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NEW YORK — Giorgio Armani struck a populist chord this week when he threw open the doors to his fashion show here — but his new fragrance is decidedly not aimed at the masses.

With a price point of $185 for a 1.7-oz. bottle in the U.S. and 150 euros in Europe, Armani’s new quartet of scents, called Privé and slated for a December global launch, is the latest entry in the emerging category of luxury fragrances. It also represents a striking departure for the brand.

There are four different scents, each packaged in a square container made of African Kotibe wood with a glass liner and a Brancusi-inspired rounded cap. The outer packaging will be a hardened box finished in sueded paper.

In addition, the fragrances are unisex, but will not be marketed with that as a selling point. They simply will be available on both the men’s and women’s fragrance bars. It harkens back to the early days of perfumery, according to Renaud de Lesquen, international general manager of Giorgio Armani Parfums & Cosmetiques, a division of L’Oréal, Armani’s licensee. “In the old days, fragrance didn’t have a sexual distinction. We gave fragrance a sex.”

During an interview Wednesday in his Casa Armani store in SoHo, the designer said he chose these four fragrances as a personal choice — meaning scents that he would use himself.

“I’m sure that this particular product will not have such a wide audience,” he said through a translator. “That is what makes the difference in fashion — it’s something not liked by everyone. I wanted to make something that discerning people would like.” It will be launched in only about 20 doors in the U.S. with equally scant distribution abroad.

When asked if this did not seem elitist at a time when he invited 2,000 spectators into his fashion show this week, Armani replied that he has a number of fragrances on the market that appeal to a great number of people. He cited market research showing his brand as ranking number three in the world in women’s and men’s fragrances combined and number one in men’s alone, driven by Acqua di Gio for Men.

This story first appeared in the October 29, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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For the new fragrance, however, he asserted: “I wanted to add a niche like couture.”

Patricia Turck Paquelier, international brand president of L’Oréal’s Prestige & Collections division, sees the launch’s significance outweighing its dollar potential.

The Privé price positioning will reinforce Armani’s luxury image, but its intimate merchandising is expected to also add something to the personality of brand.

She noted that the launch of Armani’s makeup collection in 2001 strengthened the feminine quality of the overall brand that had been identified largely with success in men’s fragrances.

Likewise, the Privé launch, which will take place mostly in boutiques and specialty stores with in-store attention replacing advertising, represents an effort to bring more to the customer and provide more service, she noted. “It’s a way to get closer to the customer and get the customer closer to us,” said Turck Paquelier, who sees this personal connection as a key to building a truly luxurious business.

She framed this point with such importance as to suggest that perhaps something may be learned from this launch that can be transferred to the brand’s other more widely distributed, commercial fragrances “in telling the Armani story.”

Serge Jureidini, general manager of Giorgio Armani Parfums & Cosmetics U.S., said the fragrance will be launched in the U.S. in the 10 Armani boutiques here and in another five to 10 select specialty stores, with more doors added in April.

This is truly a couture proposition. Executives don’t see the American distribution exceeding 40 doors by the second year. L’Oréal does not break out figures, but industry sources estimate that the fragrances will not generate more than $3 million to $5 million at retail in the U.S. alone for the first 12 months.

Likewise, in the rest of the world, the fragrances will be launched in Armani boutiques and select stores. De Lesquen said the line will be carried by Harrods in London, and talks are under way with Bon Marché in Paris and 10 Corso Como in Milan. The company also has targeted high-end perfumeries in Germany and has settled on El Corte Ingles in Spain.

Turck Paquelier estimated distribution will not exceed 200 doors worldwide by the end of 2005. The company is contemplating an exclusive approach to the duty-free market, perhaps with a boutique-type environment.

She added that the line will make its debut in Asia in 2005. Although Japan has a miniscule fragrance market, she sees a potential for gift-giving.

Jack Wiswall, president of the Designer Fragrances Division of L’Oréal USA in New York, also sees great gift potential in the U.S., which is why the fragrances will be launched the first week in December. “This is a great add-on sale,” he said. A gift set will be offered, including all four fragrances, for $740.

Chris Payne, director of marketing of Giorgio Armani Parfums, said three consumer groups are being targeted within the specialty store world — “the Armani addict, connoisseurs and trendsetters.”

The four fragrances were designed like natural scents one may find in a faraway exotic location. Eau de Jade, for instance, has only 11 ingredients. The other three are Pierre de Lune, Ambre Soie and Bois d’Encens.

When asked if the scents were inspired by travel, Armani replied, “I never traveled a lot in my life, but I [have] always worked a lot with my mind. I am a Cancer, oriented to nature. We live on this planet and we need to be connected to the Earth.”

The personal, private nature of his new fragrance project certainly puts Armani at odds with the wave of celebrity fragrances sweeping out of Hollywood. And he’s not impressed.

Armani said that one could ask how making a movie qualifies someone to make a fragrance, but then recants, pointing out that someone could easily ask how making clothes entitles one to sign a fragrance. But he does have a ready answer on the subject.

“Clothes are close to the body, and they are meant to embellish the body,” he said. “Perfumes are meant to do the same.”

He added that it’s inevitable that celebrities will endorse products, but asserts that “80 percent of the time, it doesn’t work.

“I like people who say even if it is signed by the greatest celebrity, ‘I can make a choice. It does not work for me.’”

On another beauty front, following the slowly unfolding and highly successful launch of the Armani color line, Turck Paquelier is now planning to introduce a skin care line under the Armani banner in 2006.

Acknowledging that conventional wisdom has always held that designers lack the necessary credibility for selling treatment, Turck Paquelier has been building a bridge. Reasoning that foundation inspires the most consumer loyalty, she has built the foundation share of makeup sales to 40 percent. A sizable number, considering that most designer color lines excel in lipstick, she noted.

As for the designer, he is thinking even farther ahead. Armani would like to do products for the body and fragrance sizes that can be carried in the pocket. He noted that he likes to carry around a fragrance and frequently take a sniff. “It’s a little like a drug addiction,” he confessed.

Armani also would like to do skin creams “that don’t make men look ridiculous.” Sun care is also high on his list.

— Pete Born