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EXCLUSIVE: Kim Kardashian Unveils a Scent All Her Own

The reality TV star and businesswoman is introducing a gardenia-inspired fragrance collection under her KKW Beauty firm.

LOS ANGELES — Kim Kardashian is hoping social media will work its magic for her once again and give her the edge in the congested celebrity fragrance game.

The reality-star-turned-businesswoman on Wednesday will release three eau de parfums at her online beauty destination, — all variations on the gardenia, her favorite flower and scent. Crystal Gardenia, Crystal Gardenia Citrus and Crystal Gardenia Oud will each come in 30-ml. and 75-ml. sizes and retail for $35 and $60, respectively. The limited-edition fragrances are first come, first serve. Once they’re gone, that’s it.

“I think that with the social media aspect of it, [and] being able to really reach so many people, I think it’s going to work. Obviously I’m in the celebrity category, but I just wanted a bottle that was so simple that can look like it’s something sitting on your counter and be a beautiful object. I tried to make it really timeless so that it can’t just all be about a celebrity fragrance,” said a usually punctual Kardashian, who arrived late to the WWD interview and photo shoot after getting held up at four-year-old North’s parent-teacher conference. Her hair is still the bleached blonde she’s been sporting, styled in purposefully “undone,” textured waves with a severe center part and the right ratio of roots.

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“It’s the first time that a fragrance is really being sold with the model that I’m doing it at. It’s really just using online sales and doing it all digitally,” she said. There is one exception: The range will have a small off-line presence, to start, at Los Angeles-based e-commerce site Violet Grey’s store on Melrose Place.

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Twenty-year-old sister Kylie Jenner has spent the last two years building her multihundred-million-dollar Kylie Cosmetics empire, and Kardashian is angling to do the same with KKW Beauty. The Kardashian-Jenners’ beauty businesses are going toe-to-toe with industry behemoths like L’Oréal, Coty Inc., Shiseido Co. and The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., with single-day sales volumes and record sellout times that even the largest of legacy beauty brands can’t command.

Kardashian’s desire to do fragrance on her own terms dovetails nicely with the business infrastructure she’s put in place over the past six months.

She burst onto the beauty scene on June 20 with the first product in her KKW Beauty range, a $48 Creme Contour & Highlight Kit that came in four shades. An initial run of 300,000 units were produced for the launch. On Aug. 22, KKW Beauty’s second product bowed: a $52 powder version of the premier contour set, available in three shades.

Kardashian maintained that production for Crystal Gardenia is in line with her first two launches, meaning that 300,000 bottles will go on sale Wednesday — and will likely all sell out. If one averages price of the two bottle sizes ($47.50) and multiplies that by 300,000, the potential sales volume for her first day in business — or minutes, if they sell as quickly as the KKW by Kylie Cosmetics sets — is $14.3 million.

“Honestly, after my Paris situation [when she was held at gunpoint and robbed], a lot of my friends would come over and bring me healing crystals, and I obviously knew what they were — it’s very L.A. and it’s very popular right now — but for me it meant something so different. I was sitting there and I’d get these collections of them and I started to really dig deeper into what they meant and the meanings behind them and started to go to these crystal warehouses in Culver City and downtown [L.A.],” said Kardashian, holding up the slim, geometric frosted glass bottles, which are more redolent of a healing quartz crystal than they are of fragrance packaging.

Which was the intention.

Developing each scent was about “being calm and healing,” which are the two words Kardashian used to describe a newly zen approach she’s taken over the past year. The color variations of each bottle — Crystal Gardenia’s represents a quartz and the citrus and oud bottles’ are rose quartz and citrine hued, respectively — are intended to evoke the healing properties of each crystal.

For her, it’s a fresh start in business with new partners and a new business model — but in a category where she’s already a seasoned veteran.

Kardashian has been doing fragrance since 2009 through a licensing deal with Lighthouse Beauty that has since ended (production has ceased and once the remainder of fragrance made with Lighthouse sells through, product will no longer be available). This time, though, the operation is wholly owned by the 37-year-old, who oversees every aspect of the process, from inception to final packaging. She came up with the ingredient story — gardenia is the hero accord — as well as variations of the main scent that could appeal to a broad range of consumers. Kardashian worked with fragrance house Givaudan on all previous fragrances and will continue to work with them on scents created for the KKW Beauty brand.

The venture is a partnership with manufacturer Hampton Beauty Associates, a New York-based firm. Kardashian maintained she chose them because they “share my philosophy about the beauty retail landscape” and desire to create a “luxury fragrance with unique packaging at an accessible price point for my amazing followers.”

Crystal Gardenia is, however, a nod to Kardashian’s very first namesake fragrance that bowed in 2009. She called the “heavy white floral” scent her favorite, but also the bestselling one from the original portfolio, which grew to include Kim Kardashian Gold, Kim Kardashian Glam, Kim Kardashian Fleur Fatale, Kim Kardashian Pure Honey and so on.

