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The Sweet Smell of Success

Perfume trends suggest market potential for a new category of fragrances.

Even before the new James Bond film Skyfall was released a short while back, a fragrance to accompany the arrival of the motion picture was on sale. When offered at Harrods in London for a hefty 32 pounds, James Bond 007 immediately sold out. And why not? As its creators proclaim, it is “the most dangerous fragrance in the world.” It is not entirely clear which is the second most dangerous fragrance. It might have something to do with Liam Neeson and that movie about scary wolves that came out earlier this year. Nights in Gray Satin? Lobo Lancôme? Something like that.

When the 007 fragrance was introduced, the questions were asked: “Why a James Bond fragrance? Why now?” As Bill Brace, vice president of P&G Prestige, the creators of the 007 fragrance, explained it to the Financial Times, “There are lots of celebrity fragrances, but this project raised the question of how do you base a fragrance on a movie, a brand, a character and an identity that has extended for decades?” Suggesting that Rambo: The Fragrance might not be far behind. Or even Rocky VII: The Fragrance.

The FT went on to say that “Brace’s approach was to instruct the noses behind this eau de MI6 to avoid an overly literal interpretation, saying ‘the fragrance can’t just smell of martinis and guns.’And it definitely couldn’t smell of Roger Moore. His 007 movies were terrible.

Traditionally, celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Kate Moss, Serena Williams, Paris Hilton, Justin Bieber and even Bruce Willis have had their own celebrity fragrances. There has even been a fragrance associated with Derek Jeter: Driven. Sometimes these fragrances sell well, sometimes they don’t. Often, they don’t hang around that long. What is unusual about Skyfall: The Aroma is that the product revolves around a character, not an actor. The fragrance is not called Daniel Craig’s Rebelle or Daniel Craig Flowerdrum because the fictional James Bond is iconic in a way that the real-life Daniel Craig is not. (His non-Bond movies are never hits.)

What the perfume makers are trying to do is to reshape the way the public thinks about fragrances, to get them to embrace fragrances associated with less obvious themes, objects and individuals. With this in mind, the obvious question is, why don’t famous products or brands that have been around for decades have their own fragrances? Why for example is there no Eau de Mac? Or for that matter, Eau de Big Mac? Why is there no Nuits de Honda Civic? Why has no one ever brought out a Discovery Chanel No. 5? Or a Voyage de Wheaties?

Moreover, since CEOs are so very prominent in this society, and play such a major part in the public’s daily life, and have a huge effect on the public’s mood, why hasn’t some enterprising parfumier tried introducing a line of fragrances intimately associated with high-profile executives? Here are a few of the more obvious examples:

  • Larry Ellison of Oracle. Tough, manly, aggressive scent. One whiff and it takes over the entire room. Suggested brand name: Ellison Eternite.
  • Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. Dignified, restrained, cautious fragrance, a gentle amalgam of saffron and buckwheat. Suggested fragrance name: Fenetres 8.
  • Meg Whitman of HP: Smell of quiet confidence mixed with nervous desperation in having missed numerous earnings targets. Suggested brand name: Mystere.
  • Tim Cook of Apple: Smell of sweet satisfaction in having stepped into Steve Jobs’ shoes without making a complete mess of things. Suggested brand name: L’Aire d’Ipad.
  • Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase: Smell of fougere or fern to denote tough, take-no-prisoners style. Suggested brand name: Feroce.
  • Dan Akerson of General Motors: Sweet smell of acrid electrical burned battery wires as the embattled leader can’t seem to catch a break owing to the poor sales of Chevy Volt, the departure and firings of top executives, and the U.S. Treasury which won’t sell its GM shares. Suggested brand name: L’Arome de TARP. On second thought, maybe not such a great idea for a fragrance.
  • One other idea: a line of fragrances honoring famous mutual funds or the men and women who manage them. Bleu de Blackstone, PIMCO Toujours and Peter Lynch Uninhibited.
  • Just throwing it out there.

About Joe Queenan

Joe Queenan is a regular contributor on business issues, corporate culture, and financial follies to Barron's and The Wall Street Journal.