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Beauty Beat: Firmenich Gets Hip-Hop Vibe

"I've never been to a book party in my life," admitted Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter on Monday night, surveying the packed room assembled for the launch party for Kevin Liles' book, "Make It Happen: The Hip-Hop Generation Guide to Success" (Atria Books,...

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NEW YORK — “I’ve never been to a book party in my life,” admitted Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter on Monday night, surveying the packed room assembled for the launch party for Kevin Liles’ book, “Make It Happen: The Hip-Hop Generation Guide to Success” (Atria Books, cowritten with Samantha Marshall). “Actually, this looks like a rap party.”

He wasn’t kidding. Liles, who in nine years rose from unpaid intern to president of Def Jam Records — and is now executive vice president of Warner Music Group — has over the years worked with some of music’s top names, and several hundred of them turned out to celebrate his book.

“Kevin and I come from the same story and epitomize the entrepreneurial spirit of the inner city, the community we came from,” said Sean “Diddy” Combs, who arrived fashionably late, clad in a stylish mix of Gucci and Sean John apparel.

Agreed Russell Simmons: “I’ve known Kevin for many years, and he has always been the best example of what we can do with hip-hop.”

Gayle King, editor at large of O, the Oprah Magazine, had a slightly different view: “I am a square with four corners,” she cracked, “and Kevin is the epitome of cool.”

As he introduced Liles, Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of Warner Music Group, said dryly: “Kevin felt it was important that at least one white person get up here and say something nice.” Turning serious, he added, “Kevin has been a blessing to the Warner Music Group…in some ways, he is its spiritual center.”

Liles’ message, both in his book and in day-to-day life, is clear: hard work, and plenty of it, will pay off in the long run. “Anyone who doesn’t believe in hard work — don’t read this book,” he told the crowd, a theme he continued in a private conversation. “A lot of people want to put the initials ‘ceo’ in front of their name — but that has to be backed up with hard work,” he said later. Liles had studied engineering at Morgan State for four years before heading into the hip-hop arena. He now advises aspiring moguls to go after internships. “Not necessarily unpaid internships, like I had,” Liles said with a laugh, “but if you start at that level, no one can ever say that you didn’t pay your dues.”

This story first appeared in the September 28, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The event was held at the Madison Avenue offices of Firmenich, the Geneva-based fragrance supplier — and appropriately enough, a number of high-profile guests admitted to scent projects in the works or under consideration. Simmons noted that he’s working on a men’s counterpart to his wife Kimora’s successful Baby Phat Goddess scent, which was launched this month by Coty’s Lancaster division. “It’s a spiritual kind of fragrance,” Simmons told WWD of his scent. “And we’re going to break some rules.”

Combs, whose men’s fragrance brand launches in December with a high-end version for Saks Fifth Avenue, said he’s already hard at work on an upcoming women’s scent, among other projects. And Carter, who entered the beauty business this spring by investing in indie brand Carol’s Daughter, said he wouldn’t rule out doing a fragrance. “Who knows?” he said with a shrug. “Anything’s possible.” He could always ask his main squeeze about that: Beyoncé Knowles, who arrived with Carter, is already fronting two fragrances produced by Tommy Hilfiger Toiletries, True Star and True Star Gold.

The evening took on a matchmaking flavor with the presence of manufacturers like Pamela Baxter, president and ceo of LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics in the U.S., and Neil Katz, president and ceo of Gemini Cosmetics Inc. Representatives of the Estée Lauder Cos. also mixed with the hip-hop crowd, suggesting that more star scent deals could happen sooner rather than later.

That’s fine by Daniel Rachmanis, president, fine fragrance, Americas at Firmenich, who predicted that the consumer lust for celebrity fragrances would continue to build. “I think as long as the consumer relates to the [celebrity] lifestyles, fragrances will be a part of that,” said Rachmanis.

In fact, Firmenich and Morris L. Reid of Westin Rinehart, the strategic communications firm, are actively working to facilitate such deals, with celebrities, apparel brands, fashion designers, musicians and athletes.

“We want to work with celebrities and with fragrance companies,” said Théo Spilka, vice president, fine fragrances and new business development at Firmenich, adding that the firm is also offering guidance regarding well-matched pairings. “Maybe the celebrities are coming to us saying, ‘We’d like such-and-such company,’ and it isn’t the right fit,” he said. “We’ll steer them in the right direction, to the company best suited for their project.”

Spilka asserted that Firmenich is not only interested in pairing celebrities on top now but “those coming up. We want to be on the ground floor.”

That made sense to the evening’s guest of honor: “Fragrance, music — they’re both entertainment and a creative way to express yourself,” Liles said.

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