If you believe that celebrity fragrances are squeezed out by fairies from the petals of flowers and you are under 12, you are forgiven. If you believe this and you are past puberty, you need help. Even though few would be as naive as to believe that fairies are involved in creating a fragrance, even fewer are familiar with the process of making one. Fragrance companies have done a great job enshrouding in mystery the creative and technical process of creating their masterpieces and duds. After all, the business of selling perfume is really the business of selling the dream of something we want to experience, whether it is sensuality, coolness or comfort.
I couldn’t allow myself to believe in the story about fairies and magic.
As I was curious about the process of making a fragrance, from its inception to its release on the market, I couldn’t allow myself to believe in the story about fairies and magic. I did some digging and here is what I found out. I am not going to delve into the technical and creative processes the perfumer goes through to create a fragrance. I’d like to explore the steps from conceiving a fragrance to bringing it to market. As this process is most streamlined and straightforward with highly commercial fragrances, I focus on describing the steps in making a celebrity fragrance.
The Main Players
In the fragrance industry, as in any industry, there are several players, which participate in the game at different playing fields. In the case of bringing a celebrity fragrance to market, we have generally three main participants:
The celebrity is the person lending their name or image to the fragrance. They are involved in the promotion of the perfume and sometimes participate in its creation too. The celebrity does not act alone in this. Usually, it is their support team (e.g. manager, lawyers, record label staff or celebrity staff) that do most of the ground work. It is helpful to look at the celebrity as a product and everyone on the celebrity side works together to market this product successfully and generate sales.
The Fragrance Company/Distributor
The fragrance company is the entity that is responsible for creating the fragrance. In the case of celebrity fragrances, it manages the whole process from creation to bringing the scent to market. Most celebrity fragrances are commissioned by Coty, which also doubles as a distribution company. In a way, Coty is a one-stop-shop for celebrity fragrances – they take charge of creating the fragrance, marketing it and distributing it through various retailers.
It goes without saying that the perfumer is the artist that creates the fragrance. They may work independently or, as is the case with many, they work for a fragrance company: Firmenich, Takasago, Givaudan, etc.
Making the Match
At some point in the commercial development of the artist, they, along with their management team, decide that they need to release a fragrance. Generally speaking, the idea of releasing a fragrance percolates from the moment the artist has been signed to a major record label. Celebrity fragrances seem to be a great ancillary product helping drive revenue, secure brand loyalty and extend the width of the brand line.
Once the artist reaches a certain celebrity status, their management team starts discussions with fragrance companies for releasing a scent. Coty has an absolute monopoly on the celebrity fragrances market – they have released perfumes for anyone from J Lo to One Direction. Part of Coty’s success in the celebrity fragrance market is that they offer a one-stop-shop solution. They can take a fragrance from conception to the department store counter and have done this many times over with great success.
In many cases, Coty may approach celebrities with an offer to create, market and distribute a fragrance under their brand. This is particularly true with rising starts like Kesha, Lady Gaga in her early years and anyone with a rising commercial potential.
Regardless of who first starts the conversation, the initial discussions are the first step to making the match and creating the fragrance. Early on both sides do preliminary market research to get an idea of the sales potential of the fragrance. Not all celebrity fragrances are profitable products and many of them, in fact, are utter failures.
Not all celebrity fragrances are profitable products and many of them, in fact, are utter failures.
If the preliminary talks go well and the market research shows favourable results, Coty and the celebrity sign some sort of an agreement, which outlines who is going to do what and how profits are going to be shared. Many times, the celebrity licenses their name to Coty against a fee. Coty takes on all the risk (and rewards) associated with the product. Under the licensing agreement the celebrity has some responsibilities, such as appearances, photo shoots, advertising responsibilities, etc.
Once all the legal part is out of the way, the fragrance company and the celebrity start working on the perfume concept.
Dreaming up the Dream
…it is really the marketing department that has the most say.
The first step of the creative process is to decide what dream in a bottle Coty and Co. are going to create. Through numerous brainstorming sessions, market research and focus groups, the team tasked with creating the perfume comes up with a concept. The celebrity may have a varying degrees of input in this process but it is really the marketing department that has the most say.
…the objective is not to create a masterpiece bursting with originality but to put out a popular product that would bring in sales.
Generally speaking, the objective is not to create a masterpiece bursting with originality but to put out a popular product that would bring in sales. This is why heavy consideration is given to current fragrance trends, tastes of the target market, the celebrity’s image, etc.
If the fragrance team has totally run out of creative juices, they may just take a bestseller appealing to the target market and rehash it. This seems to be a common approach to many designer fragrances too. Just go to the fragrance counter of any department store. Most of the fragrances there fall into two categories: citrus-aquatic and spicy-oriental. On top of that, they all smell like each other.
