NEW YORK — Pierre Cardin cuts right to the proverbial chase. In his opinion, fragrance serves exactly one purpose: to seduce. Over lunch at Le Bernardin last week, and at a press event at Perfumania directly after, the 82-year-old fashion legend couldn’t help remarking that the bottle design for his upcoming women’s scent reminded him of, well, a certain sexual act.

Mission accomplished.

“I’m sure it sounds scandalous, shocking even, but perfume is sex,” he said. “Sometimes it’s for yourself, but mostly it’s for someone else. We are always two in this life — in everything we do. In order to feel complete, we are always two.”

Although the fragrance — dubbed simply Pierre Cardin for Women — doesn’t launch until April, the Paris-based Cardin wanted to maximize his increasingly rare treks to New York by getting the word out early. Hence the unveiling at the Times Square outpost of Perfumania, where he chatted with some of the sales staff in Spanish, and bounced back and forth between French and English with the press.

“I’m very close to all my projects,” said Cardin, who counts roughly 800 licenses, the Maxim restaurants, hotels and a theater among his $1.5 billion empire. “I’m very involved, very concerned. This isn’t just another launch. And I don’t just lend my name to my fragrances.”

Described as a “modern floral,” the Firmenich-created scent contains top notes of cherry blossom, white pepper and kiwi; a heart of water lily, heliotrope flower and honeysuckle, and a drydown of plum, amber and musk. The line includes a 50-ml. eau de parfum for $35, a 100-ml. version for $49 and a 200-ml. body lotion for $25.

According to David Horner, a strategic planning consultant on the project, the scent will launch exclusively in Perfumania’s 232 American doors. The Northern Group, which acts as the U.S. licensee for all of Cardin’s 14 fragrances, also owns the Perfumania chain. While neither Horner nor Cardin would discuss figures, industry sources forecast first-year retail sales of approximately $2 million.

Despite Cardin’s long, storied life, he isn’t looking to recapture any fond memories with his latest fragrance offering. Rather, the scent is aimed squarely at young women. Really young — as in 16. To Cardin, these supersavvy teens are the wave of the future. “This wasn’t made for old people,” he said. “It was made for very young girls — 16, 17, 18. When we started working with Firmenich on this, we asked them, ‘What is the direction of the young people? What are their feelings? Their influences?’“I didn’t want to repeat the successes of the past, so I said no to all that,” he added. “Yesterday is yesterday. I’m always thinking young. There are some people my age who think young people know nothing. But for me, it’s the very opposite. I appreciate the mentality of young people. That’s why my name has stayed so strong for so long.”

Besides, said Cardin, “love stories start at 16, n’est-ce pas?”

Still an avid worker, Cardin can frequently be found at his French headquarters, located on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré “directly across from President Chirac’s” official residence. “Fashion is my drug, my necessity,” he said. “I go to my atelier every day just to see what’s happening.”

While he has spent the last 52 years zipping back and forth between France and the U.S., it isn’t nearly as fast and fun now as when he logged frequent-flyer miles on the Concorde. “One day, I left Paris at 11, arrived here at 8 o’clock in the morning, took the plane back at 7 p.m. and slept in my own bed,” he recalled. “All that traveling in just 24 hours.”

For certain projects — such as the debut of this fragrance — Cardin is still willing to hop on a boring old jet to make it happen. In fact, for someone who launched his first scent in 1972, he sounds genuinely excited about the category. “When you’ve been in love with someone, you never forget their perfume,” he said. “To me, it’s the most important sense.

“Once you smell a cow, you never forget what a cow smells like,” he added. “Once you smell jasmine, you never forget that either. Smelling is very, very important in life.”

And if his new olfactory venture proves fruitful, all the better. “I don’t need a new perfume,” said Cardin. “I want it to be good. If it’s only to make money, I don’t need it.”

— With contributions from Holly Miller

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