Chris Collins has always been a fragrance enthusiast.
“When I had my first job, my first purchase — I was 14 — was a CD and Obsession for Men,” Collins said. “My dad always loved smelling good — he wore Stetson, he wore Grey Flannel — that literally made me obsessed. I used to climb all over him because I loved the way he smelled. But back then I wasn’t as big as I am now.”
Collins, known for his decades of modeling work for Ralph Lauren (and his height), is translating that olfactory passion into his first fragrance collection, which debuts at Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s store on Thursday. The collection — Danse Sauvage, Harlem Nights and Renaissance Man — is meant as an ode to the Harlem Renaissance.
“This is my contribution to the Harlem Renaissance,” Collins said, adding that Harlem, where he lives, is seeing a “rebirth of the culture,” complete with a thriving restaurant and nightlife scene.
The hero fragrance, Harlem Nights, is comprised of notes of rum, orris, patchouli, sandalwood and amber. Renaissance Man contains notes of ginger, sage, vetiver and sandalwood, and Danse Sauvage (inspired by Josephine Baker) is made up of notes of black pepper, plum, amber and musk. The juice — where most of the money of the bootstrapped venture went, Collins noted — is housed in flask-like bottles with copper tops.
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The line’s pricing — $160 — is lower than many other niche fragrances. The line is also aimed toward men, which is a departure in niche, where unisex fragrances abound. “For niche, I have perfume-level fragrances and the price point of those is more expensive than what I’m selling mine for. But I also knew that I wanted to attract people who maybe didn’t really know — ‘Oh, I can wear this niche fragrance.’ I didn’t want to price anyone out.”
His own fragrance journey may have started with Obsession for Men, but it wound up in luxury, with By Kilian’s Straight to Heaven. He ended up meeting the brand’s founder, Kilian Hennessy, who has since become a mentor to him, he said. By Kilian was acquired by The Estée Lauder Cos. in 2016.
“One of his best [pieces of advice] to me was take your time and do it correctly,” Collins, who took two years to work on the fragrance collection, said. “I did not let him smell the fragrances until I was done.”
For Collins, this initial three-fragrance launch is only the beginning. His ultimate goal is not just to launch more fragrance collections — though that is very much part of the plan — but to develop his brand into a full-fledged men’s accessories line. Industry sources estimated a business of that nature could generate about $10 million over the next five years.
“The most important thing now, and it’s always been the most important, is the accessory,” Collins said. “The watch, the shoes, the fragrance — which to me, is the most important. I see my company building into a luxury accessory business starting with fragrance.”