Oscar de la Renta’s New Essentials

To the designer, fragrance is not much different from fashion.

Oscar de la Renta’s Essential Luxuries lineup.

To Oscar de la Renta, fragrance is not much different from fashion. Now, with Essential Luxuries, a new sextet of women’s scents launching in September, he has created a collection which references his most loved people, places and things.

This story first appeared in the August 31, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Why six, as opposed to one? “We don’t change the way we look on a daily basis, but we may want to change the way we smell,” said de la Renta during an exclusive interview at his Manhattan offices this week. “A woman now wants to represent herself in many different ways, at different times. There is a world that is wide open to women, with a lot of choices. I no longer think a woman is married to one fragrance.”

Over the years, the charismatic designer’s name has certainly had staying power in the beauty space as well as the fashion space. De la Renta’s original women’s scent, Oscar, was launched in 1977 and is considered an American classic. Over the years, his fragrance license has been held by a series of licensees, culminating in a court fight with L’Oréal, and an arbitration, which de la Renta won. He and Alexander Bolen, chief executive officer at Oscar de la Renta, took the license back in house and immediately set out to reinforce the brand’s high-end luxury positioning.

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In 2011, de la Renta made his reentry into the business prior to Mother’s Day with the introduction of an updated eau de parfum version of his Oscar scent called Esprit d’Oscar Eau de Parfum. “We’ve been very pleased with our progress,” said Bolen. “Our intention with this is to continue the rehabilitation and elevation of our [beauty] brand, which had lost its way a little bit over the last decade or so. It’s a very personal collection that tells the consumer not only are we a prestigious fragrance house, but what that means. Who better to tell that story than Oscar?”

Each of the Essential Luxuries fragrances have important meanings to de la Renta. Santo Domingo, a tabac-based scent named for the designer’s birthplace in the Dominican Republic, opens with citrus notes, which blend into notes of sweet and spicy mandarin, coriander, patchouli and tobacco.

Granada, inspired by the gardens of the Alhambra in Spain, is what the designer calls a romantic citrus floral, with key notes of bigarade and bergamot, supported by jasmine, orange and rose. “It’s a magical place that has great romantic memories for me,” de la Renta said, adding that he proposed marriage to his wife there privately, after the gardens were closed for the day. The neck of the fragrance bottles have a intertwined symbol which is based on a tile at the Alhambra, he added, and it is used throughout the de la Renta design universe.

Oriental Lace, a dark oriental with gourmand elements, references his ready-to-wear collection. It has notes of hoya carnosa, a chocolate-scented vine which de la Renta grows in his Punta Cana home, as well as honey, bitter almond, dark cacao, clove and patchouli notes.

Mi Corazon, inspired by the designer’s daughter Eliza (the company’s creative director of licensing) and their shared love of ylang ylang, is a floral juice with a lush accord of tuberose, hand-picked ylang ylang and peach.

Sargasso, named for the deep blue-green sea surrounding the beach of the designer’s Punta Cana home, has juniper, lemon and cucumber notes, referencing the beachy scent of the abundant marine vegetation which washes up on his beach there. “You can extract a lot of different, really good things out of it,” he said, suggesting it could form the base of a future skin-care line.

Coralina is a ladylike floral named for a coral-colored stone indigenous to the Dominican Republic, which is used in abundance in the designer’s home there and in his boutiques. It is a blend of violet, mimosa and orris, with woody green notes.

All six were concocted by Givaudan’s Calice Becker working with de la Renta. A digital quiz, Scent Stylist, is intended to lead consumers to their perfect de la Renta scent match.

Each scent will retail for $150 for 3.4-oz. bottles. All are eaux de parfum except Sargasso, which is an eau de cologne. The scents, which will launch on Sept. 6 at Fashion’s Night Out, will be exclusive to Saks Fifth Avenue’s Fifth Avenue flagship, saks.com, Oscar de la Renta boutiques and oscardelarenta.com to start.

“We want to launch a truly prestige product and we want to launch it in important wholesale accounts around the world, but not a broad distribution,” said Bolen, adding that additional scents are likely to join the collection going forward. It will enter additional Saks doors next year. “This is by design a niche product,” said Bolen.

While executives declined comment on projected sales, industry sources estimated that the collection could do between $500,000 and $1 million at retail in its first year on counter.

Eventually, Bolen and de la Renta plan to branch out into additional beauty categories. “We have a little nail lacquer experiment right now,” said Bolen of the limited-edition collection of three shades — which were shown on models at de la Renta’s rtw show in February — with Who What Wear, a fashion Web site and blog.

“It’s a way for us to really see how customers think of the Oscar de la Renta name in beauty products,” said Bolen. “We think color is a natural — Oscar is so known for his use of color. I expect that for the runway in September that we will have more shades, as well as some lip shades. The great thing about the digital world is that it does allow for some experimentation, if one is not afraid to have something not work out. I think that a full color cosmetics line is complicated, but the idea of lip and nail is tremendously appealing. It’s a competitive world, but it seems to us a logical fit for our brand.”