The Silver Rain collection.

La Prairie worldwide president Lynne Florio is marshaling her troops behind Silver Rain, the largest fragrance launch in the company’s history.

NEW YORK — Curious Britney successes notwithstanding, this is no time to be diving headfirst into the fragrance market. And La Prairie worldwide president Lynne Florio is the first to admit that fact.

Emboldened by a red-hot luxury market and three years of double-digit skin care gains, however, Florio is marshaling her troops behind Silver Rain, the largest fragrance launch in the Beirsdorf-owned company’s history. In a first for the brand — for any La Prairie product — the floral Oriental scent will go to virtually the full La Prairie distribution of 5,000 doors in 100 countries in early March. The company does not break out figures, but industry sources estimate that La Prairie is aiming to do $50 million in retail volume during the first 12 months.

“Launching globally is a very exciting enterprise for us,” noted Florio. “But we felt Silver Rain was powerful enough that we wanted everyone, worldwide, to be at the same place with this at the same time.”

To make that happen, Florio has been playing New York host to scores of La Prairie affiliates and distributors in recent weeks. In days stretching from sunrise to sunset and beyond, she’s even capped off dinner at the River Café with a walk back over the Brooklyn Bridge at midnight.

That level of effort is necessary when you’re attempting to carve out a new niche in beauty: luxury fragrance. “I don’t think that with Silver Rain by La Prairie we’re entering the fragrance marketplace,” she said. “I think what we’re about to do is create a new category. I think we’re going to be the forerunner in luxury fragrance.” For La Prairie, that means $135 for 1.7 oz. of Silver Rain eau de parfum.

Backed by an ad spend rumored to be in the $20 million ballpark, Silver Rain will differentiate itself from the Sisley Eau du Soirs of the world. Another oft-mentioned competitor, La Mer, doesn’t have a fragrance in its lineup at all. Yes, there are random ultrapricy scents that fall into the luxury landscape — Joy springs to mind — but they aren’t necessarily attached to $300 million skin care lines. Consider Silver Rain the scent equivalent of $175 jeans.

This story first appeared in the October 15, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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“If you look at any type of fragrance statistics, purchases are dwindling, people aren’t wearing as many scents,” said Florio. “That’s why some companies may feel pessimistic about entering the fragrance arena.

“But when we talk about luxury as a category — which is what La Prairie deals with and knows best — we all know that that’s the growth area,” Florio added. “And that’s worldwide.”

The tightly edited Silver Rain collection comprises just four core items: the aforementioned EDP spray; a purse spray with three 1/4-oz. refills for $100; a 7-oz. perfumed body cream for $150, and a scented candle for $100.

The showstopper in the line is a limited-edition sterling silver Christofle “cachette” featuring three 1/2-oz. vials of Silver Rain eau de parfum and two spin-off eaux de parfum — Silver Sensuality and Silver Spice. Retailing for $2,000, it’s offered in a run of 1,000 signed and numbered units.

Created by Quest’s Claude Dir, the flagship Silver Rain scent contains top notes of crisp green apple, Thai anise seed and bergamot zest; a heart of gardenia tuberose blossom, Chinese star magnolia and night-blooming Indian jasmine, and a spicy base of patchouli leaves, vanilla infusion and rich musk.

The scent’s luxury m.o. will be underscored by a 20,000-square-foot, 17-room Silver Rain Spa at the Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Island, slated to open in late spring. According to Florio, the $400 million hotel property, still under construction because of recent hurricane woes, is the ideal setting for the spa venture, which was conceived in tandem with the Silver Rain scent.

“We have more than a fragrance here,” said Florio. “When you talk about what people want in luxury, one of the things they want is to go to the best spas in the world. And Ritz-Carlton is the perfect partner for La Prairie.”

The Silver Rain print ad campaign, configured in singles and spreads, breaks in the March issues of W (which, like WWD, is a unit of Fairchild Publications Inc.), Vogue, Vanity Fair, Town & Country and a few yet-to-be-determined niche publications targeting affluent readers. Shot by legendary photographer Hiro, the striking image represents the first time La Prairie has used a living, breathing woman in its advertising. (Well, make that a superwoman: The gorgeous creature is actually a composite of four models.)

“Silver always feels a little cold,” Florio explained. “So we felt there needed to be another element of sensuality, humanity and beauty.”

The tag line — “a disturbance in the atmosphere” — works on different levels. “Well,” said Florio, “what do women want in a fragrance? Certainly a little disturbance, right? They want to have something happen.”

And so does La Prairie. “We hope to cause a disturbance in our retail atmosphere, too,” Florio added. “We want to create something new.”

— Dana Wood