strong,” Bieber says, smiling, as if this is all a tad embarrassing.
Despite his absence in the lab, Bieber’s perfumer, Honorine Blanc, felt his presence.
“I listened to his music and watched videos, I did everything I could to get closer to him. At home. On my iPhone. On the subway,” she says. Blanc worked from a palate of 500 ingredients for nearly a year to nail the Bieber smell, which she describes as young and modern, optimistic, feminine, more sensual than sexy. Even though it’s meant for his fans, she stresses, the scent also captures Bieber’s “essence.”
“For me, he represents hope,” she says. “He was able to make it … and he started from nothing.”
It’s that hope that Give Back Brands is counting on: Bieber in a bottle.