By  on August 21, 2009

The fragrance which began life as the scent of Donna Karan’s first bath line has proven to be one of her most enduring beauty legacies.

Cashmere Mist — which was broken out as a separate scent in September 1994, after the bath line featuring the fragrance reportedly racked up sales of $8 million at retail in 1993 in fewer than 200 doors — is celebrating its 15th birthday with a new ad campaign and a luxurious new interpretation of the classic juice.

So, what makes the scent — a mix of Moroccan jasmine, lily of the valley, bergamot, sandalwood and musk produced by International Flavors & Fragrances — continue to thrive? “In this crazy world, it isn’t always about what’s new and now — it’s about what endures,” said Veronique Gabai-Pinsky, global brand president of Aramis Designer Fragrances (which holds Karan’s scent license), BeautyBank and IdeaBank, Lauder’s entrepreneurial think tank. “For a designer to have a fragrance which has endured for 15 years — it is a real accomplishment. Why has it endured? It was born of passion, and it has followed its own rules — and it worked.”

Karan and her late husband, Stephan Weiss, launched Cashmere Mist themselves under their Donna Karan Beauty Co. arm. In October 1997, Karan and Weiss signed a licensing deal with the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which continues to produce Karan’s fragrance portfolio in its Aramis and Designer Fragrances division. At the time that deal was signed, John Idol, then Karan’s chief executive officer, said that the Donna Karan Beauty Co. was doing a wholesale volume of at least $40 million.

“When we inherited the brand, there were a lot of products,” said Catherine Walsh, the Coty executive who then was vice president of marketing and product development for the brand, in September 1999. “We tested Cashmere Mist and found that it was a sleeping giant, so we cleaned up the packaging and made it a brand.” Lauder increased the brand’s distribution to about 1,400 department and specialty stores immediately after acquiring the license; the brand is currently in about 2,200 department and specialty store doors and online at donnakaranbeauty.com.

As the fragrance turned 10, Patti Cohen, executive vice president of global marketing and communications for Donna Karan International, noted, “We sort of did it backwards. Once the [bath and body] products hit the market, I had people stopping me on the street asking me what fragrance I was wearing — and I’d tell them it was a body lotion. Then we started getting letters asking us to turn the ancillaries into a fragrance. So 10 years ago, we did just that.”

A fragrance — called Pure Cashmere Eau de Parfum — was launched at the brand’s 10-year mark, and in 2007, Karan was inducted into the Fragrance Foundation’s Hall of Fame.

For the 15th anniversary, Cashmere Mist Luxe Edition Eau de Parfum will serve as the brand’s birthday present. Trudi Loren, vice president of corporate fragrance development worldwide for Estée Lauder, worked with Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president, and IFF’s Jean-Marc Chaillan to create the most luxurious version possible of the original.

“Luxe takes select raw materials and replaces them with the highest-end possible versions of them,” said Loren, adding that Luxe will be a permanent addition to the line. For instance, two jasmine absolutes and orange flower absolute were worked into the scent, which dries down with modern blond wood notes, as well as touches of moss, golden amber, heliotrope and labdanum.

“This is Cashmere Mist with more texture,” added Loren. Two sizes will be offered, a 1 oz. for $48 and a 1.7 oz. for $70. It will be on counter in September.

New advertising, breaking now in fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, features a misty-skinned Milla Jovovich wrapped in cashmere. It was shot by Mikael Jansson — who also shot the brand’s first campaign.

“Milla is a mother, a singer, an actress — she’s multifaceted and modern, like Donna,” said Diane Kim, senior vice president of global marketing for Donna Karan Cosmetics.

Carol Russo, senior vice president and general manager of sales and marketing, North America, Aramis and Designer Fragrances, added the brand is aiming for 180 million scented impressions, with blow-ins, scented strips and 1 million vials-on-card all part of the campaign plan. While none of the executives would discuss sales figures or advertising spending, industry sources estimated that the Luxe edition would do about $5 million at retail in the next year, and estimated Lauder is spending upward of $10 million on advertising and promotion for the Cashmere Mist franchise in the next 12 months. Karan’s global fragrance business — including her DKNY scent franchise — is said to do north of $500 million at retail yearly.

“Our overall strategy, especially in the U.S., is to balance our support for classics with new introductions,” said Gabai-Pinsky. “We’ll only do new products in these times if they are meaningful to the brand, and we believe Luxe is.”

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