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NEW YORK — Tom Ford has summoned the glamour and daring spirit of Estée Lauder, the woman who put American fragrance and herself on the map when she launched Youth Dew in 1953.
And it’s the naked truth that “it’s the time for the reinstitution of glamour and exclusivity,” Ford told WWD during an exclusive phone interview from his London home on Thursday. “I want to go back to real luxury, the highest quality products. Luxury has gone mass,” Ford said, admitting that he played a major part in that movement at Gucci. “It’s time to change that.”
And he’s prepared to lead the charge with Amber Nude, his first cosmetics and fragrance collection for the Estée Lauder brand, coming in early November. Branded under the Tom Ford Estée Lauder name, the 14-stockkeeping-unit collection is relatively pricy: lipsticks retail for $35; an impressively sized bronzer is $60. The eye-catcher of the collection is a $550 gold minaudière, containing a lip polish and a face powder.
The 2.5-oz. Youth Dew Amber Nude eau de parfum spray retails for $65, compared with $28 for a 2.25-oz. bottle of the 52-year-old Youth Dew original, which is still being sold. There’s a solid perfume in a gold-toned compact for $150 and an atomizer parfum purse spray with refill for $225. One practical touch is a $35 lip transformer called Lip Polish, which allows a consumer to adjust the tones of the other lipsticks by layering. Face and eye glosses, designed to be layered over other products and even applied by hand, are $40 each. Nail enamel retails for $25 and face powder is priced at $50. And there’s 24-karat gold in the lip polish and the face gloss: The usual cost-of-goods worries apparently didn’t apply. All of the products in this collection are limited editions, with the exception of the Amber Nude eau de parfum.
The Amber Nude lineup will enter a sliver of Lauder’s traditional 2,000-door North American distribution in November. Like its predecessor, the new fragrance and its makeup collection will be launched in an old-fashioned way, when businesses were built one specialty store at a time. In early November, the fragrance and makeup will enter 100 doors, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Holt Renfrew in Canada. In early December, another 125 doors of Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom will be added to the fragrance distribution. In January, the fragrance distribution will add 775 doors. Overseas, select doors in key markets will be added. It will be sold in freestanding Lauder doors in Las Vegas and Manhasset, N.Y., and on the company’s Web site. The North American fragrance distribution will end up at 1,000 doors.
“[Amber Nude] is being launched only in specialty stores,” Ford said. “The price points are high because the quality is great; we didn’t want to play the price game. Price shouldn’t be the main component. It’s time for authenticity.” He’ll continue that commitment with a second color collection for the Estée Lauder brand this spring and a freestanding fragrance and color collection under his own name in fall 2006.
John Demsey, global president of the Estée Lauder and MAC Cosmetics brands, sees the collection as the first step in a major modernization of the Estée Lauder brand. Demsey pointed out that Lauder herself was “a woman way ahead of her time,” not afraid to break barriers and show what women could achieve at a time when that was generally not done. Referring to this effort, Demsey said that he wants this collection to set the stage for the eponymous Tom Ford collection, due in fall 2006 and “a rethinking of the Estée Lauder brand.”
But it’s being done with a nod to the spirit of Estée Lauder. In fact, Leonard Lauder, Estée’s son and chairman of the company that bears her name, has pointed out that the consumer reaction to the original was a major building block for the company. In fact, in 1960, it accounted for 80 percent of the company’s sales, he said.
The updated Ford effort, combined with Gwyneth Paltrow cutting a swath through the media now with her new Pleasures advertising campaign, are creating a major moment for the Lauder brand. “It’s a statement of who we were and who we are and where we are going,” said Demsey, adding that “the positives [of these moves] so outweighs the risks.”
While Demsey made it clear that he sees the Ford collection as primarily having an impact in terms of the brand’s global image, industry observers also think that this collection will create a lot of excitement at the counter — particularly since such small quantities will be available. Industry sources estimate that Lauder produced only $2.5 million worth of cosmetics and a similarly limited number of eau de parfum units for the initial rollout. While the company does not break out projections, industry sources also estimate that the total collection will generate about $5 million at retail for November and December in the U.S., which is high productivity considering the handful of doors in which it will be distributed.
