Celebrity scent: The war of the noses

As celebrities send perfumes flying off the shelves, Paul Cahalan and Genevieve Roberts ask: have thousands of years of civilisation brought us to this?

Justin Bieber's got one, while Lady Gaga's - apparently - boasts top notes of blood and something unmentionable. Paris Hilton has half a dozen to her name, and even Pizza Hut is getting in on the act.

The perfume industry, worth more than £460m a year in the UK alone, is booming as celebrities either bring out or endorse new fragrances on an almost daily basis. But a leading psychologist believes it has little to do with people wishing to smell more alluring.

Paul Buckley, consumer psychologist at Cardiff School of Management, says: "I heard of someone who said they didn't like the smell of the perfume but bought it because 'everyone was wearing it'. Essentially people want to fit in.... They might not be able to buy the Chanel jacket, but they can buy a little bit of the lifestyle with the perfume."

He estimates that on a typical £100 bottle of scent, some 20 per cent might be spent on production and marketing, with fashion houses and shops adding as much as 100 per cent in mark-up. "The cost of the fragrance could literally be pence," he says. "Essentially it is just essence that is brought in bulk, with huge amounts of alcohol and water added. The cost is in the marketing, but profit margins are enormous."

The latest additions to the perfume market include the smell of Marmite, an ingredient in Union's new £125 perfume, Celtic Fire, and a limited-edition fresh-baked-dough perfume from Pizza Hut in Canada.

While some perfumes are made from inexpensive essence, others use very expensive oils. The jasmine for Chanel No 5 – a bottle of which sells every 55 seconds – has been harvested by hand from the same fields in Provence since its inception in 1921. Farmer Joseph Mul says: "It's the most expensive jasmine in the world... a sweeter, softer scent than exotic jasmine."

The perfumer Roja Dove, 56, launched his own-name range in 2010, which became Harrods' bestselling brand. He says: "We use Rose de Mai, from Grasse, which is extremely rare, and jasmine from the area, costing £34,000 a kilo. Many oils cost more than gold bullion."

Linda Key, executive director of the Fragrance Foundation, says that, this Christmas, celebrity fragrances – including Lady Gaga's Fame and Justin Bieber's Girlfriend, which sold one per minute in some shops Ω are hooking younger, first-time buyers.

"They buy the fragrance for how it makes them feel," she says. "Selling a perfume is like selling a dream."

Peter York, the style consultant who analyses the perfumes' advertising campaigns on these pages, takes a similar view, describing the sales pitches as ranging from "rather good" to "gnomic".

But whatever our reasons for buying them, fragrances tap into our primitive selves, according to Sheila Keegan, consumer psychologist and associate fellow at the British Psychological Society. "We respond to smell in a way we are less conscious of, unlike seeing or hearing," she says. "We wouldn't be wearing fragrances if we were on our own – it is the connection it makes with other people that makes it work. And, of course, the fact every woman hopes Brad Pitt comes with the fragrance."

Dolce & Gabbana, The One

What's in it? A warm and sensual floral-fruity composition, with powdery vanilla trace.

Who's the face? Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett says: "Music inspires me, art inspires me, but so does the wind."

Style consultant Peter York says: "She is saying 'I am not Hollywood I am something else... I'm not just concerned about money'."

Price: From £38

Lancôme, La vie est belle

What's in it? Jasmine, orange blossom and softer notes of pear, vanilla, praline, blackcurrant.

Who's the face? Julia Roberts

Julia says: "I think it is best when perfume is kind of there, but still draws people in. You have to get close to figure out what you're dealing with."

York says: "I quite like that ... it speaks about the product she is selling."

Price: £56+

David Beckham, The Essence

What's in it? Elements of grapefruit, lavender, cardamom and patchouli.

Who's the face? Not this again!

David says: "It conveys a sense of adventure and moments spent with loved ones."

York says: "He's a family man and it's consistent with his brand. He's a perfectly intelligent person not particularly well educated. It's a bit crass but it is consistent."

Price: From £25

Justin Bieber's Girlfriend

What's in it? The "mature" scent is mandarin and juicy blackberry, and features exotic floral notes of pink freesia and jasmine.

Who's the face? It's the Biebster. Its makers say: "One spray and you'll finally experience the exhilaration of holding on and never letting go."

York says: "He's only about 17 so he can get away with saying anything, can't he? 'Bieberettes' will buy anything ..."

Price: From £24

Chanel No 5

What's in it? Infused with jasmine, rose, sandalwood and vanilla, in that whisky-style decanter.

Who's the face? Brad Pitt

Brad says: "The world turns and we turn with it."

York says: "It is high media – say something intriguing, clever or deep. It means little but it appears really profound."

Price: From £135

Christina Aguilera, Signature

What's in it? Fruit sorbet, blackcurrant tea, musk and vanilla.

Who's the face? Like it says on the label ...

Christina says: "Sometimes it's all you need to wear."

York says: "That is stolen straight from Marilyn Monroe, who was speaking about Chanel No 5."

Price: From £20

Miss Dior Cherie

What's in it? Rose Absolute, patchouli, amber and vanilla

Who's the face? Natalie Portman

Its makers say: "Miss Dior ... is an elegant invitation to a party ruled by seduction."

York says: "I rather like that. It's rather good.... It sounds a bit 'keys in the middle', or 'go with the flow'."

Price: From £64

Sarah Jessica Parker, Lovely

What's in it? Citrus and woody with a touch of lavender and apple martini.

Who's the face? Yes, it's eponymous.

Sarah says: "Lovely, on the inside."

York says: "That's gnomic. Really, Jessica, I thought you were all about dresses, high heels and slap."

Price: From £25

Thierry Mugler, A*Men Pure Shot

What's in it? Fresh mint, white pepper notes, sequoia wood and patchouli.

Who's the face? Oscar Pistorius

Its makers say: "A*Men Pure Shot inspires men to push their limits, exceed their expectations and embrace invincibility."

York says: "It is all strength and endeavour. They are trading on Pistorius and his extreme position, with his scythe-like legs."

Price: £48

Boss Nuit Pour Femme

What's in it? Peach, white flowers and creamy white woods.

Who's the face? Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth says: "It gives you a sense of mystery and allure... it is so important for a woman to smell beautiful."

York says: "The use of the words 'mystery' and 'allure', that's a model Miss World contestant answer."

Price: From £47

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