Coty’s New Stage: The Metropolitan Opera

Coty Beauty is hoping to hit a high note where art, commerce and philanthropy all harmonize around a fragrance.

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Coty Beauty is hoping to hit a high note where art, commerce and philanthropy all harmonize around a fragrance created with the high-octave image of one of the world’s most famous opera stars, Renée Fleming.

This story first appeared in the July 11, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Dubbed La Voce Renée Fleming, the project is highly unusual in that the proceeds from the sales will go to The Metropolitan Opera at New York’s Lincoln Center. Neither Coty nor Fleming will make a profit, executives insist. Although the fragrance will be distributed in only a handful of exclusive locations — generally stores patronized by opera lovers — it is expected that the venture will generate at least $500,000 at retail.

But money is only part of the appeal. “As a fragrance leader it’s about creation and reaching out to the world of art to reinvigorate our capacity to create,” said Bernd Beetz, Coty Inc.’s chief executive officer. “Celebrity is one part of it, but we approach it holistically from all angles whether it’s art or opera.”

Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, felt that the project will only further his mission in trying to bring opera to mainstream culture.

“We’re very happy Coty is supporting the MET not only financially but it also will help bring in a new audience,” said Gelb. “Renée’s fame transcends the core opera audience and I don’t know many other stars who are famous enough to support such a campaign.”

Gelb added, “This is part of our initiatives to regain the MET’s position in culture. We don’t expect to replace pop culture but think it could be more popular and be part of society and everyday life than has been in recent decades. Having a perfume that’s publicly promoted and honoring one of opera’s greatest stars is a step in the right direction.”

Fleming will not only appear as the new face and “voice” of La Voce, but she will also be featured as the main face for the MET season as it celebrates its 125th anniversary this fall.  The debut of the limited edition scent will coincide with the MET’s Opening Night Gala on Sept. 22, where Fleming will appear in three acts from her most acclaimed opera roles in Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Massenet’s “Manon” and Richard Strauss’ “Capriccio.” In addition to being a high note in her career, the evening also promises to be somewhat of an Olympic fashion event. John Galliano, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix will create her three gowns for the performance.

The fragrance project evolved from a relationship between Fleming and Beetz on one hand and also a close personal friendship between her and fragrance consultant Ann Gottlieb. They met several years ago at an Anne Klein shoot, where Annie Leibovitz photographed “prominent women.” Fleming has been a strong supporter of Gottlieb and even performed at a Circle of Champions event when she was honored.

Fleming sees this as an opportunity to make opera more appealing to a wider audience.

“It’s another way to get the message across that opera is accessible and glamorous and if you try it, you might like it,” said Fleming. “The last time this was done was almost 100 years ago. Opera singers almost a century ago were the biggest pop stars in the world. Caruso was biggest seller of all and women had glamour that was unprecedented and they advertised not just fragrance but cigarettes — all kinds of different things.”

She added, “People other than music journalists will say ‘Oh wait there’s a fragrance associated with her name, what else does she do?,’” said Fleming. “This gives a me larger repertoire of interest.”

Retailing for $200 for a 1.7-once bottle, the fragrance will be launched in a select number of high-end retailers worldwide, in addition to the Metropolitan Opera Shop.

La Voce Renée Fleming is categorized as a “floriental” fragrance. Gottlieb worked  with perfumer Carlos Benaim of International Flavors & Fragrances in creating the fragrance, which has top notes of passion fruit and white truffle; middle notes of jasmine and lily of the valley; and bottom notes of dark chocolate mousse and ebony wood.

Inspired by the MET’s chandelier, the company designed a piece on the bottle in a way so that it can be taken off and worn as a brooch.

La Voce Renée Fleming will be supported by an advertising campaign, which will appear in Opera News, in addition to Playbill and MET brochures. The MET will also launch a separate marketing initiative to target subscribers.

According to Steve Mormoris, senior vice president of global marketing for Coty Beauty, Coty initially debated whether or not to make the fragrance a commercial or philanthropic endeavor, but decided to make a cultural contribution to the opera world. “We wanted to do a cultural project that enhances our consumer’s understanding of fragrance so we do not look at it as a profit generating project at all,” said Mormoris. “This is not a licensing deal. We’ve signed all the communication that proceeds are donated to the MET.”

Beetz added, “It’s about shaking up the boundaries and educating our organization even more creatively, which will give us even more of an edge. It’s daring in comparison to our competition and will help us do what we’ve been doing to lead innovation in the future.”

At an interview in Fleming’s Upper West Side penthouse apartment on Tuesday, Fleming let a little unknown fact slip out: Beetz spent his high school days in Germany as a violist in a baroque orchestra, performing works by Bach and Telemann.

“My music career was intense but short,” admitted Beetz. “I grew up with music but by 18 I stopped it and took up other things, but my love for music and opera always stayed with me.”

Beetz and Fleming both agreed there are many similarities between music and fragrance as an art form. To Beetz, the common link between opera and fragrance is the idea of perfection in terms of the overall production, where as for Fleming its about similarities in the terminology.

“In fragrance, you have to get everything right from the packaging to the positioning of the product, and the same perfectionist approach applies to opera,” said Beetz.

Although Fleming was familiar with the words used to describe fragrance, when it came to hitting the right notes — in fragrance terms — she was unsure.

“When Ann talked about notes, pitches, harmonies and building chords, I got it from the start, but in terms of what I wanted [with ingredients], I didn’t know what I liked but knew I didn’t want something heavy, floral and old-fashioned,” said Fleming.

Although she hesitated to elaborate — considering the stereotypical image that opera divas have when it comes to their affinity for food — Fleming said she found it easier to relate to food when choosing fragrance notes. While joking, “Please play down loving food,” Fleming said that the one fragrance note in particular that she was drawn to was the white truffle accord.

Although Fleming is far from the cliché soprano diva and more like the girl-next-door from suburban Rochester in upstate New York, she admits that the high-strung caricatures do exist.

“There are lots of people who fit the bill and those like me, for whatever reason, just don’t change and are very similar to what I was when they were 16,” said Fleming. “The word ‘diva’ to me means two things — goddess on stage, which I really hope I am, and someone with horrible temperamental behavior off-stage.”

Fleming isn’t stopping with just her fragrance and MET engagements. She’s scheduled for multiple performances during the Beijing Olympics. Her most recent album, entitled “Strauss: Four Last Songs,” will also be released by Decca in the fall.

The most surprising honor of all will come next month when she is awarded Sweden’s Polar Prize by the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, along with Pink Floyd.

“I keep telling Pink Floyd we should do a performance together,” said Fleming. “I love Pink Floyd — everything I know about them is from Tom Stoppard’s play “Rock ’n’ Roll.”

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