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Eau de Bruce - what does Die Hard smell like?


Can you match the fragrance to the celebrity?

By Denise Winterman
BBC News

Actor Bruce Willis is the latest celebrity to launch his own signature fragrance, but how do you sum up a personality in a smell?

Forget the hard sell, this is the hard smell - buy it if you think you're tough enough. Bruce Willis launches his own fragrance today and it is said to be the "manliest scent in the world" by the company who make it. Well, what else would you expect from an action hero?

Willis is the latest in a very long line of celebrities to create their own signature fragrance. The likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, P Diddy, Britney Spears, Katie Price and the Beckhams have made a fortune from them. Even Cliff Richard and Kiss have had a go.

Jennifer Lopez
JLo was one of the first scents

According to the PR puff, the Bruce Willis scent captures his "strength, self-assurance and single-mindedness". This translates into a smell that combines cedar, vetiver (an east-Indian grass), pepper, grapefruit, orange and, rather unexpectedly, geranium leaves, looking at the ingredients' list.

Celebrity perfume is a lucrative market estimated to be worth £255m in the UK alone. One in five of women aged between 16 to 24 wears a celebrity scent, according to market researcher Mintel. It's about buying into a lifestyle they aspire to, it says.

For the celebrity it's all about expanding a brand - that brand being themselves. Perfume gives the illusion of being personal and intimate, say branding experts, when in fact the celebrity isn't revealing anything about themselves apart for what they like to sniff.

"Celebrities nowadays are looking for as many way as possible to monetise their fame," says Hamish Pringle, director general of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and author of Celebrity Sells.

"The attraction of doing a fragrance deal is that toiletries and cosmetics are more amenable to celebrity endorsement than some other less personal products. Plus the perfume houses have got more scents and bottles on their lab shelves than you can shake a stick at and they think putting a celebrity on the label is a really easy way to stand out from the crowd."

Trait - intimate: Ingredient - bergamot and white amber: Example - Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker
Sensual - soft musk and sandalwood - Glow by Jennifer Lopez
Dangerous - champagne accord and Moroccan tangerine - Unforgiveable by Sean John
Edgy - cardamom and violet - Intimately Beckham Men by David Beckham
Ingredients source:

Signature scents started with Elizabeth Taylor, who launched her own fragrance White Diamonds in the early 1990s. Before that stars did have a close relationship with cosmetic companies, but in a different way.

"In the old days celebrities used to be the face of an established fragrance," says Graham Hales, managing director Interbrand. "But these days they are feeling so confident about themselves they have become the fragrance."

Celebrity scents really took off when Jennifer Lopez launched JLo in 2003. She understood the money to be made from marketing herself as a brand and a successful clothing, lingerie and jewellery lines followed - as well as several other perfumes. She's now a global name and a very rich woman.

So how do you translate a personality into a smell? In the case of Willis, it involved a team visiting him to establish his "fragrance nuances", according to the company producing his scent - LR Health & Beauty Systems. Roughly translated that probably means seeing what smells he likes.

But can traits like confidence, humour and versatility be translated into a smell that everyone will recognise? Quite frankly, no, says Professor Tim Jacob, an expert on the olfactory system (the body's system of smell) and the psychology of smell at Cardiff University.


"Smell is about association. If lemon makes us think of freshness it's because it is a scent that has always been used in washing-up liquids and cleaning products. When scents are called floral or woody that's just a descriptive classification system, it doesn't translate into any physiological or psychological link."

Perfumers agree. When something is described as "manly" it is more about marketing than smell, says distinguished perfumer Roja Dove, who creates bespoke perfumes at his haute parfumerie in Harrods and also by request.

"Such a scent will use certain materials that over time have become associated with masculinity, but really it's like trying to say what makes a man a man, people use sweeping generalisations.

Katie Price
Katie Price has made money from perfumes

"Scent is learned and what smells we like is as unique as our fingerprint. It's about what smells we know and recognise, what we associate them with and how we respond to them."

So what smells have become associated with masculinity? Things like amber, patchouli, moss and, more surprisingly, lavender, according to EFF, the largest privately-owned international speciality flavour and fragrance company in the UK.

"If a client came to use with a brief wanting something strong and manly, those are the type of scents we would use," says a spokesman.

The celebrity-scent market represents all that is wrong about the perfume industry for some.

"Smell is a really powerful sense and one people really underestimate," says Prof Jacob. "The celebrity perfume market depresses me because it is short-sighted. The fragrances are usually thrown together and sold off the back of a big name. They're simply an excuse for not trying to create something truly original and beautiful."