After the makeup has been sold out, the 2.5-oz. eau de parfum spray will continue to be marketed globally. Sources estimate that it will do $30 million at retail in the first eight months of 2006, when it will be rolled out to selected accounts around the world. Likewise, sources estimated that Lauder would spend $8 million on advertising and promotion in North America and more than $12 million globally to promote the Amber Nude products. The magazine advertising, which will appear in Vogue and W (which, like WWD, are both units of Advance Publications Inc.), begins in December.
And with Tom Ford being, well, Tom Ford, nudity did enter into the equation — both with the first collection’s name and its advertising visual, which features Carolyn Murphy wearing the cosmetics collection and little else.
“People may look at this ad and say, ‘Oh, Tom Ford — all he does is take people’s clothes off,'” Ford said with a laugh. “[Carolyn] doesn’t have a lot clothes on [in the ad, in fact] she’s not wearing anything.”
Ford pointed out that Lauder also ditched the clothes for the original Fifties Youth Dew ad, when nudity was even more shocking. “The model in the original ad [released in 1953] was also nude,” Ford said. And there’s a reason for that: “Youth Dew has always been one of Estée Lauder’s sexiest fragrances,” he said.
And Demsey had no problems with the admittedly sexy advertising. “Tom was the ultimate bandleader, and we were his orchestra,” he said, adding that Ford also had more than a little in common with the brand’s namesake, Estée Lauder. “She was an American woman with an international sensibility and he is an American man with an international sensibility,” said Demsey, who repeatedly referred to Ford’s “laser focus.”
Ford’s powerhouse orchestra members also included Aerin Lauder, senior vice president of global creative directions for the Estée Lauder brand; Evelyn Lauder, senior corporate vice president of the Estée Lauder Cos., and Andrea Robinson, chief marketing officer for the Lauder brand. For the fragrance, Karyn Khoury, senior vice president of corporate fragrance worldwide, helped Ford find the right mix, while Annie Carullo, senior vice president of global product innovation, played a part in finalizing the cosmetics. “This is the first time we’ve let somebody come in here and touch all the elements [of the brand],” Demsey said, adding, “We’ve never had a 360-degree approach.”
And Ford, who signed this deal with Lauder in April to worldwide fanfare, is impressed that the first group of products came to fruition so quickly: “Everyone just killed themselves to do it on time,” said Ford.
There was never a doubt in his mind, however, about the first product he planned. “It had to be Youth Dew,” he said. “My grandmother really did wear Youth Dew. My first experience with the Estée Lauder Cos. was with that fragrance, and it’s a fragrance that I’ve personally loved. [However,] in its original incarnation, it might be a bit heavy for today’s tastes. But at its heart is a very wearable, sexy fragrance.”
Ford and his team turned to International Flavors & Fragrances, which had produced the original Youth Dew — which many see as the first modern Oriental fragrance — to help craft the new amber-infused version.
“The original Youth Dew was very concentrated because it was conceived as a bath oil,” said Ford, referring to the 30 percent oil concentration. “[For Amber Nude] we cut the concentration of the fragrance in half, then went back in and added magnolia and ginger to give the top notes more sparkle. We retained the vetiver and sandalwood [in the drydown]. We wanted people to smell it and say, ‘Wow, Youth Dew — that smells amazing,’ not like a different fragrance.”
Amber Nude’s top notes also include fresh tea, grapefruit and a bare skin accord; while the heart adds textured black rose to the original creation’s red carnations, jasmine and ylang-ylang. The drydown retains Youth Dew’s patchouli notes, and adds amber, vetiver and a dark chocolate note that replaces the original vanilla in the finish.
