The sweet smell of success

Everyone who's anyone has their own fragrance today. But are they anything more than PR stunts? Charlotte Cripps noses her way through the strange world of celebrity scents

You're nobody without a perfume. Naomi Campbell is launching a new fragrance this month called Mystery; Isabella Rossellini has a new bottle out called ISABella (her first was titled Manifesto); and Céline Dion has just launched her fragrance in continental Europe. In the more traditional realms of the fashion houses, Jasper Conran and Stella McCartney have new perfume lines out this month. In the celebrity and fashion world, launching a fragrance is as popular as taking up yoga.

"There are more celebrities than ever who want to launch perfumes, and it is a new thing for British designers to have a fragrance," says Imogen Matthews, a fragrance consultant. "It didn't happen here until about five years ago when Vivienne Westwood took the plunge, and then a few others, such as Paul Smith, followed suit. Now everyone is starting to do it."

The fine-fragrance market is worth £387m, and has grown by 3 per cent in the past year because there have been so many launches. "The whole industry is committing suicide," says Arthur Burnham, an independent fragrance consultant for celebrities and fashion designers, who trained in Grasse (the Oxbridge of perfumery) and created Paul Smith's fragrance a few years ago. "In 2001 worldwide, 528 mainline fragrances were launched, and no more than about 30 still exist."

Naomi Campbell is already on her third fragrance in the UK since 2001. Her first was simply called Naomi Campbell, the next Exult (there was Naomagic somewhere in between, but it was not sold in Britain). This time round, it sounds as though Naomi herself has been ground up and transformed into pure essence. Mystery is a blend "of the sensual, intensely feminine yet puzzling elements of Naomi Campbell's personality", presented in a blue glass bottle - blue is Naomi's favourite colour. "Mystery is like a magic potion for seduction," reveals Naomi. "The hibiscus, the fragrance's core, is an exquisite red flower from central Africa, blessed with special powers: its nectar is considered an aphrodisiac and its buds are burnt in love rituals or woven into garlands worn at weddings."

Why do people want to create their own perfume? "For a fashion designer, it is an extension of his or her business," says Matthews. "A celebrity, such as an actress, a tennis player or a model, is just putting their name to a fragrance. But it's actually quite dangerous to link a perfume to a celebrity. What happens if there is a scandal, or they end up in rehab or something? How does that affect their relationship with the large cosmetics house behind them?"

One fragrance that has transcended celebrity status is Glow by J-Lo. Launched here last August, it is still one of the best-sellers in America. According to the cosmetic company Lancaster, which created Glow, Jennifer Lopez picked up a lip gloss and drew the design for the bottle herself in a moment of utter inspiration. She then posed in the shower wearing nothing but a head scarf for the advertising campaign, in what was the biggest launch of a fragrance since CK One. Lancaster is launching a new, mature J-Lo fragrance here in November.

"Very few celebrity fragrances have any impact," says Matthews. "There is no valid connection between the celebrity and the perfume. Perfume is an affordable way to buy into a fashion label when you can't afford couture. That's what the market is about. We are not taken in by what is not true." Selfridges agrees. The store refuses to stock celebrity perfumes, but is eagerly awaiting a fragrance from Prada.

Elizabeth Taylor is one of the few other celebrity successes in the perfume market. White Diamonds continues to sell well, as do Black Pearls and Brilliant White Diamonds, a fresher version of the original. The fragrances by Gabriella Sabatini, the former tennis player, don't sell here, but she has created eight that are big in Germany. "Dozens - such as those by Pavarotti and Michael Jackson - are long gone," says Matthews. The list of celebrity perfumes is endless, and continues to grow as one after another they drop off the shelves. We have had perfumes by Joan Collins, Omar Sharif, Julio Iglesias. And what happened to Linda Evans's Dynasty cash-in, Forever Krystle?

"In the UK we just don't buy celebrity perfume the way they do in other countries," says Matthews. "If a brand such as Chanel No 5 is seen to be worn by celebrities, that has more power than those celebrities bringing out their own brand, because we aspire to be like them."

No award has ever been given to a celebrity perfume according to the Fragrance Foundation, which organises the FiFi awards - the fragrance-industry Oscars. This year, Dior Addict won fragrance of the year; last year it was Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, and before that, Paul Smith. "A successful perfume has to be bought more than once," says Janine Roxborough-Bunce, the executive director of the Fragrance Foundation. "Take Pavarotti. His fragrance was sold in Harrods in the mid-Nineties, every Pavarotti fan bought it, then it disappeared within 18 months. It's the novelty value. Those kinds of fragrance make a lot of money overnight."

Usually, one of the large manufacturers and distributors of fragrance such as Procter & Gamble, Unilever, L'Oréal or Estée Lauder approaches a celebrity. "They are always looking for opportunities to establish credibility for a new fragrance brand if a celebrity has a life-span of more than 10 minutes," says Arthur Burnham, who left the corporate sector to set up independently. He now works only with celebrities and designers who want to get involved in every stage of fragrance development "rather than just to lend their name for commercial reasons. Otherwise, what's the point?"

"Designers do fragrances because it provides an almost permanent advertising campaign for the fashion house," says Burnham. "Celebrities do it to cash in on their name or to establish their name as a brand." But often, although a celebrity and a fashion designer go through the same process, the brand-building exercise of the fashion designer's fragrance will have a longer -term effect than that of the celebrity.

Still, it's all big business. Cosmopolitan Cosmetics now creates perfumes for Naomi Campbell, Dunhill and Ghost. And Yves Saint Laurent has just launched a new division to handle emerging brands, such as Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, whose perfume is launched on 17 June. Madonna has apparently agreed to star in the advertising campaign after the launch and before the fragrance hits the shelves in November. One wonders why Madonna has never created her own fragrance. Perhaps she knows it wouldn't be cool.

Why do celebrities do it? "Money, and greater celebrity," says Burnham. "They want excessive fame. It's about greater prestige and a bigger brand. If it works out, it can earn them loads of cash. And if it doesn't, it isn't the end of the world."

A beginner's guide to celebrity perfumes


Mystery launches this month. Smells not unlike Mr Sheen.


Glow was inspired by the smell of getting out of the shower, freshly washed with ivory toilet soap. In fact, it is reminiscent of Wash&Go. The bottle suggests her naked body behind a shower panel. Apparently.


A range of scents including White Diamonds, Passion - the classic woody oriental scent, Brilliant White Diamonds and this year's aptly named Forever Elizabeth.


V-I, made to "honour him", came in a bottle made out of 24-carat gold, crystal, rubies, platinum and diamonds, was encased in a marquetry box and sold for £48,000. "I created the fragrance in 1995 and it smelled of roses, and precious woods," says Arthur Burnham, nose to the stars.


The original fragrance launched in 1989 is a floral-oriental packed with rich, white flower notes such as jasmine. Big in Germany.


Just how appealing is this? Launched in 1994, the perfume was woody, with a leathery character, and came in a bottle that reminded the consumer of his "chesty" shape. The following year came Pavarotti Donna, if you please: "A mossy, woody fragrance and a fresh citrus, fruity top note - like freshly crushed green leaves in springtime," according to John Aires, the chairman of the Fragrance Foundation.


Gentle floral-oriental. This will be, we're told, reminiscent of other supermodel perfumes, such as Naomi Campbell's.


"The bottle shape [which many people took to be Madonna] was in fact based upon one of his mother's dress-model dummies," says Burnham. Still selling well after 10 years.


Gently fruity, musky floral perfume. It's even rumoured to smell quite good. But why would anybody want to buy it?