But it is just reflecting the celebrity-obsessed times we are living in and the perfume industry has always reflected social trends, argues Mr Dove.

"In 1918 women in Britain got the vote and at the same time a new blend of perfume was developed by the fragrance company Coty, called chypre.

"It was the time of the suffrage movement and women didn't want to be named after flowers and they didn't want to smell like them either. Chypre used different scents, like moss, woods and musks. It was quite shocking at the time and totally reflected what was going on in society."

Unconditional - Peter Andre
Fantasy - Britney Spears
By Night - Christina Aguilera
Christina Aguilera - Christina Aguilera
Lovely - Sarah Jessica Parker
Source: The Perfume Shop

Chypre is blend that is still widely used today, but most celebrity scents don't last a year in the market, says Mr Dove. But neither do they to pretend to be a classic along the lines of Chanel No 5. What they do offer people is choice and open up perfume to a wider audience.

"What is sad is when finer fragrances get overlooked because of them," he adds.

One of his exclusive custom-made scents can cost around £20,000, but no one else in the world will have it.

If you buy Bruce's scent, its individuality has nothing to do with what is in the bottle - rather what is plugging it. The fragrance has "a genuine cedar-wood cap", making each bottle one-of-a-kind because wood "has, by nature, an individual grain". Very clever.

Below is a selection of your comments.

Die Hard: With a Fragrance
Jon Siper, New York, NY, US

I lost my sense of smell five years ago. It gradually came back, but with a difference. Commercial smells which include expensive perfume and cheap household chemicals all smell similar to me. I may as well spray myself with toilet cleaner. My nose detects the industrial element not the natural one - and that is present in all perfumes, expensive or not.
Cathy Netherwood, Sydney, Australia

They visited Bruce to see what he smells like? Don't be silly. If manly fragrances really smelled like men then we wouldn't need to wear any fragrance. We could just smell like men. Which wouldn't be very pleasant. Especially after a hard, hot day of saving the world...
David H, Bangkok, Thailand

The one that really wound me up was Ewan McGregor's Scent of Adventure. I've been round the world on a motorbike (on my own) and I smelt like petrol, grease, unwashed sweat, dirt and blood - anyone want to buy a bottle?
Henry, Sheffield, UK

For Bruce Willis one would expect macho smells like gun oil, burnt powder, Hoppes No.9 (gun cleaning solvent) and perhaps something outdoorsy like the scent of a wet gun dog.
David, Cambridge, MA

To be fair, Sarah Jessica Parker's Lovely is widely recognised as a modern classic; I've even seen it described as "the 21st Century's No. 5" on a perfume forum. High praise indeed! It doesn't wear particularly well on me, but it is a lovely perfume nonetheless.
Melanie, Newcastle

I am sure the likes of JLo do not wear their own brands and for good reason. This type of fragrance is aimed at the teenage market and is packaged and marketed accordingly.
Carol A Partington, Nether Poppleton York

It is purely based on the principle that anyone who is rich and famous does not have enough money or fame to satisfy their ego. Most of the fragrances are made, sent to them for a whiff, they say, "will this make me money?" the firm says "Yep" and hey presto, you have some shameless wonder like Katie Price peddling something which involves no work except for a couple of photo's. Her motto all over really. Isn't it about time we ditched this travesty of shameless celebrities who command shameful price tags?
John, Bedford, Beds

The research carried out was on 16-24 and all the celebs that have done well with fragrance have appealed to that age group. This is coming from a 20-year-old and my boyfriend is also 20 and my brother is 17, and Bruce Willis fragrance doesn't do anything for them - he's old. Still a top class actor though but if I was him then I would stick to that.
sarah, South London

Personally, I shy away from 'celebrity' scents as from poison. Most of them bear a distinct resemblance to their namesakes: overly sweet, cheap, flashy & deeply unsophisticated!
Zena, London

Hmmm, what's my hope motivation here? That my girlfriend will go gooey because of the smell, or that I will act more confidently because I'm in touch with my tough primitive side, or is it that the marketing men - not JLo or Bruce - have conditioned us to think their quack potions have actual value? Love potions (with added promise) have been an industry since the pharoahs. They're a hormone support system for our fundamental insecurity, the fear of the 'no' response. Time we grew up and dealt with it! :)
think_further, London, UK

I heard Al Pacino is bringing out a perfume called The Scent Of A Woman...
Ciarán McConnell, Derry, N Ireland

The scent of Die Hard? Blood, sweat and having a very, VERY bad day.
Richard Davies, Hemel Hempstead

Please tell me it is called the Sixth Scent.
Chris, Leeds

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