Colleges Dabble in Fragrances by Arian Campo-Flores and Meredith Rutland as featured in the Wall Street Journal
November 9th, 2013. View article
When word got out in June that Texas A&M University was coming out with its own brand of fragrances this fall, students and alumni took to Twitter to suggest some scents. Among them: “Bat Feces” and “Chilifest Stink.”
But for Masik Collegiate Fragrances, the New York company that developed the school’s cologne and perfume, Texas A&M conjures something more aromatic. It describes the men’s fragrance as “refreshing top notes of Italian lemon, bergamot and iced pineapple” that open into “a body of vivid florals, raw nutmeg and cinnamon.”
The scent, Masik says, seeks to capture the “timeless honor of Aggie traditions” and the “crazed adoration of Aggie maroon,” one of the school colors.
Though some might associate college with olfactory assaults like stale beer and sweaty locker rooms, more schools smell opportunity in bottling a signature scent. Masik released fragrances for six other schools this fall, including the University of Kentucky and Clemson University, bringing its total lineup to 17 colleges, with more on the way, says chief executive Katie Masich.
The University of Notre Dame also came out with a scent this fall, produced by the Cloudbreak Group, which created a cologne and a perfume for the New York Yankees that the company says garnered nearly $10 million in retail sales in 2012.
The fragrances are only the latest in a litany of products colleges are hawking under their brands to students, alumni and die-hard sports fans. At Louisiana State University, the list includes garden gnomes, fishing lures and musical bottle openers—not to mention onesies and caskets. “We have licensed products literally from cradle to grave,” says Brian Hommel, director of trademark licensing at LSU, which began selling fragrances by Masik in 2009.
Whether the scents can compete in a crowded U.S. fragrance market—which had $5.8 billion in retail sales in 2012, according to research firm Euromonitor International—remains to be seen.
They need to be “of high enough quality that people genuinely fall in love with the product,” says Matt Frost, vice president of global marketing for International Flavors & Fragrances, which creates scents for brands around the world, though not for specific colleges. “You don’t want to launch a product that ends up as a joke or a gag gift.”
Jason Sager, who earned an M.B.A. at LSU in 2002, says he bought the school’s cologne soon after it was launched, more as a novelty item. But he ended up liking it so much that he ditched Giorgio Armani’s Acqua Di Giò and has been using it ever since. It “definitely smells like LSU,” he says. “It reminds me of the oak trees on campus.”
For a football game between LSU and the University of Alabama two years ago, Mr. Sager says he donned his LSU shorts, shirt and hat, then spritzed himself with LSU cologne. When he mentioned it to an Alabama fan who was with him at the game, he says the guy leaned in and took a whiff. “Nope, not LSU,” the man said. “Doesn’t smell like corn dogs.”
Mr. Sager bought his wife Bridget, a lifelong Alabama fan, a bottle of that school’s perfume a few years ago, and now she, too, uses it exclusively, she says. Masik, which created the scent, describes it as “a vivacious burst of candied pink grapefruit, sparkling mandarin and pineapple sorbet.”
“When I smell my wife, it definitely is like a real pleasant fruit,” Mr. Sager says.
Some, however, think the idea of a college fragrance stinks. “It seems pretty unnecessary” and “kind of obnoxious,” says Kelly Collar, a senior at the University of Florida, which sells a Gators cologne and perfume. Many odors wafting through campus aren’t very pleasant, he says. “The average college guy smells like a burrito that was deep-fried in beer.”
Colleges get royalty payments from sales of the fragrances, which cost about $40 for a 1.7-ounce bottle and are sold at campus bookstores, boutiques and some department stores. At LSU, that revenue has amounted to just $5,500 over the past four years, Mr. Hommel says. But he says there is a benefit to having the school’s brand associated with a chic product.
Ms. Masich declined to release sales figures but said the company is “very happy with the results and new distribution partners” of its collegiate fragrances, such as the Belk department-store chain. She said the University of Alabama has been an especially strong seller this year.
To create a university’s fragrance, Ms. Masich visits the campus, tours its landmarks and studies its traditions. The school’s colors, mascot and flora all serve as inspirations. When she visited LSU, she sat and observed the school mascot, Mike the Tiger, a live Bengal-Siberian mix who dwells in a 13,000-square-foot enclosure on campus.
“It didn’t smell the best,” Ms. Masich says. She drew instead on his “majestic” and “noble” qualities.
To translate a school’s essence into a scent, Ms. Masich relies on Fragrance Resources, an international fragrance company with a lab in New York. In the case of Texas A&M, “maroon lends itself to some fruity notes,” while “rich ingredients like silver moss capture the feeling of the campus landscape,” says Michele Suffy, vice president of sales.
Perfumers tweaked the formula repeatedly. At one point earlier this year, “we felt very comfortable with the woods we used, but we felt we needed a little more signature when it came to the whole idea of maroon,” Ms. Suffy says. So they added cinnamon—”not a red-hot cinnamon, but freshly ground cinnamon,” she says. And “we added a bit of fresh nutmeg to give the fragrance a little more lift.”
In June, Texas A&M convened an informal panel of students and administrators to select one cologne and one perfume among six options presented by Masik. Chandler Smith, a senior who helped compile feedback, says panelists loved some scents, while likening others to “a football field,” “Indian food” and something “my grandmother would use.”
Around that time, Shane Hinckley, assistant vice president of business development at Texas A&M, tweeted that the school was getting its own fragrances, setting off a flurry of pungent commentary.
That was fine by him. “If you take yourself too seriously, what’s the point?” he says. “We don’t pretend we’re some high-end fragrance line.”