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Smellywood's Puttin' on the Spritz

It’s bad enough I have to read about Britney Spears’s parenting failures in my entertainment magazines. I can’t get through an issue anymore without facing a photo of the former teen queen’s by-now-all-too-familiar upper thighs. Now — thanks very much — I have to smell her, too.

An acrid aroma emanated from the pages of my favorite mindless reading material recently, and I was as bewildered as repulsed by the sensation: something sinisterly sweet and nauseating, like a syrupy pink cocktail, that storms your sinuses and then jabs at the gag button at the back of your throat.

I know Britney’s had a hard go lately, but I’m sorry: Is this what the girl smells like?

The potion is called “Believe,” and it comes in both a traditional spray and, um, “body soufflé.” It’s being hawked with an image of Britney’s head on someone’s much thinner body, and this motto: “I believe every woman needs a secret.”

You know what I believe? I believe that’s a funny mantra for a woman whose coochie is all over the Internet.

Celebrity perfumes are a billion-dollar industry. Sales of the top seven alone — led, inscrutably, by the former P. Diddy’s “Unforgivable” — topped $350 million last year, according to market researchers. They may not be great scents, but business-wise, VIP vapors make great sense. It’s hard for fragrance companies to convince consumers to sample — much less fall in love with, purchase, and commit the rest of their lives to wearing — some out-of-the-blue perfume, no matter how brilliantly its “top note” segues to its “dry down.”

Eau de Superstar has built-in appeal, making star-watching saps feel like they’re enveloped in their idols’ auras. The logic: If we can’t look like them, sing like them, dress like them, or — in the case of David Beckham’s “Instinct” cologne — play midfielder like them, then at least we can offend people’s olfactory glands like them.

But from a consumer standpoint, the notion stinks of stupidity. Consider that perfumes bear the names of Michael Jordan, a man famous for the various ways in which he generates sweat, and Kate Moss, a woman whose nasal passages have proven to be less than discerning.

I wonder why we’ve not seen a Keith Richards fragrance called “Undead,” with hints of embalming fluid and a soft whisper of old cigarettes. How soon before we can douse ourselves in Lindsay Lohan’s “Rehab,” with the earthy essence of black coffee and Altoids?

Anyone who believes these stars actually wear their namesake tinctures has been sniffing too much of Paris Hilton’s “Heiress.” Mariah Carey recently confessed that she never even liked perfume until Elizabeth Arden slapped her name on a product called “M,” not to be confused with Gwen Stefani’s “L.” (Tell me you wouldn’t love to see Paris come out with an amber-colored eau de toilette called “P.”)

It’s not personalities, or even lifestyles, that inspire these essences — it’s cold, unscented cash. Celebs get 5 to 10 percent of the sales of each bottle that bears their name. J.Lo’s perfume line (“Glow” reportedly smells like soap because she was fresh out of the shower during her first consultation with Coty) sold $77 million last year, netting her at least $4 million — nothing to sniff at.

Unlike the odor of Britney’s “Believe,” though, the phenomenon shows signs of dissipating. Sales are expected to drop by 25 percent over the next three years as buyers, not all that smart to begin with, become confused by the overwhelming number of choices.

It’s a good thing that oddball British actor Alan Cumming launched his signature scent when he did. Unlikely to be seen in magazine ads, his steady-selling elixir is a wink at the fact that sex, and celebrities, can sell anything. Its name: “Cumming.”

Published inColumns

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