After building a robust fashion and accessories business that weathered the pandemic — Moody’s Investors Services said sales hit roughly $1.6 billion at the end of 2021 — the designer is looking to bring that momentum into fragrance with the launch of Essence of Dreams, a collection of five scents based on specific emotions that is launching Aug. 5.
This isn’t Burch’s first foray into fragrance. She inked a deal with the Estée Lauder Cos. in 2011, and while the partnership resulted in respectable fragrance sales, the category never gained significant traction for either party. In 2019, Shiseido acquired the license for an undisclosed sum, giving Burch the opportunity to rethink her approach to beauty.
Her timing is spot on. Scent is one of beauty’s hottest categories, growing 13 percent to $1.5 billion last quarter, per the NPD Group in the U.S. While American designers like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan once dominated the landscape, they’ve been eclipsed over the last decade by European brands like Chanel and Dior, newer entrants including Tom Ford and Marc Jacobs, and niche brands like Le Labo and Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle.
Now, with a curated, accessibly priced scent collection geared toward optimism and optionality, Burch is poised to reap the benefits of a reinvigorated — and pared-back — vision.
“These fragrances were a great project, and that is the starting point for hopefully many new things to come,” Burch said, noting that while she hadn’t ruled out other categories for expansion, no immediate plans are in the works.
“It’s been a journey over the last two years of business in general with the environment, but between that and my husband [LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton alum Pierre-Yves Roussel] coming on board as CEO, it’s given me time to think about the company becoming the most personal version of me, and creatively, what that means,” Burch said in an exclusive interview with Beauty Inc.
For Roussel, such reflection has enabled Burch to go back to the roots of her business. “From the very beginning, Tory created her brand as a lifestyle brand,” he said, noting that 18 years ago, when she launched, Burch had the vision of multiple categories. “She has always been passionate about fragrance, and beauty in general, and it reflects the way she’s been approaching our brand, and the creative instinct is to really express it in multiple universes.”
Over the past couple of years, Burch has refined the creative expression of the company, focusing on the through line that is evident in all of her categories. “The idea of going back to confidence is something that I love, the idea of how do you marry design and emotion,” Burch said. “That happens in both [fashion and beauty]. The concept of less-is-more, superior quality, timeless design and then creativity and individuality. Fragrance can do that as well. It’s creative expression. There’s nothing more powerful than noticing someone’s scent and attributing that to them, and the same with fashion.”
Dubbed “Essence of Dreams” and two years in the making, the line consists of five scents, each based on specific emotions, including love, freedom, joy, magic and peace. The eau de parfum are priced at $90 for 50 milliliters and $125 for 90 milliliters.
“In Tory Burch, we have a partner who is authentic and willing to take risks,” said Masahiko Uotani, president and group ceo of Shiseido Company. “We are excited to bring that luxury vision to life within the beauty category. The Essence of Dreams collection is just the beginning of Shiseido’s strategic growth opportunities for Tory Burch Beauty.”
“We have been partners with Tory in her business for many years now, and it has grown into a significant business for us,” said Pete Nordstrom, president and chief brand officer of the Seattle-based retailer. “Our loyal customers love Tory Burch products and we are thrilled to launch this collection with her exclusively both online and in-stores.”
Burch’s goal with the collection was to tap into myriad emotions that encompass a full life. “[Women are] liking different fragrances based on their mood and how they’re feeling. I thought about what that would mean, how do we think about fragrance as visualizing a better time? All of the chaos around us, and being something that celebrates joy, magic and freedom. Then I thought about how to think about that in terms of scent,” she said.
“I have always been impressed by Tory Burch and her dedication to innovation, luxury and women’s empowerment,” said Ron Gee, ceo of Shiseido Americas and global leader, M&A, Shiseido Group. “At Shiseido, we could not be more excited to bring her vision to life with this collection. We know it’s just the beginning for Tory Burch Beauty.”
Burch sees fragrance as encompassing a full wardrobe, much like fashion.
“When I started to think about fragrance, I started to think about emotion,” she said. “Fragrance definitely brings up memories of wearing different scents, and I don’t think women are just wearing one fragrance the way they used to,” she said.
Burch recounted layering her father’s vetiver scents with her mother’s perfume earlier in life, and she designed Essence of Dreams so that customers can mix and match the collection based on moods, or how they feel.
“When you give women tools to feel more confident and tune out, they pay off,” Burch continued. “When you look at the names of the fragrances, we thought a lot about that.”
She took a similar approach to the scents that she does with clothes — “not necessarily a given that they would go together, but they would contrast in a way that worked beautifully,” she said.
Divine Moon encapsulates Lady of the Night flower, honey and citrus; Electric Sky couples cactus flower with lavender and wood; Mystic Geranium joins that flower with musk and bergamot; Cosmic Wood pairs cardamom and jasmine with vetiver; Sublime Rose underscores the namesake floral with blackcurrant and warm wood.
The fragrances were created by Firmenich’s Frank Voelkl; Givaudan’s Olivier Gillotin and Christine Hassan; Firmenich’s Honorine Blanc; Mane’s Ralf Schwieger, and Firmenich’s Pierre Negrin, respectively.
