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Beauty Beat: Sarah Jessica Parker: ‘Sex’ and Scents-ability

Sarah Jessica Parker has hooked up with Coty Inc. to create, as Parker described, "a timeless fragrance that women can have a relationship with."

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NEW YORK — Sarah Jessica Parker wants a new long-term relationship — with fragrance.

The ultimate fashionista’s deal with Coty Inc. to launch a fragrance this fall — which she describes as “a timeless fragrance that women can have a relationship with” — could ultimately be worth up to $7 million a year to her. And, Parker and Coty executives said, the scent is expected to be the first in a string of beauty products that will include a men’s fragrance and one day could even cover color cosmetics and skin care.

The announcement Tuesday that Parker and Coty’s Lancaster division have signed a multiyear licensing deal puts an end to one of beauty’s longest-running rumors, which was first reported in WWD on March 5, 2004.

But don’t look for the actress and style icon to follow in the footsteps of Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé Knowles, Gwen Stefani and those other celebrities launching clothing lines. While Parker loves fashion, she loves it too much to think of doing it herself.

“The fragrance was really something I wanted to do. I never dreamed of designing clothes or having a clothing line.”

Besides, Parker said, she’s enamored with a number of established designers, including Oscar de la Renta, Narciso Rodriguez, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and, of course, Karl Lagerfeld. “I like a lot of designers — that’s kind of my problem,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t date one guy in a fashion sense. You’d be a fool not to want to wear every beautiful thing,” continued Parker, who, on Tuesday, was clad in a black and navy Lanvin ensemble and a pair of champagne Christian Louboutin heels.

Next on Parker’s busy schedule: a Fox film with the working title of “The Family Stone,” which will also star Diane Keaton, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes, Dermot Mulroney, Craig T. Nelson and Rachel McAdams. In fact, Parker — a red-carpet favorite — is even skipping the Oscars this year, as filming begins the day after the awards.

The agreement with Coty is Parker’s first licensing deal, although she appears in advertising for Gap and L’Oréal’s Garnier Nutrisse. The first fragrance, a women’s scent, is expected to be out this fall.

While none of Coty’s executives would comment on projected sales or on what Parker is being paid, it is widely speculated that her multiyear contract — thought to be for three to five years with renewal clauses — gives her an up-front payday of $3 million to $5 million, and that she also will get a percentage of sales. Such deals often involve 1 or 2 percent of sales for the star, said one industry source.

Coty executives are thinking big, with talk of making Parker’s first women’s scent “J.Lo size.” Jennifer Lopez, Lancaster’s first celebrity powerhouse, now has three fragrances — Glow by JLo, Still Jennifer Lopez and Miami Glow — and did $100 million with Glow by JLo in its first year of release.

And Parker — who clearly would like to have her own stable of fragrances — is on board with that goal. The actress said that she’s dreamed of creating her own fragrance for years, but the only one she mentioned it to was her husband, Matthew Broderick. “I’ve been interested in fragrance forever. But I wasn’t bold enough to tell anybody, except for my husband. It seemed so — well, narcissistic,” Parker said. “It’s only in the last couple of years, when I finally told a business associate that it was something I wanted to do and he didn’t respond entirely negatively, did I start to think, ‘Well…maybe we could pursue it.’’’

But she’s not sorry that it didn’t happen a few years ago. “Not to sound like Pollyanna, but I’m so grateful that it didn’t happen sooner — because I think if it had, I might not have fallen into the masterful hands of Coty,” said Parker with aplomb. “With very little discussion, we were immediately in sync, not only with the smell of the fragrance, but the long-term plan for it. What I don’t want it to be, and what I’m fairly certain that Coty doesn’t want it to be, is supertrendy — and just attaching a name to something that doesn’t have meaning is not what I am about.”

On Tuesday, Parker joined Coty’s big guns — Bernd Beetz, chief executive officer of Coty; Michele Scannavini, global president of Lancaster Worldwide; Catherine Walsh, senior vice president of cosmetics and American licenses for Lancaster and Coty, and Carlos Timiraos, vice president of marketing for Lancaster Worldwide — at the Carlyle Hotel for a press conference about the agreement.

Walsh, along with Timiraos, has been working with Parker since October. “We get a lot of questions with the celebrity fragrances — people want to know if the person is really involved. Sarah Jessica has been involved since Day One, and she has very definite ideas for this scent. There is going to be a true honesty that goes into this project.”