From the concept the creative team creates the brief. The brief is really the instructions to the perfumer what fragrance to create. It can be anywhere from a sentence to several pages. It also doesn’t have to be a text. It could be a picture, video or anything else. Here’s an example of a brief:
“A dark fragrance that expresses the mystery and drama enveloping Lady Gaga in her video Fame.”
The brief is distributed to various perfumers and fragrance companies along with instructions and deadlines for submission. This process is really a tender for perfume, much like the requests for proposals any commercial company would issue to potential vendors.
In order to manage the number of submissions, the fragrance company may submit the brief only to select few and they may be required to send no more than one or two submissions.
Selecting a Scent
After the fragrance submissions are in, the team cuts out all submissions that don’t fit their idea of what the fragrance should be like. A shortlist of submissions are evaluated and at this point the celebrity may have a sniff and say what they like. Ultimately, however, it is the focus groups and the marketing department that decides what the final scent would be.
At this point the accounting department also gets involved. Their primary function is to determine what the cost of producing the perfume would have to be to get the desired return. Before the brief is submitted to the perfumers, the cost is more or less worked out. Often, along with the brief, perfumers are directed what the cost of the formula should be. Nevertheless, there is always an opportunity to make a cheap formula even cheaper. The easiest way to do this is to use only synthetics and this is exactly what most celebrity scent developers do.
The fragrance team may send the selected submission back for minor (or major) re-tweaking. Generally, they may like the formula but may think that making it more floral or softening the dry-down may be more appealing to the market. Of course, any such creative changes must be done, while the formula cost stays the same or lower.
An important point to make here is that the selection of the scent doesn’t go without numerous focus group testings, market research and tweaking. Once the scent is in, however, it is time to move on to creating the marketing campaign.
Sometime during the creation of the perfume and putting together the marketing campaign, the fragrance team commissions the design of the bottle. It is after all the official packaging and eye-catcher of the fragrance. I imagine the process of selecting a design for the bottle would be very much similar to the process of selecting the perfume.
The box in which the perfume bottle would come would go through similar design iterations, even though the artistic liberties there seem to be sparse. Rarely do celebrity perfumes come in anything different than just a cardboard box. Judging by the current trends recent releases set, cheapening the material from which the box is made is here to stay.
The bottle has to balance creativity and price.
Designing the bottle is a somewhat tricky business. The bottle has to balance creativity and price. It has to grab attention, look luxurious and at the same time cost pennies to produce. Take the recent releases by Lady Gaga and Nicki Minaj. Both fragrances come in horrendous bottles that can easily turn into weapons. They do catch the attention of the 14-year-olds though, so we can give a check mark next to “successful packaging”.
The marketing and advertising stage is where the artist gets to participate the most: photo shoots, promo tours, in-store events, interviews, commercial and everything else in between requires the star’s participation to make the fragrance successful. After all, if the actual juice is cheap and smell-alike, the marketing is the only hope to dress it up and get people to buy it.
Creating the marketing campaign of the fragrance is crucial to the success of the scent and this is true not only for celebrity fragrances. The reason for this is that majority of people buy fragrances because of the image and lifestyle they associate with it. Fragrances, in general, are luxury products. The motivation to buy one fragrance over another is very similar to the motivation to buy a Louis Vuitton bag over a Guess purse. You don’t buy Louis Vuitton because it’s a good deal – you buy it because of the image and lifestyle associated with it. This at least is the thinking of the majority of luxury products consumers as several studies show.
With this in mind and considering the over-saturation of fragrances on the market, marketing the fragrance the right way is crucial.
Two ways to make a big splash about a fragrance is to have a special in-store display where staff hired by the fragrance company promotes the fragrance and creates awareness about it. These would usually be the friendly people pushing under your nose strips of stuff you don’t want to smell. They are also the ones who make you smell a spicy-oriental when you are really asking them to show you a citrus-aromatic.
In-store promotions where the celebrity shows up are also a great way to grab attention. Of course, the attraction is the celebrity but then again, some may buy the fragrance too.
During these in-store promos you are likely to hear the untrue stories behind the fragrance. They usually go something like this:
“I was inspired to create a scent by the memories of my jasmine garden growing up in Wisconsin. The great people at Coty and Universal Records were very supportive in helping me create a fragrance that reflects who I really am and what I stand for. This fragrance is for my fans as a way to thank them for their support and making me who I am.”
The marketing team of Lady Gaga’s Fame took the gimmickry to a new level by making the actual juice black. Apparently, it was a revolutionary technology, which Lady Gaga explained with the metaphor that the darkness from inside comes clean on the outside…or something like that.
This is the story of creating a celebrity fragrance. The success is usually followed up with another perfume. If the release is a flop, it is discontinued and the stock gets sold in the clearance section of deep discount stores.
The life cycle of a celebrity fragrance is relatively short. They are meant to ride the hype about a celebrity and then are quietly being discontinued.
This story may not be 100% accurate but my findings on the topic show that it is close to the real process. If you find an omission or you think things are done differently, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.