From White Diamonds to Cé Noir: The evolution of celeb fragrances

When French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr penned, “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he probably wasn’t thinking about the fragrance industry. But here we are. 

If you were a young adult in the 1980s (or even the 2000s and early 2010s), then you likely have memories (of yourself or a friend or loved one) wearing fragrances marketed by celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, or Britney Spears and Beyoncé. 

Fast forward to the 2020s, and celebrity fragrances are back and bigger than ever. 

In August, Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown and Australian singer-songwriter Troye Sivan launched fragrance products with their respective beauty and lifestyle brands, Florence by Mills and Tsu Lange Yor.

In September, Victoria Beckham unveiled a new trio of perfumes for her eponymous beauty and fragrance brand, followed shortly thereafter, in October, by David Beckham launching a trio of colognes, in partnership with legacy beauty conglomerate Coty.

And just this month, Harry Styles expanded his genderless beauty and lifestyle brand Pleasing with a fragrance line, releasing three scents dubbed Closeness, Rivulets, and Bright and Hot.

The revival of the celebrity fragrance

Data gathered by market research firm NPD Group confirmed that, in the US, celebrity fragrance sales amounted to US$148.5 million in the 12 months leading to August, up 30 per cent on the same period in 2022. 

Olya Bar, a longtime fragrance expert and head of communications at Twisted Lily, an e-commerce fragrance boutique, noted several differences between the celebrity fragrance era of the early 2000s and the scent renaissance we are experiencing today. 

“Let’s talk about the comeback of celebrity fragrances,” Bar told Inside Retail. “Remember the early 2000s, when Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson were all the rage, and each one of them built a multimillion-dollar empire in the perfume world? They’re still around, releasing new scents yearly, but today’s spotlight has shifted.”

“Think Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, and the newest addition to the perfume world, Harry Styles. They’re hitting it off big time with a new wave of consumers, specifically Gen Z, thanks in part to social media’s powerful influence.”

The most searched celebrity fragrances, according to German global data and business intelligence platform Statista, belong to Ariana Grande with over four million global Google searches. Perfumes by Billie Eilish and Rihanna ranked second and third, respectively, with approximately 1.2 million and 800,000 global searches each. 

As confirmed by data sourced by Spate, a consumer behaviour and trend analysis company, Grande’s and Rihanna’s perfumes, produced by her brand Fenty Beauty, were among the top-searched celebrity fragrance brands this year.

Grande’s fragrance brand has seen an average of 462,700 searches per month on Google over the past 12 months, marking a 7.8 per cent increase year-over-year. Rihanna/Fenty has seen an average of 50,700 searches per month, followed by Britney Spears (41,000 searches), Melanie Martinez (30,600 searches), Paris Hilton (23,800 searches), and Nicki Minaj (20,600 searches). 

In addition to new pop-culture icons putting their spin on things in the world of scent, Bar also remarked that celebrity fragrances today are more lavish compared to previous iterations.

“It’s all about the upscale approach these days. We’re seeing these brands at much higher price points than before, creating buzz with limited releases and waitlists that make their products super coveted,” Bar said, pointing to Beyoncé as an example. 

The superstar singer has been launching fragrances since 2010, but her latest and much anticipated Cé Noir release has a price point that  rivals some of the industry’s niche counterparts, and is causing quite a buzz among fragrance enthusiasts and Queen B’s fans alike. 

“We are seeing more exciting ingredients across most new celebrity releases and well-known perfumers working on these brands,” Bar said. “The reasons behind it are both due to current market trends and more educated today’s consumers, who have their pick of niche and designer scents and expect nothing less than the best. Celebrities are responding by either taking cues from popular niche fragrances or upping their game to stand out.”

Will the celebrity fragrance revival last?

Just like the return of Y2K fashion and the resurgence of Barbie in the public eye, trends are often cyclical and Bar thinks that the celebrity fragrance craze is no exception.  

“It’s most likely going to continue to be cyclical and be a repeat of history,” Bar mused. “The celebs we idolise now and their fragrances will eventually fade as new generations find their own icons. With an ever-expanding perfume universe, the next set of celebrity-endorsed scents will cater to evolving tastes and trends, keeping the cycle going.”

In the meantime, both A-list celebrities and now influencers, such as Jackie Aina and her candle and home fragrance brand Forvr Mood, are riding the olfactory wave long into the foreseeable future.

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