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Eau de JoePa: Penn State niche perfumes

NEW YORK - T-shirts, yoga pants, sweat suits, baseball caps, pajamas, undies - we know these to be basic college fashion fare.

Katie Masich of Masik Collegiate Fragrances: Alma mater aromas.
Katie Masich of Masik Collegiate Fragrances: Alma mater aromas.Read moreELIZABETH WELLINGTON

NEW YORK - T-shirts, yoga pants, sweat suits, baseball caps, pajamas, undies - we know these to be basic college fashion fare.

But a niche perfume marketed to Penn State alumni?

Inspired by the grand architecture of Old Main, the school's blue and white colors, and the loyalty of the Nittany Lion, Pennsylvania State University, the State College institution, is getting a chance to capitalize on a sweet scent of its own just in time for stocking-stuffing season.

Penn State for Women and Penn State for Men, sold for $60 each, are the creations of Masik Collegiate Fragrances, led by chief executive officer Katie Masich, 30. The Harrisburg-based, family-owned company also has a scent for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on the market.

"It's all about a personal passion and emotional connection," Masich said last week in between marketing and media appointments in New York. "The sense of smell is strongly linked to memorable life experiences, and colleges are just that. What better way to create a sense of nostalgia?"

But it's not smells of dorm rooms or football fields the scents evoke. Penn State for Women features a clean yet slightly musky combination of vanilla, white patchouli, raspberry blossom and amber resin. The men's cologne is a spicier blend of fresh juniper berries, cracked pepper vapor, and a little lavender.

Next year, Masik Collegiate Fragrances has plans to release scents for the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, the University of Alabama, Auburn University, the University of Georgia, and the University of Tennessee.

Last week Masich talked up her products on NPR, ESPN's SportsCenter, and Fox News. At times, online sales have been as high as five or six purchases a minute, she said. Masich won't release sales numbers, except to say that after three months on the market, she's had to order more batches of men's and women's fragrances for Penn State and UNC several times. The company, she said, expects to sell out of inventory yet again for both schools before Christmas.

"This past week has been extremely exciting and very busy," Masich said. "I am thrilled."

In a tight economy and a tighter gift-giving season, Masich is betting two trends work in her favor - America's obsession with collegiate products and the growing popularity of niche fragrances.

Apparel companies such as Nike and Victoria's Secret have successfully created college-branded products for students and recent graduates who crave items trendier than mugs, stogies and toilet paper. The Victoria's Secret Pink Collegiate Collection has been selling university-themed clothing from 33 schools since July. Nike's special-edition Air Force One sneakers feature the university's school colors.

"Aging millennials are obsessed with their alma maters," said Tina Wells, founder of South Jersey-based Buzz Marketing Group. "They are reconnecting on Facebook. They are remembering the '90s. They want that life back and they want items that appeal to them."

The large, built-in fan base of all ages helps too, said David Morrison, author of Marketing to the Campus Crowd and chief executive officer of Twentysomething Inc., a King of Prussia company that tracks spending habits of young people and trends in university-inspired apparel. There are more than 450,000 Penn State graduates worldwide.

According to Morrison, top-tier schools, those with top basketball programs, often gross $5 million to $9 million a year from licensing alone.

"The rabid fan base drives the innovation and piques the interest of entrepreneurs seeking to reach new markets," Morrison said. "So if you are a fragrance manufacturer and you look at the number of Penn State alumni, the numbers look very good. The real challenge is to develop a product that not only engages their attention but motivates them to purchase on a repeat basis."

These days niche scents drive business.

According to the Long Island-based NPD Group, they are the fastest-growing segment of the fragrance market, defined as specialty perfumes - such as Jo Malone and Bond No. 9 - that debut in fewer than 1,000 stores and are marketed largely through word of mouth.

You can get your 3.4-ounce bottle at or at Penn State's online alumni store. Penn State and UNC's on-campus bookstores carry the line too, as well as a handful of specialty boutiques.

The scents are passing the sniff test.

"It's absolutely fabulous; it smells wonderful," said Robyn Wagner, 29, a Penn State graduate who has already purchased the women's perfume and two bottles of the men's cologne that she plans to give as Christmas presents. "The perfume is very light and fresh. It's a nice way to bring back good memories of the school."

Masich decided to get into the perfume business last year while working as a business adviser at Exxon Mobil Corp. in northern Virginia. She called around to a couple of fragrance houses, including Fragrance Resources, an internationally known New York-based perfumer that is behind fragrances for Jennifer Lopez and Calvin Klein.

Her idea was first to target schools with alumni associations in the hundreds of thousands, as well as schools known for strong sports and academics.

After studying the schools' vegetation, school colors and architecture, she presented a brief to her perfumer, who came up with different versions of the formula known in the perfume world as "juice."

Juice in hand, she gave Penn State's licensing director, Maureen Riedel, several samples. Riedel then shared the potential scents with faculty, students and alumni groups for input and feedback.

"We receive requests from people all the time who want to use the Penn State brand," Riedel said. "But this was nontraditional. It was different. It was presented to us well." Penn State gets 10 percent of the wholesale price of each bottle sold, Masich said.

Masich, along with her parents and brother, visited Penn State and UNC Chapel Hill during their homecomings, handing out sample vials. Masich said she longed for the day when she would be able to pump her fragrances into full stadiums.

Eventually Masik Collegiate Fragrances would like to make scents for smaller schools and historically black universities, like Howard and Hampton, as well. There is also talk of expanding the company to market other fragrance products like soaps.

"Love for your university is a universal emotion," Masich said. "Sometimes people get chills down their spine when thinking about their schools. It's a big thing."