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Kawakubo Scent Stays off the Beaten Path

NEW YORK -- Rei Kawakubo, whose approach to fashion for Comme des Garcons has often been unconventional, is adopting the same stance for her first fragrance, which is slated for a global launch this fall.<BR><BR>The fragrance packaging, like her...

NEW YORK — Rei Kawakubo, whose approach to fashion for Comme des Garcons has often been unconventional, is adopting the same stance for her first fragrance, which is slated for a global launch this fall.

The fragrance packaging, like her apparel, is stark and simple. A white box bears the name of the scent — Comme des Garcons. An enlarged bar code symbol acts as a design statement.

To make the point that the scent is worn for one’s own enjoyment — and not necessarily to attract the attention of others — the glass bottle is sandwiched inside a 12 1/2-inch by 15 1/2-inch sheet of recycled plastic functioning as a chrysalis.

“It’s the world’s first vacuum-packed perfume; you know nobody’s touched it,” said Adrian Joffe, the husband of the designer and the managing director of the Paris-based Comme des Garcons Parfums SA, a subsidiary of the Japanese fashion firm.

He said Kawakubo is working on a display fixture for store counters that will show the bottle hanging in its plastic wrapper. The bottle is modeled after a whisky flask and the top is positioned asymmetrically.

The fragrance comes in one size, a 3.4-oz. eau de parfum that will cost $85 for the pour and $95 for the spray. That usually is the large size in a typical fragrance line. Joffe said it was picked because Kawakubo liked the look of it.

He added that the company plans to introduce the more popular 1.7-oz. size three months after the October launch.

The fragrance formula, created by perfumer Mark Buxton of Haarmann & Reimer, is as unorthodox as the packaging. It is a spicy chypre with no top note. The first whiff comes from the heart of the fragrance.

“The first thing you smell is what you smell throughout the perfume,” Joffe said.

Although the fragrance will be marketed as a women’s scent, two of the launch stores — Galeries Lafayette in Paris and Barneys New York in the U.S. — will stock merchandise in women’s and men’s areas.

Comme des Garcons will be launched in Paris in mid-October, following Kawakubo’s ready-to-wear show. It will make its debut in the U.S. the first week in November.

While Galeries Lafayette handles the Paris launch, Liberty of London in the U.K. will introduce the scent with launch activities. Brown’s in London and its Comme des Garcons franchise store also will carry the fragrance. In the U.S., Barneys will have a one-year jump on other department stores, Joffe said. The New York chain will launch the fragrance in 15 stores across the country, including its two main stores in New York and large units in Chicago and Beverly Hills. The scent will also be featured in 11 smaller Barneys stores.

After the launch, the fragrance will be sold through a network of the fashion firm’s own freestanding stores and retail accounts that sell Kawakubo’s apparel, both in the U.S. and overseas.

Joh Siff, general director of the New York-based Comme des Garcons Ltd., said the scent will be stocked in the firm’s SoHo store here, as well as in fashion stores in primary and secondary markets. They include Maxfield’s in Los Angeles and Ultimo in Chicago.

“Our fashion clients understand the concept of Comme des Garcons,” Joffe said.

The fragrance will be sold in the two Comme des Garcons stores in Paris, plus its shop in Galeries Lafayette. It will also be merchandised in fashion stores like Corso Como in Milan.

Joffe said a select number of stores will the carry the scent in the U.K., France, Spain, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore.

He estimated that worldwide distribution for the first year will total 300 doors. He plans to enter U.S. department stores in the second year.

Joffe would not discuss dollars, but industry sources indicate that he is aiming for a conservative worldwide sales target of $5 million wholesale by the end of next year.

The sales promotion effort will primarily be through sampling — with 80,000 2-ml. vials slated for worldwide distribution — and direct mail efforts. Advertising will be reserved largely for the department store rollout in the second year, Joffe indicated.

Bonnie Pressman, divisional senior vice president of women’s rtw and accessories at Barneys, said details of the launch are still being planned, including the length of the store’s exclusive.

One of the topics is the launch ad that probably will appear in the New York Times, she said, adding that the store plans to do a direct mailer in November.

There also is a possibility Kawakubo will make appearances for the launches in New York and Los Angeles, Pressman said.