She maintained that she and Givaudan originally conceptualized a single Crystal Gardenia fragrance, but the firm later suggested a citrus variation for Kardashian to smell and test that she wound up really liking. Then the two parties came up with the idea of developing another riff on Crystal Gardenia to create a trio of scents — and this is where the oud came in. That third scent, Crystal Gardenia Oud, could be the catalyst Kardashian needs to globalize the endeavor at the onset.

“The Middle East is a place I love and go to all the time, and I’d want a scent that’s exclusive or more catered towards that market,” she said of developing an oud, statistically a bestselling scent family in a region where fragrance is a particularly strong category.

Statistically, one of the three scents will appeal to most consumers on an international scale, and to accommodate this, she’s upped her site’s global e-commerce capabilities to ship to a larger number of countries.

But promoting fragrance online is notoriously more challenging than color for three reasons. First, it’s very difficult to describe exactly how something smells. Second, scent is extremely personal and preferences tend to vary more than in other sectors of beauty. Third, besides the bottle, portrayals of scent on social media are not as visual as color cosmetics, nor do they yield a finished product or “look” the way makeup can, which ultimately helps persuade a customer to purchase.

“Fragrance is harder [to sell], but makeup is difficult, too, because you don’t really test the product. I hope we’re doing a good job of describing what it will smell like, that’s always a little bit tricky,” Kardashian admitted.

She remains confident in her ability to sell Crystal Gardenia solely through her online channels. She’s done thorough research and culled data from enough focus groups to know what customers want.

“I do believe from the feedback that we got that it’s going to do extremely well. We do a lot of focus group and testing without saying what the fragrance is — and people always gravitate toward it,” she added.

If the success of Kardashian’s initial beauty launches is any indication of how Crystal Gardenia will perform at retail, the odds are in her favor — even if the celebrity fragrance category presents more obstacles than color. For instance, the KKW by Kylie Cosmetics crème lipstick set that she and sister Kylie Jenner collaborated on in April reportedly amassed $13.5 million in sales in minutes.

Compare this to a snapshot of her fragrance business in May 2012, less than a month after Facebook acquired Instagram for $1 billion and long before the app gained mass adoption (or even a version for Android users). At the time, Lighthouse Beauty was gearing up to release Kardashian’s fourth scent, True Reflection, where it was previously reported that the eau de parfum was projected to do $10 million in retail sales for the year, with her overall fragrance business on track to hit $50 million in 2012. Crystal Gardenia’s sales could eclipse the $10 million mark in less than 24 hours. Furthermore, at the rate Kardashian can move beauty products online, she could surpass the $50 million threshold in just four days of selling via her e-commerce site.

Plus she’s arguably the most famous Kardashian Jenner, and if any of the siblings’ brands are going to achieve commercial success, it’s likely to be hers. With the largest marketing platform of all on her side — 104.5 million followers on Instagram who watch her every move — she could never do a traditional ad in her lifetime and still outsell the majority of beauty brands in a competitive price range. (Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott did shoot a campaign for Crystal Gardenia that Kardashian has already teased on Instagram.)

Going forward, there are plans to roll out a fully realized collection of fragrances, said Kardashian, who not surprisingly spent the afternoon clad in head-to-toe Yeezy from Season 6. Her color palette of the moment is muted, and both of the jersey looks — first a light gray ankle-length skirt and matching tube top (or strapless bra, depending on whom you ask) followed by a full length, charcoal, spaghetti-strap dress — left little to the imagination. Which is very much in line with anything she’s posted on Instagram recently.

Then again, only Kardashian can wear a bandeau and make it look tasteful.

But even if her fashion isn’t accessible — or likely to be worn by many — Kardashian wants her beauty to be. And finally being the owner of her fragrance business gives her the freedom to determine pricing as she sees fit.

“In the digital space it makes launching product so much easier if you have that reach. I wanted to take the risk and do it all on my own and do fragrance the same way I do beauty. I wanted a luxury fragrance but still have it be affordable,” Kardashian explained, admitting that licensing one’s name is “definitely an easier route to go through.” “You still have input, but you have the whole team bring it all to you and you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and they make it easy. When you do something on your own, it’s 100 percent weighing on your decisions and shoulders.”

Inclusivity is the main tenet of her fragrance business. She didn’t want to put out a $300 niche fragrance and alienate her followers — and the public at large — with an unattainable price tag.

Kardashian said the accessible opening price point of $35 was determined with help from mom and manager Kris Jenner, who oversees all of her children’s businesses. Unlike with kid sister Kylie Jenner, Kris is less involved in KKW Beauty day-to-day operations and steps in for big picture decisions, such as pricing, when necessary.

While a collection of evergreen fragrances might one day live on her site, she’s doing limited drops for now. The Crystal Gardenia range won’t be replenished (maybe one day she’ll do a reissue, but there are no plans yet), and the same goes for her second fragrance launch in February for Valentine’s Day. She maintained the second drop, also a collection of three eau de parfums, will have an entirely new concept and even new bottles, but she declined to reveal more.

Already Kardashian has a fragrance calendar mapped out through 2019. Scents are “completely done,” with bottles, scents and juice “ready to go.” There is no set launch cadence, and beyond Valentine’s Day, “we’re working it out.”

