LOS ANGELES — Kate Walsh is best known for playing Dr. Addison Montgomery, the epitome of a juicy role in TV land: the brilliant, beautiful ex-wife of “Grey’s Anatomy” star Patrick Dempsey, aka Dr. McDreamy, and the ex-lover of rival hunk Eric Dane, aka Dr. McSteamy. Two years later, Walsh got her own-spin-off, “Private Practice,” in which she continues to play the elegant, endearingly flawed fertility specialist at the center of her own universe.
So it’s no surprise that the 43-year-old actress has spent the last year cooking up her own beauty concept, financing her own company and devising a viral marketing plan that includes self-written, directed and produced Web commercials that star, of course, Kate Walsh.
Walsh hit upon the idea for a fragrance called Boyfriend about five years ago when she was in New York after a breakup. “I thought, ‘I really miss his scent,’ so I went to a fragrance counter and bought a men’s fragrance and went, ‘Wait a minute, you don’t need a boyfriend to have a Boyfriend! Ding ding ding!’ All these ideas just wouldn’t leave me alone. So many women I know wear men’s fragrances, and what really appealed to me was the idea of the boyfriend story. Everyone has one to share.” Earlier this year, Walsh founded Boyfriend LLC. “It was actually an ex-boyfriend who advised me, ‘You should make it like you would a pilot. Produce it, finance it and go shop it.’ And I did just that.”
The resulting fragrance and product line will launch on HSN Nov. 11 in the 8 p.m. EST “Beauty Report” time slot, followed by three more half-hour segments on Nov. 12. Walsh will be hawking a five-piece kit comprising a 15 ml. eau de parfum spray, a 5 ml. pulse-point oil, a 30 ml. dry body oil, a 50 ml. body cream and a 24 gram votive candle in a black train case for $79.99. The two-year deal includes another fragrance launching in 12 months.
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“It’s a concept that has a lot of legs,” said Michael Henry, senior vice president of merchandising at HSN. While he wouldn’t discuss sales projections for the brand on the channel, he said,“Within our beauty portfolio, the prestige segment is the fastest growing and the driver is fine fragrance. As we look at new fragrances in the fourth quarter, this will be in our top three. What struck us is how she believes in this concept and how it would resonate with our consumers. We follow a form that always works at HSN: unique product, a great story and storytellers. When we have those three things we generally have a winner on our hands.”
It worked in July, when Mary J. Blige in six hours sold an estimated $3 million — or almost $8,400 per minute — worth of her fragrance My Life on HSN, and Henry said that HSN takes those numbers into account when looking for business models to replicate. (Industry sources estimate that beauty brands can generate between $1,000 to $1,500 per minute on shopping channels.) In true spin-off fashion, Boyfriend will also launch in Sephora in January 2011, with the kit and stand-alone products retailing from $20 to $95.
“The celebrity affiliation certainly brings more brand awareness, but ultimately, our consumers need to embrace the fragrance and connect with the brand,” said Monica Carlson, Sephora’s vice president of fragrance and Sephora Collection. “We loved Kate’s passion for the project and her inspiration behind creating Boyfriend. For us, it was very authentic and something women could relate to easily.”
Walsh, who has done commercials for Cadillac, has never been paid to endorse a beauty product or had any kind of licensing deal. The decision to start her own company instead of entering into a traditional licensing model stemmed from her desire to tell her story on her own terms. “There are tons of celebrity fragrances out there, which is awesome, but I wasn’t interested in doing a fragrance to do a fragrance. Story for me is what drives everything — fashion, fragrance, all of it. I knew specifically what I wanted the fragrance to be — a nod to the boyfriend, his scent softened up on a gal’s skin — and then I hired fabulous people.”
Walsh enlisted Givaudan to create the scent, consultant Pamela Vaile to conceptualize the materials for the pitch, Bentley Laboratories to create the product line formulas, and Chad Lavigne to produce the packaging and branding imagery. The bottle is based on a classic Chanel shape — Chanel’s Cristalle was Walsh’s first perfume as a girl — and has names of former boyfriends printed on it in ghostwriting. Terry Richardson shot the ad imagery, which features Walsh wrapped in a sheet holding the bottle and the words “Boyfriend” and “Wear Him.”
Walsh also wanted to market Boyfriend virally. “You see the effect of social media and what’s happening is incredible, and when I campaigned for Obama I was able to go out and interact with people in a way that was very powerful and meaningful to me. I made a Yes We Can video and five million people viewed it. I wanted to bring that connectedness to reach out to consumers and fans. It’s one of the reasons I love Twitter.” Walsh has nearly 55,000 Twitter followers, and Boyfriend will get its own Twitter account as well. She likens the “webimercials” to her show, 30-second to two-minute vignettes that women can tune in to every week. There will be five launching on hsn.com, yourboyfriend.com and other partner sites. “We shot them on location at a restaurant, my house, a boardroom at my agency — it’s low-budget and fast and furious. The product is in some of them but it’s not the focus,” said Walsh. On why Walsh took Boyfriend to HSN, she said, “Maybe I’m a control freak, but I wanted to be hands-on in talking about it. I was very lucky that HSN and Sephora were my first choices, and both happened to be superfocused on fragrance this season and excited about the viral aspect of marketing it.”
Walsh sees expansion into clothing, cosmetics and home, which she calls “accessible chic.”
“That is already happening with designers putting things in Target and H&M…how do I bring what I wear and make it accessible in all facets without glutting the market? I want to grow slowly and expand where it seems like a good fit,” she said.
As she wraps up her lunch break in her trailer, Walsh shakes her head in disbelief. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor but I never thought I’d be running a beauty company,” she said. “Because actors often pretend, it was easier for me to make up something out of thin air. The commitment to fantasy gets the imagination going.”