PARIS — For Issey Miyake, fame came in an unexpected way.
“People recognize me more through my perfume than my fashion now,” said Miyake, who recently unveiled his first men’s scent, L’Eau d’Issey Pour Homme, here.
“After all, they wear my perfume a lot more than my fashion!” laughed the soft-spoken Miyake.
According to Miyake, Chantal Roos, the president of BeautÄ Prestige International, originally resisted doing his debut fragrance as BPI’s first scent because of the designer’s low name-recognition in the West. BPI is the Paris-based subsidiary of Shiseido that controls the fragrance licenses of Miyake and of Jean Paul Gaultier.
But Roos’s fears proved unfounded. Although Miyake declined to discuss volume figures, sources indicated that his 1992 entry, a women’s scent called L’Eau d’Issey, did $18 million at wholesale in Europe last year. And executives at BPI expect the Japanese designer’s men’s scent to do around half that volume in Europe this year.
The women’s fragrance was introduced in the U.S. last October, with Saks Fifth Avenue as the exclusive launch store. The line reportedly did $1.5 million for the fall season, making it Saks’ biggest fall launch.
Miyake also turned heads among fragrance executives. In 1993, his first scent won a Fragrance Foundation FiFi award for best women’s introduction in Europe. In June, the same fragrance won two more FiFi’s: best women’s fragrance in the U.S. in exclusive distribution and best women’s packaging in the exclusive and limited categories.
His women’s scent has been a huge hit despite Miyake’s relatively obscure name, but executives figure that the men’s scent will be able to profit from its predecessor’s renown.
“Perfume is a different story from fashion,” he said. “With fashion you create for a group of people [customers] who know about it. With perfumes you have to please a lot of people.”
It’s clear that Miyake’s olfactory success has given him a taste for a broader audience.
“I have become determined that more people will wear my clothes,” said the designer, who last year launched his first diffusion line, called Pleats Please, aimed at a far wider audience than he had ever before attempted to reach.
The men’s fragrance bottle was created by Fabien Baron, who also did the women’s packaging, “in just a few weeks — very rapidly and in the same line as the women’s scent,” Miyake said. But the development of the outer carton went less smoothly.
One week before the men’s launch here, Miyake decided to change the outer packaging’s all-white coloration.
“I was only about 80 percent happy with it. So we had to change it to partly gray. Not everyone was delighted with my decision,” he said, referring to Roos.
When it came to selecting the name of the men’s scent, Miyake admits to only one point of contention with the assertive Roos, whom he calls “just wonderful.”
“I suggested a few names to Chantal, but she just laughed,” Miyake said. “‘They’re silly, Issey,’ she told me.”
Miyake didn’t say what his rejected suggestions were.
In developing the actual juice, the designer’s instructions were the same as with the women’s scent: Make it like water. That was the basis of the name of his first fragrance — L’Eau d’Issey — or the water of Issey.
When it came time to develop the men’s scent, Roos couldn’t resist teasing the designer.
“Chantal reminded me, ‘Issey, it’s a difficult thing to sell water,”‘ he said.
Miyake has a clear idea of what to do with his royalty checks.
“I want to show people that if you have an idea, then you must try it.” he said. “Life has too many normal things in it. People need to understand the creative process. So I’d like to open a center for creation and design. Not a museum, but something to inspire ideas.”