BERLIN — Maurer + Wirtz's return to the premium fragrance market could be the cat's meow with the launch this month of Pussy Deluxe.

The German midmarket fragrance specialist tapped the sweetly irreverent underwear and fashion brand Pussy Deluxe as the vehicle for its reentry into selective distribution — a surprising choice, perhaps, for a house with a portfolio that includes brands like 4711, Tabac Original, Nonchalance and Betty Barclay. (Its selective brands, Azzaro and Montana, were sold in 1998.)

But beauty retailers and consumers are "looking for story-telling labels, not just designers," argued Thomas Seeger-Helbach, director of marketing and new business for Maurer + Wirtz, based in Stolberg, Germany. "The best licenses are already given," he acknowledged, "so we started looking for a young [brand] which has the potential to develop out of the niche."

They observed Pussy Deluxe for over three years at alternative fashion fairs like Bread & Butter. "And while a lot of labels come and ago, Pussy Deluxe wasn't only stable but expanded in European markets."

And its rather racy name is part of the fun. "I remember the first time our directors, who are in their 60s, heard the name. But it's the opposite of vulgarity," he continued. "It's about sex appeal with a wink. It's young, positive and what young, self-confident women like."

Maurer + Wirtz is "one of the few [companies] that still has a chief perfumer in-house," Seeger-Helbach pointed out, and the sweet floral was created by Maurer + Wirtz's nose, Gerrit Van Logchen, in cooperation with International Flavors & Fragrances. The scent has top notes of bergamot and acacia blooms, a heart of Madagascar jasmine, tiare, strawberry and iris, and bottom notes of patchouli, heliotrope, musk, gourmet praline and tonka beans.

Vintage in flair, the polkadot cherry-red spray bottle has a little black ribbon tied round the neck, and the pale pink, made-for-the-boudoir box features wide-eyed Pussy Deluxe kittens in a playful cherry, turquoise and black graphic. The typically tongue-in-cheek tag line reads, "inessential but desirable."

The five-unit fragrance range includes 30-ml. and 50-ml. eaux de parfum to retail at 27.50 euros, or $37.90 at current exchange, and 39.50 euros, or $54.40, respectively. The edps will be accompanied by a shower gel and a body lotion, both 200 ml. for 14.50 euros, or $19.98, as well as a deodorant spray.

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