Planning in advance is a must because, unfortunately, the turnaround for fragrance isn’t nearly as rapid as that for makeup. So once the three Crystal Gardenia scents sell out, “our plan is to move onto the next one.” On the flip side, Kardashian said when color units get low, she’s able to reup in two weeks because cosmetics are produced locally to ensure a quick turnaround.

Despite the fragrance collection embracing the KKW Beauty direct-to-consumer, e-commerce model, Andy Clarke, managing partner at Hampton Beauty Associates, said a traditional nine-to-12 month lead time is still needed to produce fragrance at scale.

“Special attention is given to product packaging that ships direct-to-consumer versus the traditional mode of shipping to bricks and mortar,” Clarke noted.

“I also do love partnering with people and having someone help with the promotions and manufacturing and all of that, too. Now that I’ve done it all myself I do know how much work is put into it. I’m not opposed to retail; I just think right now I want to cut out the middleman,” Kardashian said of larger-scale retail partnerships in the future.

Ultimately, she wants her collection to range from everything from her signature contour kits to fragrance, inclusive of complexion and a number of color cosmetics. Concealer was originally supposed to be the third KKW Beauty item to launch, but Kardashian, a perfectionist, pushed the release date. Her concealer application process is specific (it’s four steps, but she won’t say more other than having to “really white out” dark circles), and the final product must reflect this.

“I just don’t think we have it [the formula] to where I want to be yet,” said Kardashian who has instead opted to introduce lipstick for the holidays.

Of her upcoming lipstick (and liners), she detailed the hurdles she’s endured over the past decade she’s been in the spotlight. Makeup artists have always had to mix two, three or four colors to get a shade of lipstick that suited her, and to date, she’s never been able to apply a lipstick “that looks good from the start.”

She was always trying to gauge what artists were mixing and would often ask for little samples of the blended creation so she could use at a later date.

But this raises a question: will Kardashian’s entrée into the lip category fuel a sibling rivalry with Jenner, who built her entire Kylie Cosmetics business on her signature Kylie Lip Kits? Or even at the very least, product overlap?

Kardashian said no. The two have strategy meetings all the time and have makeup meetings back-to-back to ensure that there’s no overlap and that their respective products are “really different.”

“We’re really cautious about that and we just communicate really well,” she said.

Also, the siblings each has such massive followings — a combined 204 million Instagram followers between them — that there’s enough product to go around.

It also probably helps that Kardashian is a modern marketing genius. Besides Beyoncé and Rihanna and President Trump, no one has mastered the art of engaging fans and creating a frenzy online the way she has. She knows just how and when to tease her followers with product imagery and release information to create mania online. She’s nailed the right formula of static Instagram posts, videos and Instagram Stories, coupled with strategic use of Twitter and Snapchat.

Interestingly, she turns to Twitter for feedback. Kardashian has found that she gets more valuable advice from her followers on Twitter, which is the only social platform that she’s able to have meaningful back-and-forth dialogue on. She likes to see what the people she follows on Twitter are saying and she respects their opinions.

“On Instagram I get so many comments that I can’t reply to someone and then see what they write back. It kind of gets lost so I just choose to not even really look at the comments,” she said.

Kardashian specified the way in which she uses each social channel: Snapchat is more intimate, akin to “diving into my everyday life and putting out there what I want to put out there”; Twitter is for having conversations and Instagram is a visual mood board of what she wants to express at any given time, but there’s no conversational aspect.

Social media has become a free-for-all, where the shield of one’s online identity, as well as the ease and speed at which one can comment, sometimes invites more negative conversation than intended. Whether it’s a discourse about Kardashian’s penchant for wearing innerwear as outerwear, debate over an ever-changing appearance or something as inane as her swollen feet during her first pregnancy, there’s just no way around it today, Kardashian acknowledged.

“You have to have a thick skin — which is a given,” she said pointedly, noting that she’s in no rush to have her children follow in her footsteps.

“You know, the other day it was so funny. My daughter watches so many YouTube tutorials and videos and she was unboxing the My Little Pony Colourpop collection and I thought to myself, ‘I wish I was recording this’ because her reaction was so funny. And then she did makeup on the My Little Pony that they gave and she said, ‘Mom, I want to do a YouTube video,'” Kardashian recounted.

After the running the idea by dad — Kanye West’s answer was a resounding “no” — the two came back to North and explained that they could record it just for her to watch privately to “test it out.”

“I don’t know if it’s something she would really want to do…but it’s always a struggle on how much you want to have exposed or how much access you want them to have to have to social media. I remember when Kendall and Kylie were growing up. We were so freaked out and we always had their passwords and we would always go check their accounts, and I mean, they were really little. I don’t know if they knew we knew,” she added with a laugh.

She’s an ardent believer in everything in moderation, and yes, even boundaries.

“In the world we live in today, I don’t think you ask someone young growing up to not be on social media — that’s just cruel. That’s like asking [someone] to not communicate,” Kardashian said.