“The collection gives people the ability to be creative and just think about their individuality. Even in the way I design, I’ve always been interested in contrasts, the idea of things that are classic in spirit but then having them be different and thinking about them in unusual ways,” Burch said.
It’s that universality that Emmie Salaj, the global general manager of the brand for Shiseido, hopes to capitalize on.
“What makes this brand so special is that the consumer is truly timeless,” Salaj said.
Salaj said the pricing is a key point of difference, in addition to marketing. “When I think about our price positioning, we are very targeted,” she said. “In terms of our pricing, in terms of our distribution, that’s going to allow us to be able to afford having this fragrance collection experience across multiple markets and multiple channels at an accessible price positioning, which is so key and critical to who Tory is as a brand.”
Communicating about the launch will largely be a digital effort. “We’re looking at over 100 different platforms to achieve the messaging with specific assets, spanning from video to some more lifestyle, bottle imagery and ingredient storytelling,” Salaj said, noting the use of “influencers and being able to utilize sampling and storytelling so that we talk to that consumer, and engage the consumer. Regardless of COVID-19, there are specific things the fragrance consumer looks for. It’s about that connection.”
With that in mind, the accompanying campaign, lensed by Oliver Hadlee Pearch in Croatia, includes the collection’s muses Imaan Hammam, Havana Rose Liu and Alexandra Micu.
The collection’s sunny message of a brighter, multicolored future is also key to its marketing strategy. “The message we’re putting forth is optimism,” Salaj said. “It’s about always ensuring we’re providing that same communication, whatever efforts and whether the marketing be in-store or in terms of product innovation. Consumer choice is critical. That’s something we’re coming out with right out of the gate.”
In terms of distribution, Essence of Dreams will launch in Burch’s 350 boutiques and exclusively at Nordstrom both online and in-store. It is expected to roll out to key markets abroad as quickly as the fourth quarter, executives said.
“We have a whole rollout planned with countries around the world,” said Roussel, noting that fragrance collections are particularly resonant in the Middle East, for example.
“As a collection, there’s something about being able to come out with a fragrance and tell the story. Having a forum like Nordstrom, where we have their incredible beauty consultants, as well as our team, being able to get that message across to the consumer was very important,” Salaj said.
Nordstrom and Tory Burch’s relationship in fashion is strong, said Debbi Hartley-Triesch, executive vice president and general merchandising manager of beauty and accessories at Nordstrom. “Tory Burch is one of our customers’ favorite brands and they are shopping in other categories like handbags, accessories and shoes, and we are proud to deliver this exclusive launch to them,” she said.
“There is already a strong brand affinity for Tory Burch amongst the Nordstrom customer, and we know this will help contribute to the success of the fragrance,” she continued.
The launch’s significance to Nordstrom also lies in its exclusivity with the retailer. “We’re focused on serving the customer on their terms through differentiated services, experience and product offering,” Hartley-Triesch said. “Being able to offer exclusive products gives us the opportunity to deliver newness and inspire that sense of discovery, both in-store and online.”
Fragrance continues to have a “strong response,” Hartley-Triesch added, noting Essence of Dream’s range gives consumers optionality. “There are five different scents, so it allows our customer the opportunity to explore and find a fragrance that feels personal — there is something for everyone,” she said.
Burch’s own rationale for designing the collection was shifting consumer habits away from signature fragrances to scent wardrobes. From Salaj’s perspective, it’s part of what gives the collection viability. “We’re optimistic about all five. When you explore and have the chance to experience them, there’s an appreciation for all of them,” she said. “In our minds, it’s maybe not necessarily something that you have to limit yourself to just one. We’re hopeful. This is a beautiful collection. The first few months will be very telling.”
Neither party quantified sales expectations for Essence of Dreams, although industry sources expect the five fragrances to reach $15 million globally in their first year on the market.
Both Salaj and Hartley-Triesch agreed that partnership was instrumental to any brand’s success in Nordstrom’s environment. “What makes a fragrance brand stand out in our ecosystem is a strong collaboration between the brand and Nordstrom, how we bring the experience to life for our customer, from in-store experiences to marketing, and how we align to launch and tell a story together,” the latter said.
Despite the heavy brick-and-mortar play, Salaj acknowledged the importance of selling digitally, including her vision for Tory Burch Beauty. “We want to continue to evolve as a digital-first brand with purpose, and that’s the point of difference,” Salaj said. “The brand lends itself, from a lifestyle perspective, to open up avenues of opportunity across categories. For us, the first step is to launch the collection, start our partnerships off and home in on the consumer’s strength and excitement around the collection.”
Inflationary pressures have yet to hamper prestige beauty, and in any case, Shiseido is all-in on building out the business with Burch in the creative driver’s seat.
“Tory is the type of person who’s willing to take risks, she’s disruptive,” Salaj said. “She and I will sit in a room and she is not afraid to fail. She takes those chances. The vision toward what we want to do together in beauty is quite exciting.”
FOR MORE FROM WWD.COM, SEE: