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In the 1980s, overpowering fragrances acted as the modern-day equivalent of medieval heralds, announcing a woman's arrival before she entered the room.

That was then.

The scents and sensibilities of the 1990s dictate a woman should no longer smell loud. Increasingly, fragrance style errs on the side of light and fresh, impossible to detect from anywhere but up close.

"To be announced by your fragrance went with the ostentatiousness of the 1980s," says Caroline Geerlings, VP-marketing at Christian Dior Perfumes. "People don't like that anymore. Women of the '90s are paring down. People don't want to be obvious."

For Christian Dior, that called for a new fragrance this spring: Tendre Poison, which has racked up almost $40 million in retail sales already. That makes it Dior's best-selling balm, showing up the original Poison that packs an intense bouquet typical of fragrances born a decade ago.

"The lighter fragrances are kinder and gentler in the sense they don't knock you out," observes industry consultant Allan Mottus. "They are a counter-culture trend from the Poisons, the Giorgios and the Cocos.

"In the 1980s, getting your money's worth was defined as how much a fragrance could reek. But that's not politically correct today."

With value a hallmark of the 1990s, the newer fragrances are accessibly priced thanks to the dominance of weaker concentrations-many brands do not offer perfumes, focusing instead on eau de toilettes, the preferred fragrance form of younger consumers.

When Elizabeth Arden Co. introduced Sunflowers in 1993, its strategy was to bring the 18-to-34-year-old consumer to its department store counters. This age group, particularly the younger end, isn't a generation of enthusiastic department store shoppers.

Sunflowers, says Marketing Manager Laura Bohnenberger, "never ceases to amaze us. Right now, we're tracking to an 80% increase over last year's sales with Sunflowers representing more than 23% of Arden's total business."

That puts Sunflowers sales at an estimated $100 million, making it a close second to Estee Lauder's Beautiful, the leading women's prestige fragrance, in many stores. Sunflowers opens at $17.50 for one ounce.

There seems to be room for more growth in the segment. Lighter fragrances account for an estimated 15% of the annual $3.3 billion in women's fragrance sales.

Coty, too, has brought out a light fragrance. Vanilla Fields, a fragrance that's now being widely imitated, is available in mass-market outlets.

There also has been a slew of new department store entries. Some, like Tendre Poison, are sold year-round. Others-Lancome's O de Lancome and Escada Beaute's Summer in Provence-appear only in the summer when high temperatures increase the decibel level of heavier scents.

Summer in Provence has an even shorter lifespan. It was a one-shot fragrance that next year will be replaced by another light scent.

The light and fresh category will see its biggest launch yet when Calvin Klein Cosmetics introduces CK One unisex fragrance this fall with an estimated $19 million marketing program, created in-house.

"We want to set a new trend for fragrance, a wonderful fragrance that you wear lavishly and splash on everywhere, all over," says VP-Marketing and Advertising Sheila Hewitt. "For us what was very important ... was that something lighter, fresh and something you could share was very sexy."

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