Byline: JULIE L. BELCOVE
NEW YORK — The Donna Karan Beauty Co. has shifted into high gear as it prepares to launch DK Men, its first men’s fragrance, in October, just three months after the introduction of a skin care line.
Auto racing is the force in the creation of the juice, the bottle and the ad campaign.
“When I see my husband — the guy with the toys, the cool dude, the hottest guy around — it’s always with his hand on the throttle; it’s always power,” Karan said.
As it did with Donna Karan New York, the designer’s women’s scent, the company is planning an exclusive launch for DK Men and is shooting for a top-five ranking.
Rather than adding DK Men to the men’s fragrance bars, Karan said, she wants to build DK Men boutiques on stores’ main floors, straddling the men’s and the cosmetics departments.
In addition to housing the fragrance, the boutiques would carry Karan’s new men’s belts, bags, caps, key chains and other accessories.
The prototype for the boutique is sleek and predominantly black, with asymmetric angles similar to those on the fragrance box. Karan described it as “a world for DK Men.”
The company intends to introduce DK Men in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in mid-October, but the stores in which it will bow have not yet been decided, according to Stephan Weiss, Karan’s husband and business partner.
Weiss said he wants to limit distribution to one or two doors in each of those cities in 1994 and roll out the men’s scent to 300 doors in 1995.
Karan entered the beauty business in fall 1992 with the launch of her women’s fragrance, Donna Karan New York, at Bloomingdale’s. It remains the chain’s number-one women’s scent, according to Jane Scott, vice president and divisional merchandise manager.
The women’s fragrance will be in about 320 doors by the end of 1994, and Formula, the facial treatment line due in stores next week, will be in about 120 doors by yearend.
The goal is for DK Men to be among the top five men’s scents in each door, said Weiss.
Jane Terker, president of the Beauty Co., estimated DK Men will do $5 million at retail in the last three months of this year.
The women’s brand reportedly should hit $30 million at retail in 1994, almost 50 percent of it from the bath and body line, while Formula could bring in an additional $9 million to $12 million.
Herb Ritts photographed the print ad and the TV commercial for DK Men. The commercial plays up the race car theme. Instead of music, the vrooming sounds of an accelerating engine are heard as a car is shown speeding around a track. The man behind the wheel has a well-worn face, and actor Liam Neeson does the voiceover.
The company plans to spend $3 million on the ad campaign in 1994, Weiss said. The print ads will run in men’s, women’s and outdoor magazines.
Weiss, who is a sculptor, created the black and gunmetal gray abstract bottle.
“It’s like the grip of a throttle on an airplane; it’s like the gear shift when I used to race cars,” Weiss said, evoking two former hobbies of his.
The outer packaging is asymmetric, with “DK” and “Men” wrapping around two sides of the box.
The company had a tough time settling on a name for the men’s scent, with some executives reportedly leaning toward “Thrust.” Karan said the way “DK Men” looks on the box convinced her it was the right name.
As for developing the juice, Weiss asked International Flavors & Fragrances to create a fragrance that related to the smells he remembered as an auto racer, pilot and rock climber.
Weiss said that DK Men required only minor tinkering after the initial submission from IFF, which also had developed the women’s scent.
The juice includes what Weiss describes as an “accelerated burst” of citrus, plus notes of tobacco and spices. The scent also has the same leathery suede accord as the women’s fragrance.
Karan noted that while she developed Donna Karan New York as a personal scent for a woman to enjoy on herself, she wanted DK Men to please its wearer’s significant other.
“I make him put it on at night,” she said, referring to her husband.
DK Men’s bath line, called Performance Bodycare and packaged in plastic tubes, will make its debut with the fragrance.
As with the women’s bath and body line, Performance Bodycare does not replicate the men’s fragrance but contains elements of it.
The collection also follows the women’s brand’s strategy of emphasizing efficacy over fragrance layering. The soap, for example, contains aloe vera, and the after-shave lotion has a sunscreen.
The full range consists of a 2.5-oz. cologne spray for $45 and cologne pour for $42, a 4-oz. after shave lotion with SPF 15 for $32, a 6-oz. hair and body shampoo for $17.50, the same size shave cream also for $17.50, a 5-oz. moisturizing soap for $15 and a 2-oz. antiperspirant/deodorant for $15.
Since its inception just over two years ago, the Donna Karan Beauty Co. has been one of the most controversial in the industry, causing some industry veterans to question the wisdom of Karan’s decision to go it alone rather than sign a licensing deal and leading some retailers to complain about amateurish manufacturing defects and shipping delays.
During an interview this week, Karan and Weiss denied reports that the beauty company’s losses are causing financial problems for the design house.
“The beauty company is performing exactly as we planned it to perform, and we planned it to lose certain degrees of money,” Weiss said, claiming that sales are ahead of plan. “We’re trying to build a beauty company here, not just a brand of fragrance.”
Weiss declined to elaborate on the losses, but according to the company’s 1993 prospectus for an initial public offering that was later canceled, the beauty business lost $4.9 million in 1992 and another $1 million in the first quarter of 1993.
Karan noted in the interview that developing the products from scratch “takes a lot of money,” and added, “We are doing it as an investment.”
“We’re beating plan almost everywhere,” Terker said, adding that the women’s fragrance is running double-digit increases on a same-store basis.
And although some retailers say the success of the bath and body line saved the women’s fragrance business, store executives acknowledge that the brand has made its mark. “It is by far, by far, my number one,” said Bloomingdale’s Scott, who noted that the fragrance itself is still the best-selling product. Scott added that since the advance ads on Formula ran, the store has had “a ton of calls.”
“It is today an extremely important part of our business,” said Allen Burke, divisional merchandise manager at Minneapolis-based Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s.
Burke said that in the roughly 30 DH & Field’s units that carry it, Donna Karan New York is in the top 10. He added that he has never seen a stronger bath and body line for a fragrance.
“The numbers are major league,” he said, adding that a full-fledged Donna Karan beauty business “is clearly under way here.”
Another retailer said that although the business has dropped off in some doors, overall it is running ahead this year. The retailer noted that the Donna Karan name “carries a tremendous amount of weight.”
Burke called DK Men “terribly exciting” and “very distinctive.”
Scott said, “It’s absolutely in keeping with the originality and the uniqueness of the women’s brand. It’s masculine, and it’s forceful in terms of the way it looks. It’s sexy, and it’s sophisticated. It’s a winner.”