Byline: Julie L. Belcove

CHICAGO — For his latest fragrance venture, Victor Zast is tapping the subject of one of men’s deepest fantasies: sports cars.
Corvettes, to be specific.
“The Corvette owner thinks of it as his hidden mistress,” said Zast, president of Private Portfolio, formerly known as Quintessence Inc. “We haven’t yet found a Corvette owner who isn’t interested in buying this fragrance.”
Although Corvette isn’t the first scent based on a vehicle — it was preceded by Jaguar in 1987 and by L’Oreal’s European launch last fall of Legendary Harley-Davidson — Private Portfolio apparently will go a step beyond the others by attempting to sell the fragrance through Corvette dealerships and owner clubs, among other venues.
The Corvette men’s scent, licensed from Chevrolet and scheduled to be launched by September, is part of Private Portfolio’s mandate to develop new channels of distribution for German consumer products giant Benckiser, its parent company.
Zast said the search for alternatives is essential because the fragrance industry has been virtually flat in unit volume for years. The only signs of life, he claimed, are in venues that are completely new to the beauty category, such as Eddie Bauer, for which Private Portfolio created the Adventurer men’s fragrance; The Gap; Banana Republic; Ann Taylor, and even Hallmark.
“Benckiser certainly does not want to give that up or not be able to serve it,” he said of the fledgling market segment.
With Corvette, Private Portfolio will be experimenting well beyond the generally accepted turf for fragrance and cosmetics. Zast described the project as a way to learn about alternative distribution.
He said the company is planning a three-pronged distribution for the scent:
A direct-marketing campaign of mailings and ads featuring a toll-free telephone number to place orders. Media will probably include at least some of the 50 Corvette-related publications, which have a combined readership of 5.5 million.
An alternative distribution program in which the 5,200 Corvette dealers nationwide and the 6,000 chapters of Corvette Clubs of America, which have three million members, will be asked if they want to retail the fragrance.
One retailer, yet to be determined, which will have an exclusive on the fragrance. Private Portfolio may choose the retailer with an eye toward reaching the aspirational customer, Zast said, rather than the actual Corvette driver.
“The Corvette owner is typically an American male who makes $95,000 a year and is a heavy user of cologne and fragrance products. He’s 41 years old,” Zast said, adding that 30 percent have owned more than one Corvette and 85 percent are male.
Explaining there are “impassioned millions” of Corvette owners and enthusiasts, Zast said he expects to sell 175,000 units of Corvette in the first year.
“Unlike most brands, we know exactly who’s going to buy it,” he said.
Before signing the licensing deal with Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, Zast said Private Portfolio conducted research that indicated Corvette owners are extremely loyal to the brand and are particularly attached to older, classic models.
In Corvette fantasies, Zast said, “The car is always red, and the girl is always blonde. Hearing that, you can imagine how easy it is to develop advertising.”
Although the juice has not been finalized, it will have a “sense of the familiar because the Corvette owner respects history and the past,” Zast said, adding, “But a fragrance that isn’t racy and fresh and evocative of forward-thinking wouldn’t be right.”
Zast said the 100-ml. cologne spray will be priced in the $40 to $50 range. The bottle, slanted to the right to give the appearance of acceleration, has the Chevy emblem on it. The line also will include three 50-ml. ancillary items, each with a different model Corvette on the bottle to encourage multiple purchases.
Zast said he plans to offer Corvette owners a discount on the fragrance.
Perhaps the biggest marketing challenge will be reaching the women in Corvette men’s lives, Zast said, noting roughly half of Corvette men are married.
Eddie Bauer and Corvette are just the first of what Zast said will be many offbeat projects.
“Private Portfolio will be dedicated to the expansion of the fragrance market,” he said, noting that the alternative distribution industry is still “in the embryo stage.”
The name change from Quintessence will help distinguish Private Portfolio as an alternative distribution specialist, different from its sister companies — Coty in the mass market and Lancaster in the department and specialty store arena — according to Zast.
Zast stressed the experience of Private Portfolio. He noted that many private-label beauty products now being created by retailers are too generic for an industry that demands highly developed concepts, images and advertising.
As part of the Benckiser Group, Private Portfolio has the resources that smaller companies lack, Zast said, ticking off capabilities ranging from research and development in treatment and color cosmetics to distribution and purchasing goods. “A consultant or a small company can’t do this,” he said. “It’s our business. It’s our know-how. In fact, we don’t know how to do anything else.”