In the world of mainstream, commercial perfumery, when a particular fragrance has seen huge success, a follow-up, a spin-off, a 2.0, or a sequel fragrance that capitalizes on the incredible results of its master brand will often make its way onto the market. These so-called flankers might be similar to the original or pillar fragrance, but with a variation of some sort, such as the addition of new notes, or the strengthening or weakening of some notes already present.
Additional adjectives, such as light, sport, veil, eau fraiche, eau tendre, noir, extreme, essence absolue, exotic, eau sensuelle, sheer, tendre, intense, and essenuelle are all examples of suffixes I have seen affixed to the original name to distinguish them as sequels. Flankers are usually presented in the same bottle as the original, but the flacon (bottle) might appear in a different colour, material, finish, or have different decorative embellishments. Different concentrations of perfumes, by the way, are not considered flankers.
If you are familiar with a particular fragrance, you’d unlikely have difficulty recognizing a 2.0 model as sharing the same DNA as the original. However, sometimes flankers appear on the market that are actually completely different, and this is where I really have a bone to pick with the marketers, as that’s just plain misleading. Much as I respect most of the juices in the collection of Dior Poison flankers, for example, I feel they should each have been designed as separate concepts. I firmly recall being almost pissed off when I first smelled Hypnotic Poison, not because I didn’t like it (I loved it, in fact), but because I thought it wasn’t anywhere near the original brew of danger I’d been expecting. (Even that flanker has a flanker, by the way – Hypnotic Poison Eau Sensuelle.)
Companies known for flankerization include Calvin Klein, Dior, Kenzo, Armani, and Thierry Mugler, but there are many more, and I don’t feel that some of the companies that produce them are even huge international players, but I guess the stakes are high enough for them to participate in this game. I just confirmed on Fragrantica that Mugler boasts over 20 variations of Angel. Another big fragrance success milker is Issey Miyake, who has had produced a whopping 15 flankers based on L’Eau d’Issey, and that’s just the pour homme section.
Generally, my feelings toward flankerization are mixed. On the one hand, I respect the logic and ingenuity of the marketing, and fully understand why it is done. Here are the main rationalizations of flankerization business strategy:
Building on previous success
For big companies, launching a new fragrance is a huge risk. The success of a new fragrance is rarely predetermined, even after millions of dollars spent in marketing research. A failed attempt could then be very detrimental, and this is why you see so much imitation in the mass market. If a company already has a proven track record with a particular fragrance, however, it makes perfect sense that they would try to milk it further by creating a flanker. This only works, however, if the pillar fragrance was well and truly an amazing success. A flanker of a scent that fared averagely on the market will not generate results.
Flankers can help companies expand market share, both horizontally and vertically. If a company’s market research shows that a certain scent sells well only in the winter, and is more popular with the over-30 crowd, and they have also found that youth are attracted to terms such as “light” or “sport” in fragrance names, they can create a summer flanker of the original employing those words. The logic is that they will keep their older, previous customers happy with a new release for the warmer season, and also gain a new market of younger consumers. Capturing young customers is key, as it is easier to keep an established customer than to attract a new one. This is probably one of the many reasons there is so much (annoying) youth used in advertising.
It’s sad, but in today’s scent-saturated market, big fragrance companies are forced to put out something new every year, lest they fall into oblivion, and ignoring the ability to appear trendy by simply releasing updates of their best sellers can be seen as idiocy. It’s worth noting, however, that flankers can and do also offer an opportunity to re-work an existing fragrance in a new and exciting way, and this has indeed been the case in certain instances.
While I accept all of the above, on the other hand, I find flankerization to be too omnipresent, and I sometimes see it as a cop-out. By tweaking and releasing a scent for a small outlay rather than developing something groundbreaking and risky, I think it is sad that houses choose to capitalize on former glories, and yes, it can make them look lazy, uncreative, and cheap – in more than one way. Flankerization is hardly a dignified practice, but hey, it makes great business scents (pun intended).
Back to the plus side, excessive flankerization may help explain the welcome emergence and increasing success of niche perfumery onto the scent scene. In any case, most of the time I find the original formulae of mainstream concoctions to be better. I must admit, however, that I have not bothered to take a sniff of many of them, mostly because I feel overwhelmed by them at times. The only house that I readily commend for surpassing its originals with quality flankers is that of Tierrry Mugler, but I am only referring to some of his limited edition spin offs of Angel, Alien, A*Men, and Womanity. I particularly prefer the leather versions of Womanity and Alien. I’ve heard that Hermès makes good flankers, but I’ve little experience with that house.
What is your opinion of flankerization? Do you feel it is a necessary evil to create olfactory offspring that comes close to, much less outdoes, their parental perfume?