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NEW YORK — In the world of tennis, Andre Agassi is a special sort of champion, having beaten the odds — as well as a long list of opponents — at the ripe old age of 32, while becoming one of the most enduring superstars in the history of professional sports.
Perhaps it wasn’t completely a surprise, then, when The Estée Lauder Cos. announced Thursday that the resilient superstar has become the spokesman for a new fragrance from Aramis, the venerable brand that created the prestige men’s category in the U.S. in 1964, but has subsequently taken a backseat to a number of fashion-driven rivals.
Aramis’ teaming with the man who not only won the Australian Open this year, but also became the oldest player in the history of the Association of Tennis Professionals to finish number two last year, is seen as a winning combination by John Karp, president of Aramis and the Designer Fragrances Division of Lauder. Karp sees Agassi’s endorsement as a powerful springboard for “a major build of the Aramis franchise.” Describing Aramis as a very steady, healthy brand that still ranks in the top 10 globally, Karp noted: “Andre gives us the opportunity to connect with a whole new group of consumers.”
Worldwide, the core Aramis user is a group of men in their late 30s and 40s. Karp figures that Agassi will attract consumers that are his peers — in their early 30s. This would give the brand a more hip, modern relevance.
The first vehicle for this process will be the introduction of a men’s fragrance, prominently displaying the Aramis name, in September, with Agassi appearing in print and TV advertising.
It will be a global launch rolled out to 60 or 65 countries. While Lauder executives do not break out sales forecasts on launches, Aramis is clearly aiming for a top-10 ranking in key markets. Moreover, the endorsement agreement was described as a “multiyear” pact and Karp expects to launch at least one more major fragrance with Agassi.
According to industry sources, the Aramis brand generates $50 million wholesale worldwide, and it is estimated that the Agassi partnership could double the size of the franchise over the life of the agreement.
Karp said the marketing positioning on the first fragrance remains up in the air because he wanted to wait and work it out with Agassi, but it will not be a sports-oriented product. However, it will continue in Aramis’ prestige orientation.
Interviewed by phone at home in Las Vegas, Agassi seemed to welcome the prospect of working on the project because “it needs to be an authentic product that I use myself.” Noting that he has used Aramis in the past, Agassi indicated that he sees an association with Lauder as something to aspire to, and he seemed ready to participate fully, referring to the deal as “a partnership” and “a relationship.” He also has relationships with Canon, Nike, Head and Schick.
When asked what kind of fragrance his wife, Steffi Graf, prefers on men, he laughed and replied, “something mild, not too much.”
Agassi seems the most animated when the conversation turns to the charter public school — the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy — that his foundation sponsors. The school now has 200 students enrolled in grades three through six. Aramis and the Designer Fragrance Division has become the lead corporate sponsor of the Andre Agassi Charitable Foundation and the deal will help finance the expansion of the school to grades seven through nine. Karp was in Las Vegas Thursday for the groundbreaking of the second phase of school construction, due to be finished by September. Grades 10 through 12 are planned for the future.
Aramis also will underwrite the Grand Slam for Children fundraising concert that is scheduled for Oct. 4 in the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Last year’s concert — featuring Elton John, Carlos Santana and Rod Stewart — raised $5.6 million in one evening. Lauder executives refused to discuss terms of the relationship, but industry sources estimate its worth at more than $1 million over the course of several years, in a complicated arrangement involving both Agassi and his foundation.
The school serves at-risk students with the aim of reducing dropout rates. Asked why he developed an interest in education, Agassi said he chose it as the best way “to give back” to society and an avenue that provides “the best way to affect a child’s life.”
Karp said he was impressed with Agassi’s down-to-earth modesty and his maturity, a characteristic that fits the brand, despite more than a touch of rebelliousness. He also has strong sex appeal, Karp noted, adding that what sets the star apart is “this drive to exceed expectation.”