From battered hot dogs at football games to crisp autumn afternoons, certain smells conjure up memories of college life long after graduation. A new fragrance company is attempting to bottle that nostalgia by selling perfumes based on campuses around the country.
Since 2008, Masik Collegiate Fragrances has churned out a small but growing line of campus-specific scents, starting with Pennsylvania State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Louisiana State University. More are in the works, including the Universities of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee, and Auburn University. Each has its own version of perfume and cologne, packaged in 3.4-oz. bottles for $60.
The scents are inspired by university colors, landmarks and architectural style, and campus trees and flowers, among other factors, says Katie Masich, the company's president and CEO. For instance, Louisiana State University's purple-and-gold logo matches its perfume's notes of plum, golden bourbon and honey. There's also a touch of oak, in homage to the oak tree-lined campus.
Meanwhile, eau de Chapel Hill consists of lychee champagne accord, mandarin orange and green apple, with undertones of jasmine, violet and vanilla. "It's very romantic, charming, kind of that soft southern charm," Masich said of campus and concoction alike.
Masich said she came up with the idea for the line in 2007, wanting to break away from the typical idea of perfume.
"You walk in any department store and the markets are dominated by celebrities and fashions celebrating those people," she said. "Why not celebrate something that's a part each and every one of us, as a student of [a] university, or a fan or an alumni, faculty, staff, et cetera.
Masich said she figured she'd have the most luck with colleges with large student bodies and national sports followings. Having grown up in Pennsylvania and studied chemical engineering at Bucknell University, she decided to start with nearby football giant Penn State. The campus was not entirely convinced at first.
"When I first called Penn State, it took me a while to get hold of them, but I convinced them it was something unique and different," she said. "They said, 'It's not going to smell like a Nittany Lion, right?' and I said, 'No, no.' "
In fact, Penn State's perfume blends cassis, a type of black berry, with Moroccan rose, lilac and vanilla. Jessica Silko, who graduated from Penn State in May, said she has seen the fragrance at the student bookstore but shied away from the $60 price tag.
"As a college student, I don't want to waste money on something like that, just 'cause it has the Penn State name on it," she said. "However, if you put the Penn State brand on something, there will be a large number of fans who will buy it. They just will, it doesn't matter if it's something kind of ridiculous -- especially if it smells decent."
Part of each bottle's profit, usually around 10 percent, goes to a collegiate licensing company that distributes the funds to student scholarships and athletic programs at each campus, Masich said.
Like the rest of the American economy, the fragrance industry is struggling these days. Total prestige fragrance sales generated $2.68 billion in 2008, down 6 percent from 2007, according to Dora Brunette, a spokeswoman for the national market research group NPD.
But in Chapel Hill, the campus scents are a hit, says John Jones, director of student stores. Ninety-six bottles of perfume and 93 of cologne have been sold since they arrived last summer. The buyers are primarily alumni and visitors during football season and the holidays, he said.
Stacey Simeone, a 2008 graduate from Chapel Hill, was a skeptic at first sniff.
"When I first saw it, I thought it was kind of stupid -- they can't make a perfume that would smell like it," she said. "Then I smelled, and then I thought it smelled really good, but it didn't necessarily remind me of Chapel Hill" -- which, to Simeone, smells like "spring."
Asked what her personal recipe for Penn State perfume would be, Silko didn't hesitate for a moment. "Stale beer and nachos," she said.