Uncommon Scents: Fragrance Innovator Knows What Women Really Want

08/14/2017 03:04 pm ET

Sue Phillips can smell a winner.

Her own customized fragrance is “bold, feminine, floral with spicy Oriental and amber woodsiness; a floriental,” as she describes it.

A “scentrepreneur,” with more than three decades of experience creating, branding, marketing and managing fragrances for Elizabeth Arden, Tiffany, Avon, Trish McEvoy, Burberry, Lancaster and more, Phillips is the founder, CEO and president of Scenterprises, Inc.

And she is out to redefine the smell of success for each individual woman.

Sue Phillips helps Katie Holmes find her signature scent.
Sue Phillips helps Katie Holmes find her signature scent.

“Fragrance is personal branding,” says Phillips, who opened Scentarium in the Tribeca section of New York more than three years ago. This is where she creates customized fragrances, hosts events and team-building exercises as part of a growing customization niche of the $19.13 billion global fragrance market. Soon she is launching the Sue Phillips Collection of Fragrance.

“The whole idea of marketing to women is they can be anything they want to be,” says Phillips, who is an adjunct professor at LIM College in New York. “It used to be that women wanted to wear something appealing to men. Now the trend of customization is, ‘I want to reflect who I am.'”

And that customization of fragrance has gone from the purview of royalty and the extremely wealthy who would spend up to $20,000 for a fragrance they would wait a year to receive, to a much quicker response made on site for a few hundred dollars.

“Instead of starting from scratch, now through the blends and technology, we can make it affordable and timely,” Phillips says.

New research from Showerstoyou.com.uk and Fragrantica in 2017, says women like a mixture of scents that are masculine and feminine, according to Elle.

"After collating the favorite fragrances of 66,000 participants, the researchers found that 70 per cent of women’s top-voted perfumes featured masculine, woody or spicy notes. Fifty five per cent of women considered masculine notes as integral to their signature scent," Elle reports.

That yearning for a signature scent makes all the difference in the  market, Phillips says.

Moving to the U.S. from South Africa in the 1980s, Phillips says she intended to become a singer and actress, but had a tough time getting roles. After interviewing for many different jobs, she began her career at Elizabeth Arden, as training director conducting Beauty Training Seminars.

“I started at Macy’s; it was a wonderful experience,” Phillips says. “It taught me not to judge people.”

Training 80 percent of her time at stores around the country, Phillips was soon promoted into product development for Color Cosmetics, but she loved fragrance marketing. She was then hired by Lancôme, Paris, as Marketing Director, Fragrance for Magie Noire and Tresor.

Phillips then moved to become Vice President of Fragrance Marketing for Tiffany & Company and developed the first iconic Tiffany perfume for the 150th anniversary. She also created Tiffany, Tiffany for Men, Society by Burberry, Burberry for Men and three original Trish McEvoy fragrances. In addition, she has launched fragrances for Avon and Diane Von Furstenberg.

While her custom business is 57 percent women and 43 percent are men, Phillips says she focuses on the idea of women projecting confidence and leadership with individual scents.

You don’ have to be a celebrity to have your own scent.
You don’ have to be a celebrity to have your own scent.

“For the first time, fragrance is all about the expression of self. I believe women are taking the lead right now and I think women are realizing they can reflect who they are,” says Phillips, who has created custom scents for actress Katie Holmes, Zendaya, Jamie Foxx, and many more.

The fragrance market is growing, particularly custom fragrances. Elizabeth Musmanno, president of the Fragrance Foundation of America, said: “ For the first time in 2015, the fragrance category outperformed skincare. Fragrance dollars grew by 4 percent, and skincare by 3 percent,” Beauty Stat reports.

A new study from "Scentiments found that over one-third of women see fragrance as a personal treat, or a pick-me-up to enhance their mood. They tend to choose a new scent based on how well it fits with their personality," writes Happi.

"Women purchase a new fragrance as often as once a month, compared to men who purchase it an average of 1-2 times per year, and typically for the purpose of replenishment. Whereas men typically take about 30 seconds to sample and decide whether to buy a fragrance, women take anywhere from 10-20 times longer," according to Happi.

While she has been in the fragrance industry for more than three decades and seen changes and trends emerge, Phillips says a gender gap in leadership remains. “Large cosmetic companies are dominated by men at the top. It would be nice if more women at the top in most fields, still women not at the forefront at c suite levels where they should be,” Phillips says. “More men are at the helm in a female-targeted industry.”

A gender gap in the fragrance industry leadership remains.

Popularity of types of fragrances has changed, Phillips says, from the “lush and bold brands” of the 1980s, to the “transparent, watery and not very strong” scents of the 1990s, to the classics fragrances popular in 2000. Since 2010, the trend to creating  your own blended fragrance is the top trend.

“That is the ultimate smell of success,” Philips says.

“Fragrance is so tied into memory,” says Phillips, whose own later mother, Grace Phillips, suffered with Alzheimer’s. Now Phillips is involved with the Alzheimer’s Foundation. “Fragrances can touch the core of who you are and conjure up memories and emotions. Fragrance is a positive way to enhance memories and associations.”

The recent Scentiments report shows, "Women in the U.S. are 35 percent more likely than men to let their moods dictate the scent they will wear each day, encouraging a stronger emotional tie to fragrance than their male counterparts," according to Happi.

With a career is a demanding industry that can seem fickle, Phillips says she loves what she does. “It doesn’t seem like it has been work. Be passionate and do what you love, that’s my hallmark,” Phillips says.

And while many American clients say they prefer the “fresh and clean” smells that are ozonic, and involve citrus and lavender, she says there is one classic mistake people have been making with fragrance for generations.

“A lot of people douse themselves in too much fragrance,” Phillips says. “The fragrance arrives before they enter the room.”

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