Carine Roitfeld is betting on the fact that sex still sells.
The fashion editor will debut on Monday her first line of products, complete with some of-the-moment storytelling: a collection of seven fragrances inspired by seven fictional lovers in seven cities.
The fragrances, which Roitfeld said were eight years in the making, are being introduced a time when marketing messages in the space are tending toward being “authentically you,” rather than turning on the opposite sex. It’s reflective of the lingerie industry, with the shift from Victoria’s Secret’s bombshells to Aerie’s untouched models of all sizes.
The concept is on brand: A muse of Tom Ford, Roitfeld styled his notoriously provocative Gucci ads in the late ’90s. In the 2013 documentary “Mademoiselle C,” about her life post-French Vogue where she was editor-in-chief for 10 years, her son controversially describes her as a MILF. A video post on @carineroitfeldparis, the Instagram account launched in late March to fuel buzz of the launch, asks fashion insiders including models Grace Elizabeth and Daphne Groeneveld, “How would you describe Carine Roitfeld?” A repeated answer: “Sexy.”
To create the collection, Roitfeld linked with Frederic Pignault, vp of prestige fragrance sales at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF), who was introduced to her by Ford based on the success of his own fragrance line. (Estée Lauder’s third-quarter earnings report for 2019, released Wednesday, showed a 3% year-over-year boost in fragrance sales, to $392 million. Premium brands including Tom Ford Beauty, launched in 2006, were called out as leading the charge.)
Pignault called IFF “the house behind the brands.” Its noses, or perfumers, create scents for most luxury brands, excluding Chanel, Dior, Cartier and Hermès, which have dedicated personnel in-house. Roitfeld worked closely with the perfumers, first and foremost to create fragrances she’d want to wear, ensuring none smelled too fruity or sweet, for example. What was “strategic” or “commercial” was not a consideration, she said.
Notably, Roitfeld didn’t link with an Estée Lauder, Coty or L’Oréal for production and distribution, opting to instead bring on her son, Vladimir Restoin Roitfeld, to head up such logistics. Restoin Roitfeld is also president of CR Fashion Book Ltd., Roitfeld’s media company behind publications CR Fashion Book and CR Men’s, and CR Studio, her creative and production agency with clients like Chanel and Yeezy.
“It’s a very honest project. Maybe it’s risky, doing everything on our own, but these are our mistakes to make,” said Roitfeld. “Frederic [Pignault] was there to create a structure, but — no financial partner, no licensee.”
Details to work out included Roitfeld’s vision for the bottles, which were modeled after flasks and kept opaque, to keep focus on ingredients and scent versus color. The name of each fragrance — “Aurelien” for the Parisian lover, “Orson” for the New York fling — looks handwritten on the bottle. In terms of ingredients, no costs were spared. For example, the “Vladimir” scent features orris, the root of an iris that must dry for three years before scent can be extracted. “It’s super expensive,” said Pignault.
All factors considered, the fragrances will sell for $285 for a 90-milliliter bottle. For comparison, Louis Vuitton raised eyebrows last month when it launched three fragrances for $360 per 100-milliliters bottle.
Other included ingredients play into current beauty industry trends, though Roitfeld said that was coincidental, using the years-long development process to back her claim. Like Vuitton’s, the fragrances are genderless, plus they feature all-natural ingredients. “George” contains cannabis.
Though Roitfeld’s background is in fashion, she said she has a signature scent that’s well-known by those she’s worked with: For 20 years, she’s worn a mix of YSL’s Opium fragrance and Serge Lutens’ Fleurs d’Oranger.
“This is not like fashion, where trends come and go every six months,” said Roitfeld. “A fragrance should be timeless.”
On May 6, the fragrances will be available to shop through Net-a-Porter and CarineRoitfeld.com. To alleviate the uncertainty of shopping fragrances online, Roitfeld will open the doors on Saturday to a seven-day pop-up in NYC’s SoHo neighborhood. Shoppers can test the fragrances and pre-order them, and partake in featured events. For example, on Sunday afternoon, she’ll be on hand to sign Yeezy tees for 200 visitors.
Roitfeld started teasing the launch in March in Paris, hanging 4,000 posters throughout the city. They showed her naked from behind and were splashed with “Carine Roitfeld Parfums, Coming Soon.”
Currently, all of Roitfeld’s associated Instagram accounts (@carineroitfeld, @crfashionbook, @crmensbook, @Crstudio), which have more than 2.5 million followers between them, drive in their bios to the fragrance-hyping account, @carineroitfeldparis. Considering the new account’s name features no reference to fragrance, one could assume Roitfeld has larger aspirations for her brand. She’s certainly laying the groundwork.
In 2016, Roitfeld collaborated with Uniqlo on a clothing collection. In June, she’ll host CR Runway, her first runway show, featuring clothes from luxury e-tailer Luisa Via Roma. Announced last month, she’ll be taking on the role of style adviser for Karl Lagerfeld’s namesake label for the next three seasons.
Overall, prestige fragrance sales totaled $4.3 billion in 2018, up 4% from the year prior. And luxury fragrance sales have outpaced that of mass fragrances in most markets.
Even so, Roitfeld has no plans to pigeonhole herself in luxury. “My dream is to one day have a special collection at Walmart,” she said. “Perfume should be for everyone, and now it’s about that balance of high and low. To also be able to sell at Walmart, that’s success.”