PARIS — With its new, youthful fragrance due out in spring, Hermès hopes to lure women in touch with their inner child.

The whimsical scent, called Eau des Merveilles (French for Water of Wonders), is slated to hit Hermès stores worldwide in early March 2004, followed later that month by an international rollout in selective distribution.

Veronique Gautier, chief executive officer at Hermès Parfums, described the fragrance as surprising, refreshing and magical.

Take Eau des Merveilles’ juice, for instance, which was inspired by ambergris — a rare substance regurgitated by whales and composed mainly of cuttlefish beaks. Ambergris is prized for being sweet and pleasantly scented, and it has been used as a fixative for rare fragrances for ages.

“For me, ambergris is a magical material,” said Givaudan’s perfumer Ralf Schwieger, who created the scent with Nathalie Feisthauer. He explained that it reminds him of the biblical tale of Jonah and the whale, where the prophet was swallowed alive.

“Ambergris has so many facets — ambery, woody, dark, a salty-sweet concoction with [notes of] ink and tobacco. My idea was to re-create it in my way,” he said.

Eau des Merveilles’ juice has notes that include elemi, bitter orange, Italian lemon, Indonesian pepper and pink pepper. There’s also what the house calls an “ambergris accord,” plus woody notes, including oak, cedar, vetiver, balsam of Peru and tears of Siam.

Unlike most fragrances, which traditionally only reveal woody and ambery notes at their base, Eau des Merveilles’ are noticeable throughout. And it has almost no floral notes — a rarity in a women’s scent.

Serge Mansau designed Eau des Merveilles’ orange-tinted bottle to invite play, like a toy. It is rounded, save for three flat planes — two on its bottom and one on its back, so the flacon can be set down slanting right or left, or laid flat and used as a magnifying glass. The bottle’s backside is flecked with silver stars and dots, which could be reminiscent of sand thrown by the sandman before sleep.

Eau des Merveilles’ outer box, created at Hermès, is like a theater showcasing the scent, said Gautier. It also is meant to resemble a secret drawer.While Hermès executives would not discuss numbers, industry sources estimate the new fragrance could generate more than $25 million in retail volume worldwide its first year. At the scent’s U.S. launch Thursday, Robert Chavez, president and chief executive of Hermès USA, expressed optimism for the scent’s prospects in the States. “We think it will be very significant,” he said. “It’s very signature in scent and packaging. It will be our biggest launch since 24, Faubourg four years ago.”

Publicis worked with Hermès on Eau des Merveilles’ advertising campaign, which will come in single and double pages. Twenty-, 30- and 40-second TV and film spots directed by Anthony Atanasio also are slated to break in April. In them, Brazilian model Jeisa spritzes the scent, which turns into a shower of sparkles, like stars in the daytime sky. She dances delightedly.

“It transmits the fantasy,” said Gautier.

Eau des Merveilles’ launch also will be backed by a sampling campaign, including 7-ml. miniatures on leather strings, Scent Seals and 5-ml. mini sprays.

The new fragrance’s lineup includes a 100-ml. eau de toilette spray for $100, a 50-ml. eau de toilette spray for $70, a 200-ml. body lotion for $45, a 200-ml. bath and shower gel for $40, a 100-ml. deodorant for $40 and a highlight pencil for the face for $25.

Eau des Merveilles joins 24, Faubourg; Caleche; Rouge; Hiris, and Amazone in Hermès’ women’s fragrance portfolio. Yet in spirit, the newest entrant is less traditional and classic than those others, perhaps closest to the house’s most recent fragrance, Un Jardin en Mediterranée, a light unisex scent introduced this year, said Gautier.

The idea is for Eau des Merveilles to seduce a new client to Hermès, she added.

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