NEW YORK — When it comes to adding a beauty branch to his fashion empire, Max Mara chairman Luigi Maramotti is following one simple rule: Make it a partnership.
In its first venture into the lucrative fragrance business, the 53-year-old Italian fashion house has chosen to employ an unusual deal by beauty industry standards — it has formed a joint venture with Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, the prestige fragrance arm of German beauty giant Wella, now owned by Procter & Gamble, to produce the line, rather than doing a straight licensing deal. The first product to be launched from the joint venture, a Max Mara women’s scent, debuts in the U.S. in September.
“This deal takes advantage of the experience that we both have in our respective fields,” Maramotti, son of the firm’s founder, Achille Maramotti, said in a recent interview. “We have had a lot of fragrance propositions in our history, but [the previous proposals were] a way of brand stretching and taking a marketing point of view. We rejected these ideas because they did not add anything [to our portfolio]. We were willing to wait to meet the right partners, which we have in Cosmopolitan Cosmetics. “
And the hands-on approach doesn’t bother Don Loftus, president and chief executive officer of Cosmopolitan Cosmetics U.S. Inc., one bit. “I think it’s great,” he said at an interview held at his Manhattan headquarters. “When a fashion house takes that kind of interest, it makes all the difference in the world in the finished product. In fact, our best successes come from houses that have control on a worldwide basis.” In the U.S., Cosmopolitan also handles the fragrances of Burberry, Gucci, Ellen Tracy and Escada, among others.
Located in Reggio-Emilia, Italy, Max Mara — founded in 1951 — has a longstanding tradition of being very hands-on with all products bearing the company’s nameplates, which include the signature Max Mara brand, as well as Sportmax, Marina Rinaldi (named for founder Achille Maramotti’s great-grandmother), Max & Co, Pennyblack and Marella. The Max Mara fragrance marks the first time that the fashion house has ever ventured into the beauty business, despite a number of proposals from potential licensees over the years.
“For us, doing a fragrance is very significant, because we have never chosen to build our business by launching beauty products or licensing our name,” said Maramotti, who today oversees a business empire that is said to top $1 billion in annual sales. While neither Maramotti nor Loftus would comment on projected sales, industry sources estimated that the Max Mara scent will do about $15 million at retail in the U.S. in its first year, with an advertising and promotional budget estimated by sources at $3 million.
“We first had an idea of launching a fragrance about six years ago, but it took a while for many reasons,” added Maramotti. “We wanted to do a joint venture, rather than licensing our name, and we wanted to make sure that the fragrance was consistent with our design and values. Our aim was to create a connection between the consumer and the fragrance with our basic values.”
The research phase proved to be fascinating, Maramotti noted. “When we started to work on ideas and packaging, we had the opportunity to look very closely at our company and what women feel about the brand. It was like being reborn, realizing the enthusiasm for our values,” he said, noting that those values include speaking to a feminine, yet independent woman and offering her top-quality goods. “[The fragrance shows] a strong connection with the way we design our clothes — they are understated. You look at the woman, not the clothes, and are attracted by the balance of femininity and personality. The fragrance [is similar]; it is classic yet contemporary. It’s something that stays in time, like a piece of good design — it doesn’t age.”
And now that he has found the right partner, Maramotti said, he would eventually like to do a portfolio of fragrances, although no particular time frame has been set for additional launches. “We do plan to do more fragrances, and I believe there is a chance for getting [further] into body products,” he said, adding that a men’s fragrance “is not part of the plans.”
Nicholas Munafo, senior vice president of marketing, training and public relations for Cosmopolitan Cosmetics, noted that the juice, by Firmenich’s Daphne Bugey, includes top notes of ginger, sap, and Sicilian lemon; a heart of orchid, white lily, and magnolia, and base notes of cane sugar, musk and exotic woods.
The heavy, clear glass bottle, created by noted packaging designer Thierry de Baschmakoff, was inspired by the curves of a woman’s body, noted Loftus.
The range includes eaux de parfum sprays in three sizes — 1.3 ounces for $48, 2.3 ounces for $68 and 3 ounces for $88 —?as well as two ancillaries that incorporate fabric elements: a moisturizing body wash with linen seeds, 6.8 ounces for $35, and a firming body cream with cotton extract, 6.8 ounces for $45.
In the U.S., the fragrance will initially be in a tightly edited selection of about 200 specialty-store doors, including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and wholly owned Max Mara boutiques. Distribution will gradually widen, noted Munafo, following a pattern Cosmopolitan has established with earlier scents: rolling the scent out in three stages. “We start with specialty stores, move six months to a year later to top-tier department stores, and the last six months roll it out to the final distribution, depending on the fragrance,” he said. However, Max Mara’s 18-month rollout plan is narrower than many others in the Cosmopolitan Cosmetics range, with plans for just 500 U.S. doors in the next year and a half. The core consumer is expected to be a woman 20-plus.
National advertising is planned for September fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, with scented advertising expected to make up a majority of placements. The company is aiming for at least 12 million scented impressions, split between scented strips, deluxe miniatures and blow-ins, among other vehicles.