Ford noted that some ingredients in the original mix have themselves changed over the years. “For instance, the patchouli — which is a major part of this fragrance — that is used today is much lighter than what was used in the Fifties. But it was important to keep it in the fragrance because it’s part of the [Lauder] heritage.”
The color also got a makeover: “The original was almost maple syrup in color,” Ford said. “This one is an amber shade.”
Ford also looked to the brand’s heritage for the compacts and fragrance bottle packaging. “I took the original bottle and streamlined it,” he said, adding that the original bottle was inspired by a woman’s silhouette. “Women’s silhouettes in the Fifties were different from today’s, so it made sense to streamline [the bottle]. The color of the bow on the bottle and the way it is tied also changed, and we added an amber topaz cabochon on the cap.
“We went back into the [Estée Lauder] archives and looked at all of the great Sixties and Seventies compacts and solid perfumes,” Ford continued. “They had metal compacts, not metallized plastic. They were very glamorous, as was the life that Estée Lauder herself aspired to and led. I wanted to put that level of quality into this collection.”
Speaking of the brand’s iconic founder — does Ford worry about what she would have thought of his collection? In a word, no. “When I was at YSL, I didn’t worry about what Yves Saint Laurent was thinking, either. You can’t think that way. Other brands that have existed for a long time think [when faced with change], ‘Oh, that isn’t the brand.’ As I did while at YSL [and Gucci] I tried to think of what the brand stands for, then do a contemporary version of that.”
But it’s likely she would have approved. “If Estée Lauder were here today, God knows what she would be doing,” said Ford. “She was the leader of the pack, very aggressive. People may think that she was conservative, but she was a real innovator,” he said.
Leonard Lauder thinks his mother would have approved of Ford’s effort. “Estée Lauder had always partnered with the best talents of every generation, and Tom Ford is the top imagemaker of our time,” he said Thursday. “The collection blends the best of Estée Lauder’s heritage with Tom’s modern approach to style and beauty. Mrs. Estée Lauder would have loved this association.”
Ford describes the collection as a marriage of luxury, glamour and clean lines. “It’s very Palm Beach, in a sense,” he said, revealing that “Palm Beach” is the code name for the spring rendition of the Tom Ford Estée Lauder Collection. “It’s the idea that makeup is glamorous, which we’ve forgotten to a certain extent with all of the minimalism in makeup. I love makeup. I’ve always tried to create a statement with the makeup in my [runway] shows.
“They’ll have a spring feeling,” he teased, regarding the spring 2006 collection, also inspired by vintage Estée Lauder products. “And the packaging is going to be geared for spring. They’re the kinds of things that will look good with a short skirt. But there won’t be a new fragrance with spring.”
By contrast, Ford sees the fall collection as “much more about evening,” a point he proved by designing the limited-edition gold minaudière for the collection. Fewer than 700 of the sleek gold-toned clutches will be produced.
Ford will begin shooting the spring advertising campaign on the 20th of this month. As with the fall collection, the visuals will feature Murphy. “I did that on purpose,” he said. “With both the fall and spring ads, I wanted to take Carolyn [who has been the brand’s face for the past four years] and show a different side of her. It’s a much sexier image [than what has been used of Murphy in the past].”
While he wouldn’t reveal details of the spring campaign, Ford did say he’s rather fond of the fall one. “Carolyn looks so expensive [in the ad],” said Ford, adding that Murphy is wearing the complete color collection in the visual, which was shot by Craig McDean. “She looks like a bit of toffee — you just want to take a bite of her.”
Ford is also speeding full steam ahead with his eponymous fragrance and color cosmetics collection, which will launch in fall 2006. “This has been wonderful. One of the reasons I wanted to work with the [Estée] Lauder Cos. is because there is a strong connection to its family. Not that other companies don’t have professionalism, but there are still Lauders walking the hall here, and that makes a difference. And John Demsey is great — he’s a major reason we’re doing this with Lauder.”
Ford said his favorite product is the atomizer. “It’s probably going to be the last to be delivered because [atomizers] are tough to do. I also like the solid perfume — not too many people do them.”