Picture this: you need a new fragrance, so you head to the department store, where you're met by dizzying displays of gleaming glass bottles and overzealous spritzes from sales staff. How do you choose? Most likely, you'll gravitate towards a name you know. Picking a scent can be overwhelming, but in Chanel you can trust...
However, brands aren't content for their customers to buy one old favourite every time and cautiously spray it until it finally runs out. They need to stimulate desire for new products and appeal to younger fans. Enter the fashion fragrance reboot, whereby big brands are relaunching bestselling scents updated for a modern audience.
Chanel has employed this trick many times: three new editions of the brand's bestselling Chance fragrance were launched between 2007 and 2015 - Chance Eau Fraîche, Chance Eau Tendre and Chance Eau Vive. In December last year, Chanel relaunched N°5 with N°5 L'Eau, aimed at capturing the millennial market with its lighter notes and a campaign starring teenager Lily-Rose Depp. In April, the French house announced that sales of the N°5 range had increased by 20 per cent in total due to the popularity of its new N°5 L'Eau. Lizzie Ostrom, author of Perfume: A Century of Scents, says that though the mythology of the classic perfumes "may appeal to younger shoppers - when they smell the scents they might say, 'It's like my grandma!' "
Cato Hunt, director at the brand consultancy Space Doctors and chair of an upcoming discussion called "Perfume: Global Cultures" at London's Somerset House in September, says: "Reinterpretations of classic scents are a response to desire for authenticity and newness. It helps to build the 'brand world' for a new generation. The new Chanel N°5 is a case in point - more Chanelness is being diffused into culture and into people's homes, reinforcing everything people love about the brand." The trend also circumvents other difficulties of cooking up a scent from scratch, such as finding a catchy name that hasn't been trademarked, and identifying concepts that work across international cultures.
So perhaps it's not surprising that just as fashion houses are revisiting archives and playing up heritage, they are also increasingly turning to the fragrance reboot. This week, the eau de parfum version of Miss Dior landed in stores to mark the 70th anniversary of the French label. François Demachy, the in-house perfumer who reinterpreted the 1947 original, aimed to create a scent that suggested love. "The composition has to be exciting and stirring," he says, "somewhat wild, and yet accessible." He added notes of rose to make it "sensual and suggestive", while eliminating any dark, earthy notes, and the result smells sweet, fruity and pink.
For Ostrom, "the new Miss Dior as a formulation has very little to do with the original and is faithful instead in its story of appealing to young women, as Miss Dior did in 1947."
Kenzo has also found enthusiasm for twists on its classics. Flower By Kenzo Eau de Lumière was designed to attract a younger client, but the brand found demand from more mature customers. Coming in a curved bottle mimicking a poppy bending towards the sun, it was one of the top six selling fragrances in France around Mother's Day. "The eau de toilette segment is growing and we felt Flower By Kenzo had a strong potential," says Patricia Tranvouëz, global director of Kenzo Parfums. Crucially, the eau de toilette composition keeps the price lower.
It's not just classic women's fragrances that are being given a 2017 spin. Givenchy has tweaked its Gentleman scent for the millennial man, to be released in September. "Times have changed," says chief executive Romain Spitzer. "The Gentleman fragrance was created in 1975... his story and his fragrance need an update."
Reimagined by Nathalie Lorson and Olivier Cresp, the new Gentleman Givenchy aims to "lasso the interest of younger generations as well as other new consumers," says Spitzer.
Redefining a blockbuster scent can also mean mining a rich seam of archival imagery and collective cultural memory. In May, Dolce & Gabbana launched an updated version of their 16-year-old, summery Light Blue, for which the tanned, swimwear-clad stars of the original ad campaign, David Gandy and Bianca Balti, went back to the Mediterranean waters in Capri to shoot a similar version. The scent - created once again by Olivier Cresp - includes 25 ingredients, "of which 10 per cent is lemon essence", says Cresp. In terms of what's changed, Cresp says he "used the power of the molecules to make the intense fragrance last longer on the skin... Hedione, white musks and woody notes that have a warm, amber-y character."
Another house revelling in the power of iconic, nostalgic imagery is Calvin Klein. For the marketing of the new Obsessed perfume, the brand deployed photos of a waifish Kate Moss, and previously unseen video footage, taken for the 1993 campaign for Obsession. By using this cult photography, Calvin Klein catapults the consumer back in time to when the brand was the last word in cool 1990s minimalism.
But is this nostalgia detrimental to the pursuit of imagination and artistry? Is the industry stuck on repeat? Ostrom believes that "the thinking [behind the trend] is that younger consumers do seek to find a relationship with a particular fragrance, and that this offers meaning. But I'm not sure this reconciles with an equally strong urge in which perfume is about exploration and finding new experiences."
Perfumer Roja Dove, who worked for luxury French fragrance houses before launching his own Roja Parfums line in 2011, has reservations, too. "I'd never release a fragrance until it couldn't be bettered or improved, so I would never re-release anything," he says. "There are far more other scents in the world left for me to create."
For now, though, the perfume industry is still glorying in its greatest hits.
This article was originally published by the Financial Times.Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017.