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Michael Kors Trades Jet Set for Sexy Ruby

The designer cited a shift in how sexy is perceived as the inspiration for his new scent.

Michael Kors has dropped his interest in travel, in favor of redefining sex.

The designer’s new fragrance, Sexy Ruby, launched Thursday night with a splashy party at Tate Modern in London, where Kors threw back “Sexy” and “Ruby” cocktails with a handful of global influencers flown in to interact with (who also were no doubt urged to share the night’s festivities with their social communities).

In an interview before the event, Kors told WWD that a dramatic change in what constitutes “sexy” was the reason he decided to forgo his usual glamorous, jet-setter-themed fragrances in lieu of something, er, sexier.

“Now when I think about sexy — sexy for a lot of people used to be perceived as you dress provocatively, it’s how you feel at night. Now, for a lot of women, what makes them feel sexy is feeling powerful. [And] I want something that celebrated the whole idea that sexy in today’s world is powerful… and the fragrance is magnifying your sexy,” Kors expounded, also calling the scent a fresh way to reflect the different moods of the Michael Kors woman.

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“It’s always interesting when you see a shift in how people perceive things…[and] beauty and fashion have to reflect that,” he added.

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The designer went on to compare the diverse list of influencer attendees to magazines in the Fifties that sent people rushing to emulate the Hollywood movie stars featured inside. Among those attending Thursday night’s event: Sofie Valkiers, Bruna Tenor, Chantal Trujillo, Peony Lim and Phillip Picardi and Julie Schott, dot-com editors at Teen Vogue and Elle, respectively, who have become influencers in their own right. Additionally, Sexy Ruby muses Martha Hunt, Soo Joo Park and Serayah McNeill will both attend the party, as well as Edita Vilkeviciute, the face of the campaign.

Sexy Ruby, which hits counters worldwide this week and retails from $66 for a 1-oz. bottle to $112 for a 3.4-oz. size, is said to have one of the most significant marketing budgets of any fragrance put out to date by the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., which owns the license for the Michael Kors fragrance brand. Reportedly, $30 million in marketing muscle will help promote the eau de parfum globally. Compare this to Estée Lauder Pleasures, considered Lauder’s blockbuster fragrance, which reportedly had a $17 million advertising budget. Or Chanel, which an industry source said allotted a whopping $50 million to launch its Gabrielle Chanel eau de parfum.

The installation for the launch party was conceptualized to include a series of highly “sharable moments,” according to Daniel Annese, global brand president of Aramis and designer fragrances at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. These ranged from the ability to enter a life-size ruby and “become a facet” to a room that enlarged one’s shadow by 10 to 15 times to “magnify your sexy.”

Annese maintained that the brand has taken a different approach to messaging around how the scent is described, too.

“Everyone talks about the base note, the top note and the middle note…[and] we talk about the sexy accord and the ruby accord. It’s easier for consumers to understand and it makes it different than anything she’s ever heard before. And we built cocktails around each, so not only can you smell the accords, you can taste them,” Annese said. For instance, the “Ruby” cocktail is infused with raspberry, lychee and pink pepper.

He declined to comment on financials relating to marketing spend or sales projections, but he made one thing clear: Lauder is placing big bets on Sexy Ruby.

An industry source said retail sales for Sexy Ruby’s first 12 months could reach as much as $75 million, 25 percent more than the $60 million in sales projected at the time of last year’s Wonderlust fragrance launch. A global push with this release is a priority, as sales outside the U.S. have surpassed the brand’s domestic business and now make up 60 percent of revenue. It’s also the portfolio’s third consecutive year of double-digit growth in Europe, according to Annese, which became part of the reason the launch party took place in London and not in New York as it would have in the past. The Michael Kors fragrance portfolio is composed of six permanent fragrances, as well as flankers and limited-edition versions.

“It’s the biggest advertising campaign we’ve ever done for a Michael Kors fragrance….[But] in addition to what the spend is, it’s how we spend it,” Annese said. “By going with influencers and social first, we think their reach will be particularly compelling and engaging. We’ve hand-chosen some of the best influencers…[and] she’ll also have the opportunity to add a local relevancy to it.”

While Sexy Ruby’s is a digital and social first push, Annese said print is still an important part of the marketing mix, especially in fragrance, because of the ability to seed scent strips.

Annese broke it down: digital accounts for 35 percent of the marketing spend, with 15 percent going toward TV and 50 percent dedicated to print, sampling and scent strips. This is a slight change from last year’s Wanderlust spend, where 55 percent went to print and sampling and just 30 percent went to digital.

But Annese did acknowledge a significant shift in strategy this year after recognizing the “importance and immediacy” of social media. Last year, a prelaunch and pre-seeding campaign took place in June — months before Wonderlust was available for consumers to purchase. He maintained the Wonderlust campaign “served us well,” and generated millions of dollars in earned media value, but realized that not having product for sale to coincide with the social media blitz was a miss.

“What we’re doing this year…is ensure that every market has it on counter now. We waited six to eight weeks to make sure every market had it and was set up. We anticipate we’ll earn even more media and the product will be in store,” Annese said. “Now it’s almost a little like ‘see-now-buy-now’ from the fashion designers.”