Fragrance Back in Focus at St. John

St. John got back into the fragrance game when it relaunched its signature women's scent at its freestanding stores last month.

St. John got back into the fragrance game when it relaunched its signature women’s scent at its freestanding stores last month. Now, the knitwear firm is launching the fragrance at Nordstrom.

This story first appeared in the June 27, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The St. John fragrance business, which comprised a signature scent (launched in 1994) and White Camellia (1998), was discontinued in 2005 as part of a strategy by then chief executive officer Richard Cohen to focus on apparel. But current ceo Glenn McMahon said he considers fragrance, and other nonapparel businesses, an important part of the brand moving forward.

“[Fragrance] reinforces that we are a lifestyle brand and not just a ready-to-wear brand,” McMahon, who joined the firm last August, said during an interview Tuesday. He also cited the introduction of eyewear and footwear this year as part of the company’s lifestyle strategy.

Initially, St. John was going to relaunch the fragrance only at its freestanding stores, according to McMahon, who cited customer requests for the scent. But after several retailers showed interest, he said, the decision was made to commence wholesale distribution.

Nordstrom, which first began receiving the fragrance last week, is to officially kick off a visual launch period for the scent today.

The retailer indicated that the earliest results have so far been positive.

“The fragrance just hit our stores,” noted Debbi Hartley-Triesch, national beauty director for Nordstrom. “This past weekend, we were able to feature it at our South Coast Plaza [Costa Mesa, Calif.] cosmetics trend show, and our customers responded well.”

The scent is to be carried at Nordstrom’s 105 doors for at least three months. While plans for a further rollout of the fragrance have not been confirmed, St. John fashion — which features suits for $2,000 and gowns for $2,500 — is carried at about 280 doors in the U.S., including its own stores, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s.

Robin Bull, executive vice president of international and licensing for St. John, said the firm “got a great initial read on the fragrance” when it was relaunched last month at St. John boutiques, of which there are 28 in the U.S. and 17 abroad. “Mother’s Day was a great test for us,” she added.

Based on the initial results, industry sources estimate the fragrance could generate $1 million in retail sales by yearend.

For the latest iteration of St. John’s signature scent, executives went back to fragrance supplier Firmenich for the original formula.

While the scent itself, which features notes of tangerine, marigold, freesia, jasmine, apricot, sandalwood and vanilla, has not been changed, packaging has been “modernized,” said McMahon. For instance, the former, heavily faceted bottle has given way to a bottle with a cleaner look. And the jeweled neck of the new bottle features a detachable charm.

The scent, which comes in a 50-ml. size for $70 and a 100-ml. version for $95, is being promoted with blow-ins in the current Nordstrom catalogue. Also part of the promotional effort is a video for the fragrance, which is to be played in-store. There will be vial-on-card samples as well, and a roll-on version of the scent is to be featured at St. John’s July 22 fashion show.

Additionally, the scent is to be featured during a second visual week set to coincide with Nordstrom’s annual anniversary sale in mid-July. At that time, a candle will be added to the line, noted Bull, who said that a body cream, body lotion and shower gel are in the works for holiday.

Looking further down the road, McMahon indicated that a flanker or a stand-alone fragrance was a possibility for the third quarter of next year.

“We see multiple fragrance offerings from St. John and related beauty products in the future,” said McMahon. “It’s a significant business opportunity for us.”