Byline: Pete Born

NEW YORK — Oscar is getting a new sister.
In the 20 years since Oscar de la Renta launched his Oscar women’s fragrance, the business became an American classic. But the followup launches of sibling scents never came close to rivaling the original.
The 1992 women’s entry, Volupte — hobbled by a drying up of support shortly after its launch — dropped out of department store distribution in the U.S. in January. Last year, it still managed to do 15 to 18 percent of the estimated $70 million in de la Renta’s worldwide fragrance business, according to Donald J. Loftus, president of Sanofi Beaute. The 1980 men’s entry, Pour Lui, does only 6 percent. Truffles was launched in 1983 and discontinued worldwide after parent Sanofi deemed that it lacked global potential.
But this fall, the company hopes to celebrate Oscar’s 20th anniversary with the introduction of a second blockbuster fragrance. On Sept. 21, Sanofi Beaute will launch So de la Renta, a women’s scent calculated to capitalize on the designer’s entry last fall into the bridge apparel market with a more affordably priced diffusion fashion line called Oscar.
Moreover, the company appears determined to avoid the past mistake of falling short on promotional support.
“This is the biggest launch Sanofi has done in this country,” de la Renta stated, referring to the company’s 24-year history in America.
Loftus added that So de la Renta will be the biggest launch in terms of sales targets and promotional support. He declined to provide numbers but industry sources estimate that Sanofi will be shooting for a $30 million wholesale volume in the U.S. for the first 12 months. Reportedly, the effort will be backed with $15 million to $17 million in advertising and sales promotion, including TV spots.
The new fragrance is priced to appeal to the same type of customer who gravitates to de la Renta’s bridge fashion — working women who make a good salary but still balk at collection prices.
“As I go around the country, there are so many women I see who love the clothes but can’t afford them,” the designer said.
There’s a visual reference to fashion in the packaging, with a gold thread wrapped around the faceted top of the perfume bottle and tied in a “couture knot,” a hand-tied decoration used in apparel production.
In keeping with that more affordable positioning, the new fragrance is priced 9 to 10 percent below the original Oscar, according to the company, with an opening price point of $42 for a 1.7-oz. eau de toilette spray. There also will be a 1-oz. eau de toilette spray at $30.
Loftus said the 1-oz. size will be merchandised as a regular part of the line overseas and used as a promotional item in the U.S. “to give us flexibility.”
The fragrance will be launched in the U.K. on Sept. 21 and in Canada on Nov. 1. In addition, there will be fall introductions in the Caribbean, South America and Scandinavia, where the original Oscar fragrance has done a good business.
In the spring, the company plans to roll out the scent to the rest of the world, including Continental Europe, Asia and the duty-free market.
There are 12 items in the line — four of them bath products — with a top price point of $200 for a 1-oz. perfume.
Jane O’Connor, director general worldwide of Oscar de la Renta Parfums, described the fragrance, which was developed by Firmenich, as a “sheer luscious floral, with a kicky attitude.”
“We wanted something sheer but didn’t want something light,” O’Connor noted. “We wanted to follow our [romantic, feminine] niche and bring sheer to a new place.”
She described the formula as “clear and bright on top” with “a nice warm drydown.”
O’Connor said the scent is not overpowering.
“It’s very clear,” she said. “It doesn’t envelope you. If you’re close to the body, it works.”
“It has a strong presence but not an aggressive presence,” De la Renta added.
To the designer, it is a question of femininity. He noted that his customer has a “well-defined” sense of taste, adding, “She has a very strong idea about her own femininity. When talking about a power suit, I say, power is in the femininity.”
This strong point of view also figures in the name of the fragrance.
“A woman has a very definite vision of who I am as a designer, and I do,” de la Renta continued. “She will look at something and say, ‘That is so de la Renta.”‘
The target customer is 28 to 38 years old, O’Connor said, compared with 20 to past 60 for the original Oscar.
During a recent interview, the designer suggested that it might be worthwhile to get behind the Pour Lui business. He noted that when the men’s scent was introduced in 1980, it was given a subtle, in-store slow-build introduction then in vogue in marketing circles. The advertising focused on the Oscar scent. “We never did a launch for Lui, ever,” de la Renta said.
Acknowledging that Lui represents “a missed opportunity,” Loftus suggested it makes more sense to launch the new Oscar men’s fragrance, perhaps next year, before attempting to revive Lui, which is sold largely overseas.
Another fragrance marketed abroad is Volupte, whose American department store distribution was phased out in January. Loftus described that scent as a victim of corporate overload.
When Volupte was launched in the early Nineties, Sanofi was in the process of acquiring a number of fragrance brands. Promotional and advertising support had to be diverted from Volupte shortly after its launch, he said, because Sanofi had three more introductions on the launch pad.
This time, it will be different, judging from the company’s plans. Sanofi has just begun showing the new scent to retailers, but the initial reactions seem positive. “We are very excited about it,” said Barbara Zinn Moore, senior vice president of cosmetics and fragrances at Macy’s East. “The program looks very balanced and very fresh, and we think it can generate a significant volume for the fall season.”
Sanofi is planning a full-court advertising and promotional drive that will begin with October editions of fashion and beauty magazines and continue into the Christmas selling season.
There will be 20 million scented impressions, using more than one technology, and letters from store presidents will be sent to customers, inviting them to come to the counter for free deluxe miniature perfume samples. The U.S. distribution will total 2,200 doors, according to Loftus.
As a more widely used sampling device, the company will dispense nearly 10 million Truscent gel capsules worldwide, with which the company experimented in Canada last year with the Oscar scent, and which it is now using in England.
The company also will deploy 25 million stitch-in four-page advertising inserts in stores’ Christmas catalogs.
The visual for the print advertising will be taken from the TV commercial scheduled to be shot in mid-June. The commercial will consist of five vignettes portraying moments in a woman’s day. A director and model have not yet been chosen, Sanofi executives said.
The TV commercials will be broadcast on a national basis as part of the strategy to reach a new consumer and avoid cannibalizing the Oscar audience. The original Oscar scent still does nearly $40 million at wholesale in the U.S., according to industry sources.
“We don’t want beauty advisers to trade off So de la Renta customers for Oscar customers,” O’Connor said. “We want to bring in somebody who isn’t there now. We are going to do cable. We have to have a broad-based reach.”
Sanofi will attempt to extend that reach even further by sending de la Renta himself into the stores to press the flesh with customers, a tactic for which the personable designer needs no practice.
During the 1992 launch of Volupte, de la Renta made 22 appearances in a month, he recalled. In 1993, he cut a swath across Scandinavia, visiting a different city every day.
“I never slept for one 24-hour period in Helsinki,” he recalled.
This time around, the tireless traveler may not get to the Scandinavian markets until spring but expects to hit more than 20 markets between September and December.
“I will,” he said, “be doing a lot of appearances.”

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