A NEW BREEZE FOR WHITE LINEN
Byline: Pete Born
NEW YORK — Twice in two weeks, two American fragrance houses have sought to give a kick to major but aging brands by introducing contemporary interpretations of classic scents.
Last week, Giorgio Beverly Hills attempted to breathe new life into its signature brand with Aire. Now comes White Linen Breeze from Estee Lauder.
Like Giorgio’s Aire, White Linen Breeze, which will pop up on Lauder counters in March, is a sequel to the original brand introduced in 1978. The new version is designed to harmonize with the original scent but offers significant differences in perfumery, according to Karyn Khoury, Lauder’s vice president of corporate fragrance development worldwide.
Industry consultant Allan Mottus noted other strong brands have sprouted opportunistic offspring, such as Ralph Lauren’s Polo Crest, begat by Polo.
“What you have to do is keep the wardrobe similar,” Mottus noted, “so if a customer wants to add the other products, she doesn’t have to walk away from the original.”
Robin Burns, president and chief executive officer of Estee Lauder USA & Canada, sees the new item as not only attracting new consumers but luring back former users who strayed to other brands.
Breeze is only one item, but represents big bucks. Lauder executives declined to talk dollars, but sources indicated the company expects Breeze to do about one-quarter of White Linen’s volume, or at least $10 million wholesale the first year.
Although it was launched 18 years ago, White Linen has been a consistent seller, and most industry estimates peg its U.S. wholesale volume at more than $40 million a year.
Despite the unexpected groundswell of business by Estee Lauder’s Pleasures last fall — its launch season — White Linen still is running third among Lauder’s 12 fragrances, with Beautiful remaining in first place, according to Burns, who firmly stated that Breeze is not being launched to rescue a faltering brand. White Linen has maintained itself, she said.
According to industry estimates, Pleasures did $35 million wholesale its first season. It is projected to do $65 million wholesale in its first 12 months, which would shatter the original projection of $30 million.
Industry sources estimate Beautiful’s U.S. volume at approximately $80 million wholesale.
Neither is Breeze simply a lighter rendition to fit current consumer tastes for sheer women’s fragrances, a tactic taken by some marketers.
Prior to Aire, Giorgio produced a lighter body mist version of its signature scent last year.
“This is not a light version in any way,” Burns said.
Burns described Breeze as “a crisper, cooler” version of the 1978 White Linen.
“The new one is brighter and fresher,” said Peter B. Lichtenthal, vice president of fragrance marketing for Estee Lauder USA & Canada.
Breeze was developed by International Flavors & Fragrances, the supplier that created White Linen.
The new version is cooler and crisper, in part, because the aldehydic content of the original has been curtailed, Khoury said, while White Linen’s heart of Egyptian and Algerian jasmine and Moroccan and Bulgarian rose has been preserved.
“We updated and modernized it,” Khoury continued, “by using less aldehydes and incorporating more watery florals, such as honeysuckle, lily and peach-accented Amazon orchid.”
The base of both versions contains vetiver, she added, but White Linen “relied on the richness of oak moss.” Breeze has less oak moss and instead incorporates sheer sandalwood.
Burns said she was reluctant to tinker too much with White Linen’s winning formula.
“There are very few fragrances in the world that have been a true success,” she noted, adding that “a lot” of the reason for White Linen’s staying power is the formula.
The bottle design is the same for Breeze, except that the glass is frosted instead of clear, allowing the company to save the cost of a new mold. Pricing is similar.
A 2-oz. bottle of Breeze eau de toilette spray will retail for $37. A 1.7-oz. White Linen spray is $35.
Lichtenthal noted that White Linen originally was positioned with an image of “elegant casualness.” That is still true, he said, but the market now has a different idea of casualness, and there’s room for revision.
“It’s more casual and more open,” he said.
“We’re taking it into the Nineties,” Burns said, adding that the updated juice fits into current fragrance trends.
That feeling is conveyed in a magazine ad. Shot on the Italian island of Elba by Albert Watson, the ad shows Elizabeth Hurley, in a white sundress, sitting barefoot on a beach.
Burns said a new ad will be shot for White Linen.
Lauder plans to give Breeze its due. According to industry sources, the advertising and promotion budget is about $3 million.
Muriel Gonzalez, senior vice president of marketing for Estee Lauder USA & Canada, said that during the March launch, Breeze will be advertised in about 10 national magazines. Another advertising flight will be staged in the May-June period, including 10 million scented strips.
Perhaps as a show of confidence in Breeze’s juice, Lauder for the first time will say in a national fragrance ad that free samples are available at the nearest department store — a statement that will cover the company’s entire distribution of more than 2,400 doors.
The company has used that tactic before in launching skin care products and lipstick, but not a fragrance.
“We had a tremendous response,” Burns recalled. “It’s expensive. That’s why we haven’t done it before.”
Lichtenthal said “well over one million vials” will be handed out.
In addition, there is the risk Breeze will steal customers from White Linen.
“We know there will be some cannibalization,” Burns admitted. “But when you run 10 million scented strips with an ad showing Elizabeth Hurley, you know you are going to increase market share.”
Burns said that since Breeze consists of only one stockkeeping unit, it poses far less risk than would an entire fragrance line. And spring is a less challenging season.
“The spring is safer,” Gonzalez said. “The numbers are smaller and we can adjust for fall.”