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NEW YORK — After having defied conventional wisdom and resuscitated the moribund celebrity fragrance concept with hits by Jennifer Lopez and Celine Dion, Coty Inc. is now intent on acquiring a wilder edge with a hip-hop slant.

A license has been signed with the woman whom many regard as the first lady of hip-hop: Kimora Lee Simmons.

Simmons, who is president and creative director of Baby Phat, says she has ambitions of developing a multicategory beauty range with Coty. Executives, however, seem focused on developing a fragrance business, which will be marketed by Coty’s Lancaster division in department stores. First up will be a Baby Phat women’s fragrance, followed by a men’s scent under the Phat Farm name, a company established by Simmons’ husband, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Phat Farm and Baby Phat were acquired by Kellwood earlier this year. While Coty did not break out numbers, industry sources estimated that the first Baby Phat scent could do as much as $25 million to $30 million at retail in its first year on counter.

The long-awaited signing of the licensing deal confirms a report that appeared in WWD on July 9. In an exclusive interview earlier this week, Simmons said, “I’ve always wanted to do beauty, and Coty is a perfect partner.” Taking a break from preparing for her runway show, to be held Saturday night, she added, “We carefully looked around the industry for our special home — like Cinderella and the glass slipper. I think this is going to be a great partnership.”

Eric Thoreux, president of Coty Beauty Americas, who helped broker the agreement, agreed, calling the deal “an important license from a Coty standpoint.”

“Hip-hop is one of the major highways of communication of the 21st century; it has become a mainstream voice,” said Thoreux. “We’re proud to have Kimora bring her expert vision to this lifestyle collection.” He added that Coty is behind the license “for the long-term. We don’t just do quick in-and-out fragrances — we build lifestyle pillars for the future, and we think this one will be a very important pillar for us going forward.” It will, at least at first, be marketed chiefly in North America, Thoreux said.

This story first appeared in the September 10, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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Added Tracy Young, senior marketing director for Coty Beauty in the U.S.: “We think it will be a winner — with an urban mind-set that reaches from the streets of New York City to the Mall of America [in Bloomington, Minn.].”

Simmons, who clearly does not lack for ambition — or publicity, given her recent widely reported brush with the law — said she eventually would like to do color cosmetics, skin care and perhaps hair care, in addition to a portfolio of fragrances.

She is no stranger to the beauty category. A former model who was discovered at age 13 by Karl Lagerfeld, Simmons said that her desire to create a beauty line came from having a multiethnic heritage — African-American, Asian and Indian — in a world that was “either black or white.”

Her ancestry gave her an exotic look, but made finding things such as foundation a challenge. “Without knocking other brands, when I started in the business, there were not a lot of choices for ethnic beauty,” said Simmons. “You were either black or white; there was never really a place for girls like me.”

While she acknowledges that “there are more choices now than there were” in ethnic makeup, Simmons said that she is “looking forward to helping to bring more options to the marketplace.” She complimented fellow Lancaster licensor Jennifer Lopez with helping to break some ground in the ethnic arena. “Jennifer created a wonderful platform for other women like myself — and in turn, I think her platform was aided by the hip-hop/urban platform that Russell and I have helped to build,” said Simmons.

The designer said that she is excited about the opportunity to put her own sassy take into the products that are developed using her name. While her first scent is still in the “very early” stages, she professes a passion for “classic scents, but with a younger twist. And definitely feminine and sexy.”

Personal appearances are also in Simmons’ plans for her beauty brand. “How can you sell something to people if you don’t know them?” she asked, noting that she’s learned a great deal about her customers by getting out into the market and actually speaking with them. “I put myself and my family out there — I’m a working woman, I have a husband and kids. I think customers can relate to me as well as to my product.”

While a definite time frame for the Baby Phat scent launch has not been established, Bob Cankes, president of Lancaster North America, said that he’s “looking at fall of 2005.” Cankes added that he probably will distribute the scent in 1,700 to 1,800 doors. His initial thinking involves a three-pronged promotional attack — a significant amount of advertising, grassroots guerrilla marketing and “substantial” in-store support. He said the critical factor for the launch is also the biggest challenge facing department stores such as Macy’s and Filene’s: How to reach kids in the streets and get them to go into the mall. While the marketing plan has not even been broached, Cankes said the promotional tactics will probably be similar to those used to sell the JLo fragrances. One trick that Coty employed was to put Scent Seal samples in 1.5 million copies of one of Lopez’s CDs.

Thoreux added that TV advertising and national print advertising also are planned.

Although Coty declined to comment, industry sources speculated that the licensing deal is worth at least $2 million in royalty guarantees for the first five years of the pact. Coty tends to pay less up-front so it can invest heavily in building the brand.

Bob Skinner, president and chief operating officer of Kellwood, strongly praised the Coty deal, saying it will be a vital tool in “explaining the essence of the brand.”

When asked about international expansion, Coty’s Thoreux hinted that those possibilities hinge at least partly on how widely Kellwood distributes the fashion brands. Skinner said the brand has a sizable presence in Japan and the U.K. and less of a foothold in the rest of Europe. The company is primed for growth, however; Skinner added that the brand’s Phat Farm Diva sneakers, which hit counters a month ago, have “taken off” with an initial sell-through of 20 percent.