It's said that smell is the sense most closely related to memory. In my experience, this is true. The smell of salty cabbage immediately puts me in my Irish grandmother's kitchen; the pungent, performatively masculine scent of Lynx deodorant transforms me into my 14-year-old self, drunk on the petrol-strength fumes, hips jostling gingerly against the first boy I ever kissed.
Another smell that always takes me back is the sickly sweet aroma of Britney Spears' maiden perfume venture, Curious. Released in September 2004, Curious was a prize that I coveted for months before finally receiving it as a Christmas gift that year. At the time, Britney was the sole object of my affections – she was the pop idol at whose pigtailed, mini-skirted altar I worshipped. I revered the grown-up space between the bottoms of her cropped tees and the waistband of her low-rise jeans; I adored her music and obsessively copied her dancing off the TV. A perfume designed by her own fair nose, therefore, had to be mine.
Curious was a phenomenon, both in my own world and the wider one. It made more than $100 million for cosmetics company Elizabeth Arden in 2004 – how many other nine-year-olds must have wished as desperately to own a Britney-approved scent as I did? – and won a Fragrance Foundation award for Women's Consumer Choice in in 2005. Most importantly, though, it was one of the first fragrances to be 'created' by a major pop star – following Cher and J Lo – and opened the floodgates of a multi-million dollar industry.
These days, it's almost an expectation that women pop stars (as well as pop stars with largely female fanbases, like One Direction and Justin Bieber) will eventually release their own perfumes, and over the years artists like Katy Perry, Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga and Rihanna (as well as the OG Britney, who, as of June 2016, had put her name to 20 fragrances) have raked in millions from the celebrity perfume racket.
But now, I am sad to say, that racket is in decline. The NPD Group, an organisation of retail trend experts, reported recently that celebrity fragrance sales dropped in the UK by 22 per cent in 2016, compared wth 2015. Speaking with the Daily Mail, Teresa Fisher of the NPD Group said that "the decline in sales demonstrates a shift in consumer preference and purchasing behaviour", as stats show that fragrance consumers may now favour designer brands like Lancôme and Chanel over celebrity scents.
Who can say why? Perhaps the rise of celebrity endorsements for actual brands, or the prevalent, Instagram aesthetic of marbled/rose gold luxury are to blame. Pop star perfumes, after all, tend to rest at the low-to-mid-range of the wider fragrance industry, and have lost most of their prestige due to market saturation and a young target market – nothing says 'sophistication' like a pre-teen, after all.
But all is not lost for celebrity perfumes and the poor, helpless pop stars who are apparently losing millions on them. If there's anything that we average people love, it's other people who are more famous, beautiful and talented than us – we just need to be sold their products in the right way. I'm somewhat of an expert in this area – my credentials are that I love celebrities and everything they endorse, and I once bought a £27 lipstick because it was named after Kim Kardashian. I am exactly this sort of schmuck. So I went to see what the pop star fragrance market is all about, and, using my millennial know-how, tried to advise my favourite perfume-pedalling divas on what they can do to make their scents' sales – wait for it – STINK less.
Beyoncé is that girl at school who is good at every single thing (like, she is good at maths and PE), who you both admire and find incredibly annoying. But one day you're sat next to her in art class and you realise that the little clay sculpture she's meant to be doing is actually very bad indeed – you realise, after all, that she is human.
Perfume is Beyoncé's clay sculpture. And though as of 2014, she had earned $400 million from her fragrance Heat and associated spin offs, I think I have two pointers that could help her do a bit better, especially in this slumping popstar perfume economy: 1) Ditch the old lady perfume bottle. My nan has something similar on her dresser; 2) Better adverts. This filmed-in-a-hotel look will not do. Apply your usually-genius aesthetic to your fragrance game – the "Haunted" music video is basically a perfume ad anyway. This is what I want to see. This will make me want to lay down my cash for the sweet, sweet smell of Beyoncé.
This, on the other hand. This, Nicki Minaj's Minajesty, is absolutely amazing. I would estimate that at least 30 percent of the Nicki Minaj brand is "tits" and the other 70 percent is the meaningful celebration of them, so her technique of shaping her perfume bottles like them has all bases covered. There is nothing I want to do more than spritz myself with a fruity scent from a bottle that is crafted in the most regal likeness of Nicki Minaj's perfect torso, and I am happy to pay 30 English pounds for the privilege. Onika, do not change one thing.
Let's just say it, get it off our chests. Katy Perry's Killer Queen perfume is ugly. It looks like it is being marketed to a child going through her fingerless gloves phase. Perhaps that's a smartly-chosen target customer, however, as Perry was Forbes' highest earning musician of 2015, an accolade which undoubtedly linked to by her three scents, Killer Queen, Meow! and Purr.
This isn't to say that the fragrances don't need work (indeed, when asked to describe Purr, perfume expert Roja Dove gave a read for the history books: "I immediately think of the Tom Jones' song, "What's New Pussycat?" I'm afraid absolutely nothing with this floral scent."), especially now that sales of celebrity fragrances are in decline. So in my expert opinion, I would advise: getting rid of the tacky "L1tTLe PrInC3sS" branding, and going with something more classic, in line with the brands that people are actually buying these days. But then, maybe I'm the wrong person to ask here. My fingerless glove phase ended a whole two years ago.
On the front of the packaging for Nude, Rihanna looks like a highly glamorous wine step-mum. By this I mean she appears, as Rihanna always does, as if you dreamed her. I respect her choice to presumably aim for an older consumer bracket with this look, and she seems to know what she's doing with her fragrance game in general – back in 2011, she made $30 million on her debut perfume, Reb'l Fleur, and has since released nine more, including one, Kiss, as recently as this year. Based on her track record and the very tasteful design on display here, I don't think she needs much help from me, so instead, I have a request: Rihanna, please can you create a perfume that smells exactly like you? I feel like if I smelled like Rihanna (what does she smell like? Can you bottle heaven, probably?) I could conquer any man, woman, child or thing.
Finally there's yung Ariana Grande, a relative upstart in the pop star perfume world. This, for my money, is the best of the bunch in terms of the current market: Ariana, as a millennial herself, clearly understands our ways. Young consumers like pastel colours, infantile fluffy shit, minimalism and Instagram, and this perfume, Sweet Like Candy (one of four Ariana Grande fragrances), delivers on all fronts. You can imagine it, nestled tastefully between a cactus and an iPad Mini, on the feed of any self-respecting social media heaux, and that is all that truly matters – I'd just appreciate a bigger, fluffier pom pom next time. For the 'gram.
As you can see, I have now single-handedly solved the great pop star perfume crisis of 2017 with my market expertise and authentic #youth insight. But if any of these celebs would like any more advice, I am always just an email away. Bey, Nicki, Katy, Rih, Ari: call me – my rates are reasonable.
You and any pop stars looking for fragrance advice can find Lauren on Twitter.
(All photos by the author)