Parker said her goal for the first women’s scent — which she hopes will be one of many — is to create a classic. “I would like this [first fragrance] to be the mother ship [for others],” she said. “I want this to be a timeless fragrance — something that will be a standing appointment with [consumers]. That doesn’t mean that I won’t want to create other fragrances that they can experiment with and that are appropriate for different occasions — but I really, really wanted a first fragrance that women can have a long-term relationship with.”

Parker said that her earliest memories of fragrance were of crowding around her mother as she misted herself with Estée Lauder’s White Linen. She added that, while her parents were young, her mother would save her pennies for an annual fragrance-buying trip to Dayton’s in Minneapolis.

“She always wore fragrance — she always put it on, every night when she went out,” Parker recalled. “Whether she was going to a meeting of the school board or if she was going to the ballet, it was very much a part of her grooming, of her getting ready to go. I’m one of four girls and one of eight children, and we stood around my mother, bothering her every step of her trying to get out of the house. I loved how it made us feel about her, I loved being in the aura and the trail of her and sort of downwind of her. And then, over the course of my young adult life, there were many women in my life who were important to me who still are, who were people that wear fragrance — and they tend to wear the same fragrance all the time. It leaves a very strong impression.”

Beetz — who rewrote the rule book for celebrity fragrances in 2002 when he signed Lopez to a scent deal — is no stranger to the process. His other celebrity licenses include Celine Dion, Isabella Rossellini, Kimora Lee Simmons and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen.

“We saw the celebrity trend as a market influence about four years ago, and we have found a modular rhythm with them,” Beetz said. “We only sign licenses that are selective and with partners who are creative forces — and who are prepared to share that force with us. If the elements aren’t cohesive, we won’t do them, and, in fact, we have said no to a few partnerships that weren’t right for us.

“It’s very important for us to have someone that not only is creative, but who has enormous potential with consumers,” continued Beetz. “That’s the recipe. We can’t just put a name on the bottle.”

Beetz conceded, when pressed, that in the life cycle of brands, there are “certain phases” that fluctuate on a global basis. He acknowledged that, for instance, Glow by JLo is no longer doing $100 million a year, “it’s in year four and it’s generated the launches of other products,” he said. “It’s a brand which continues to have global appeal, as will this license.” Lopez’s license remains the company’s second-largest fragrance license; its first is Davidoff.

In fact, Coty has tested Parker’s market appeal in Europe and North America — specifically, in Germany and the U.K. as well as in the U.S. — already, said Beetz. “Sarah is becoming a new icon, and this will be a global brand,” he said. “We only do things that have global and sustained appeal.”

Added Scannavini: “Sarah has enormously wide appeal, with consumers 18 to 45 and beyond. She’s very universal.” Coty executives also said that they “wouldn’t rule out” doing color and skin care with Parker.

Walsh added that Parker’s long-running career — which has included starring as a preteen in “Annie” on Broadway, through her TV years on the popular “Square Pegs,” to six seasons of “Sex and the City” and her current film work — sets Parker apart from others in the celebrity fragrance genre. “This generation of fragrances seems to basically be about women who are known as singers, dancers, whatever,” said Walsh. “Sarah Jessica has been acting for decades, and she has had a steady rise throughout the years. She’s obviously a fashion icon, and she became a sort of an unintentional supermodel [with “Sex and the City,”] but people still see her as the star next door and the mom next door. People can relate to her.”

While this is the first time that Parker has fronted a fragrance, she’s already gotten a glimpse or two of the industry — she attended last June’s Fragrance Foundation Awards to present an award to Oscar de la Renta, a favorite designer, and also won the Fashion Icon award at last year’s CFDA Awards.

As for her current favorite fragrance, Parker said she wears her own home-brewed concoction — “It’s my own crazy bad chemistry!” she said — which helped influence her upcoming fragrance. “I mix a couple of oils together,” she said.

“It’s not a superaggressive smell,” said Parker of the scent that will launch this fall. “It feels right on a lot of people. In the controlled study that I’ve done in my own neighborhood, it has been really triumphant,” she said with an infectious giggle. “I feel like it’s a really adaptable fragrance. It’s absolutely signature but it’s not something that is only right for a particular person.”

The next Lancaster project for Parker will likely be a men’s scent. “I have spent some quality time at the men’s fragrance counter over the years,” she said with a laugh, “and I have worn men’s fragrances. I have a lot of men in my life who have worn my personal concoctions in the past, and I feel like I owe them this. And I’m excited about the possibility of doing something a little less gender-specific.”

It could be said that Parker has spent her career learning new roles, most famously as Carrie Bradshaw, noted sex columnist on “Sex and the City.” Asked what type of fragrance her TV alter ego would like, Parker shot back with a diabolical laugh: “Anything I create!”

By Julie Naughton and Pete Born

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