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He also attributes the rise in sales to consumers becoming more educated about scents in a manner similar to wine lovers. Sure, anyone can pick up a fragrance hawked by Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez. But then they would smell like everyone else (but probably not like the celebrities themselves).

Mr. Eastwood says many consumers are moving away from mass-market products and into more custom fragrances. They are learning by visiting specialty perfume shops like his Los Angeles store to test products and learn about different scent notes, similar to the way an oenophile would visit a winery to learn about taste notes.

Pamela Danziger, founder of Unity Marketing, a luxury-goods market research firm, says she thinks it is a stretch to say that a tube of lipstick or a bottle of Chanel No. 5 can make up for not being able to buy an expensive handbag.

However, she agrees that many consumers still associate high-end fragrances with the designer names, which could be why sales are good.

“It is a way people can participate with a brand at a lower price point,” she says.

Unity Marketing’s numbers show that spending on beauty in 2009 was up 62 percent over 2008, Ms. Danziger says. She reasons that the purse strings among affluent customers - those with incomes of $100,000 or more - are loosening.

“That is a sign people are spending,” Ms. Danziger says. “They are not turning to drugstore brands. All sectors of luxury products were hit in 2008. In 2009, home products came back, but clothing and accessories have not. Affluent customers are back to spending, but there has been a shift in priorities.”