LONDON — Alexander McQueen, one of the few European luxury brands currently without an existing perfume business, is dreaming big, unveiling a fragrance house and a first juice, a scent for night owls known as McQueen Parfum.
The fragrance, which has the rare concentration of a perfume, lands exclusively at Harrods on March 1, priced at 350 euros, or $385 at current exchange, at the high-end of the market, for a 50-ml. spray. Developed and distributed by P&G Prestige Beauty, it will also be stocked at the brand’s flagships in London, Paris and Monaco, and on the brand’s Web site as of March.
This story first appeared in the February 25, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The new fragrance will feature in some of the Brompton Road windows at Harrods, with the theme of flowers blooming at night.
It will roll out to 50 doors globally in the first year, while a lower-priced eau de parfum is set to launch separately this summer. The new scent is expected to generate more than $50 million at retail in the first year, according to industry sources.
The house has had two fragrances, Kingdom, which launched in 2003, and My Queen, which came out two years later. Both were developed with YSL Beauté, and disappeared from shelves by 2008.
The juice itself is made with an unconventional mix of ingredients that flourish — and attract their pollinators — at night: Sambac jasmine, tuberose and ylang-ylang. There are also topnotes of clove, pink and black pepper, as well as vetiver. The mood is so very reminiscent of McQueen, with its Gothic genetics and eternal fascination with the dark beauty.
The campaign was shot by Paolo Roversi in the romantic forest of Fontainebleau, outside Paris, and shows a close-up of the model Maartje Verhoef, against a dark background, her face framed by tree branches.
She’s wearing a dress that resembles a garland of black flowers twisted around her body. Inspired by the fall collection, it was made by Sarah Burton, McQueen’s creative director, especially for the campaign. The social media hashtag is #bloomatnight.
The launch of this rich white floral was a long time coming: It took three years to develop, and is the first one made with Burton, Procter & Gamble Prestige and Firmenich.
Burton said her starting point was “craftsmanship and authenticity” and added that she wanted to approach the creation of the fragrance as if she were making a dress, with all the artistry involved in perfume-making. She also wanted to learn the basics, such as how scents work and how they’re extracted.
The fragrance comes with a tiny book — the size of two postage stamps — explaining the origins and qualities of each note and the design of the heavy black glass bottle, which is adorned with antiqued gold feathers around the neck, a gold base and a lacquered cap covered with a grid of tiny studs, meant to mimic the texture of fabric.
Burton spoke during an event at Spencer House in London, a day after showing her moody, glittering fall collection that was filled with dark 3-D butterfly appliqués, ostrich feathers and embroideries on tulle of flowers such as tuberose, jasmine and queen of the night.
“It’s about nighttime, dreams, obsessions, collections and the sub-conscious,” said Burton before the London show, which was a one-off event that took place because of the fragrance launch event the following day.
Burton warned there is nothing “wishy-washy” about the scent and said it “does not” tick every box. “The thing about the McQueen woman is that she has a uniqueness and a real strength of personality,” said the designer.
She added that the process took so long because she was forever removing notes that she felt didn’t belong, “like berry and vanilla” on top.
She said she also liked the erotic connotations of the notes: The Victorians considered tuberose to be dangerous to young women because of its sensuality and orgasm-inducing powers, while jasmine, one of the most expensive oils on the market, is also considered a natural aphrodisiac.
Burton also worked hard on the bottle: She wanted it to be tactile and sought the perfect color of gold for the feathers and base, “so it wouldn’t look fake.” The packaging needed to be timeless, “and look beautiful on a shelf, antiqued and decorative.”
The bottle comes in two boxes: The inner one is made from black velvet and has the black and gold label that reads McQueen Parfum. The outer box is made of black, feather-embossed cardboard and edged in the same antique gold as the bottle.
Jonathan Akeroyd, chief executive officer of Alexander McQueen, said it was time to launch a new fragrance.
“We wanted to do it when the moment was right. Sarah has been in the role for six years now and we have transformed the brand into a completely different positioning in the marketplace,” he told WWD.
“We’re big enough to launch something really special and make it a success as well. The brand awareness is very high, and when you’re enter into this market you need strong brand awareness.”
He also said he and Burton wanted the scent to be exclusive in its positioning.
“The perfume is very much what Sarah is about, and she took time to develop it and the bottle. We feel we have a real point of difference going into market. There is a real passion from Sarah’s side for this to be a success. She’s even got involved in how the store concepts are designed and how they look and work.”
Antoine Delgrange, global brand director and managing director at P&G Prestige Beauty, said there were “no compromises” in the creation of the scent and the vision was to challenge the traditional luxury fragrances. “Like Chanel had new standards of quality and creativity, you will see that here, too.”
Delgrange said the ingredients and natural oils used in McQueen Parfum are of the highest quality and concentration, hence the price. He also said the workmanship and level of detail required to create the antique gold feathers on the neck of the bottle has never been seen before in the industry. There is also a film that shows the making of the bottle.
In terms of marketing and investment, Delgrange said the focus will be on the in-store experience in order to bring to life the story of the night bloomers and the juice. He also said there will be a special shop-fit and merchandising features aimed at bringing to life both the world of McQueen and of the fragrance.
He said the company planned to spend considerable time and investment on sampling and experiencing the fragrance via “exclusive counseling” at the points of sale, using tools that are new to the category.
“As a VIP gift, we are going to share the fragrance in a mini ceramic bottle infused with the fragrance. It lasts a long time and it’s almost like a mini jewel, or piece of art that you can keep with you,” he said, adding there will be “advocacy ambassadors,” or people on hand to explain the story of the fragrance and help with sampling.
Sales growth and marketing awareness, he added, will be gradual and based on exclusivity, “with nothing mass about it.”