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Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren have easily slipped into the New York vibe. First they hosted a fifth anniversary party for their Flowerbomb fragrance in the West Village Wednesday and tonight they will be climbing into bed at Saks Fifth Avenue as part of Fashion’s Night Out and inviting the entire city to join them.
The quirky duo will be holding court on a mattress in Saks Fifth Avenue’s Manhattan flagship from 9:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., accompanied by tunes spun by DJ Damian Kulash of OK Go.
“It will be a huge bed with us in it,” said Horsting with a roguish grin. “We are there, people can join us in bed and get their picture taken.”
“And we can be lazy and sit back and relax,” said Snoeren with a laugh.
Such outside-the-box thinking typifies the designers’ approach to life, fashion and fragrance. Clad in comfortable shirts paired with faded jeans embroidered with navy blue eyeglasses (Horsting) or plaid pants (Snoeren), the duo freely discussed their viewpoints on both fashion and fragrance. For instance, they expressed amazement that Fashion’s Night Out has already been institutionalized into its own acronym. Snoeren observed, “It’s a great initiative.” Horsting added, “It feels like it has always been there.”
Snoeren continued, “I love how it’s already been abbreviated FNO.”
Also they seemed enthusiastic about the vitality of new talent bubbling up in the New York fashion scene. “It’s really surprising how many young, new designers emerge [at New York Fashion Week] in these waves, and in a way we wonder how is that possible, businesswise,” Snoeren said. “You can put up a show a couple of times, but to sustain that and become a brand, that’s not easy.” He noted that, with the possible exception of London, there are fewer new designers emerging in Europe.
“It’s so important to persevere,” added Horsting. “It’s probably the biggest quality you have to have in fashion.”
Originality also tops Horsting’s list of most necessary attributes. “What we feel is always needed [in fashion] is originality — and your own point of view. Originality-wise, [the industry is] not on a high [note] in fashion history. I think we are all talking very much about how we’re going to market on the Internet and e-commerce and social networking and celebrities — which is all very important. In our case we try to focus on substance — or at least not forget it.”
“Fashion shows today are very different from the past,” said Snoeren. “We started to love fashion, because there was mystery. We have the feeling that that is hard to find sometimes now.” Horsting added, “It’s great that it’s so accessible, but by the time you’re in Paris Fashion Week you feel that it’s all old news. It’s exhausted.”
The designers also take a dim view of all the fashion-themed reality shows: “It’s a very warped, twisted vision of fashion,” said Horsting. “It’s a show about Tyra, not about models. It’s fun. We try to participate, but it’s well to keep some sort of mystery. Otherwise, it’s not good.”
Their penchant for originality is also reflected in the startling success of Flowerbomb, which is still going strong after five years in a market where products sometimes die after their first birthday. The Viktor & Rolf scent ranked fifth in the overall U.S. fragrance market in July and ninth on a year-to-date basis, according to The NPD Group figures quoted by executives at L’Oréal USA, the design duo’s licensee. The fragrance has been top ranked in the specialty store channel for some time. Although the company would not quote figures, industry sources estimate Flowerbomb generates retail sales of about $30 million annually in the U.S. alone, the fragrance’s top market, which represents more than one third of the global total.
The creative process began with the name. “We had the word, Flowerbomb, and thought it should be an explosion of flowers,” said Snoeren. “It shouldn’t be one flower, and it shouldn’t be a timid scent. It should be big, explosive, sparkling. But it shouldn’t be just flowers — it should have an edge and it should be very recognizable.”
Snoeren and Horsting were also determined that their first scent capture the essence of who they are. “Transformation is a very important word in our universe — transforming anything into something positive and beautiful and spectacular,” said Snoeren. “We wanted the perfume to be a weapon to do that — a very positive weapon, like a new kind of flower power. We work a lot with opposites, that when put together are quite unlikely. But they create attention. First, we had the name, Flowerbomb — before anything else, there was the name, which was evocative. We asked, ‘What does a flowerbomb, smell like, look like?’”
The brand was launched in specialty stores and still has only 500 doors in the U.S., because the company wanted to create a new distribution model. Carol Hamilton, president of the Luxury Products Division of L’Oréal USA, said that move allowed marketers “to create a brand with a personality and a real point of difference.” The audacity was carried through to the hand-grenade shaped bottle. “We liked the fact that there is this double meaning [about the bottle],” said Snoeren.
“Like a diamond bomb and a jewel,” added Horsting. “It was daring. That creates some kind of energy.”
“For us, it’s a weapon to do good things,” said Horsting.
The designers also have an itch to go into additional product categories, including cosmetics. “We’d love to do beauty, especially makeup,” said Snoeren.
“Because our shows are always so about spectacular beauty, that we feel makeup would be good,” said Horsting. “There are no plans yet. But it’s an ambition.”
“For us, because we were talking about originality before — the main thing you have to have is something that is very recognizable,” said Horsting. “You need to have a perfume — Flowerbomb needs to be very recognizable. It is…because there is too much going into a trend or a little bit of this and a little bit of that.”
Clearly, neither designer is too worried about scoring high in focus group evaluations. “People are going to test things to death, and what comes out of the test is maybe a successful number, but it totally — it means it is the taste of the middle, which is never outspoken,” said Horsting.
The duo is deep in the process of formulating a new men’s fragrance, although Horsting declined comment on details.
“We took a smelling course before we started [Flowerbomb],” said Horsting. “For us, it’s important to grasp what’s on the market. It’s like learning how to speak — it’s really a new language. I think that really helped. It was a good, basic education.”
Antidote, the men’s scent the duo launched in 2006, continues to sell. “It’s not a Flowerbomb, but has a very loyal audience,” said Horsting. Like Flowerbomb, Antidote’s launch accompanied a fashion collection called Ballroom, for spring-summer 2007. Eau Mega, the women’s scent the duo launched last fall, didn’t fare quite as well, but the designers make no apologies. “Our aim was to create a fragrance that would complement Flowerbomb,” said Snoeren. “Where Flowerbomb is opulent and Oriental, a gourmand, we wanted Eau Mega to be sparkling and fresh, but in a glamorous way.”
“I think it’s a little bit like writing your second novel,” said Horsting. “When you do the first one, there’s no reference. When you do the second one, there’s a reference.”
The duo is also in the process of planning freestanding stores for their women’s and men’s rtw and accessories, which include footwear, handbags and eyewear. Paris will be first, opening in early 2011, followed by a New York location. They’re also looking at Tokyo, London and Milan.
To be certain, the designers have built solid fashion client bases in Europe and Asia, but their reach in America isn’t quite as widespread. It could change with New York, where they’ve developed a loyal following as evidenced by the Wednesday night bash. Snoeren and Horsting attracted a group of fashion-forward socials and artist types, including Lisa Airan, photographers Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin, Shalom Harlow, Liz Goldwyn and actress Elisa Sednaoui, to a private West Village townhome for birthday cake and a performance by Alison Goldfrapp. The musician took the stage in a wild get-up from the Viktor & Rolf spring collection that appeared to be heavily influenced by Lady Gaga, though as one guest observed, “She looked more like Queen Elizabeth.” Whatever her inspiration, Goldfrapp entertained the crowd with a four-song set, finishing with “Happy Birthday.”