DKNY SCENT PARTS WESTERN WATERS
Byline: Louise Farr / With contributions from Diane Dorrans Saeks
LOS ANGELES — “Am I on?” Donna Karan asked a crowd of cheering Macy’s West sales associates two weeks ago at South Coast Plaza in California’s Orange County.
You bet your life Karan was on. The designer made personal appearances at Macy’s in Costa Mesa and in Union Square, San Francisco, on Feb. 25 and 26 as part of the West Coast launch of DKNY The Fragrance.
“We’re checking the numbers as we go,” said a smiling Macy’s West chairman Jerry Sullivan, who, with new chief operating officer Robert Mettler, was on hand to welcome Karan to South Coast Plaza, as were the hundreds of fans who showed up to get their skyscraper-style fragrance bottles signed.
The launch officially began Feb. 27. Two weeks later it was clear that Karan had given Macy’s and Estee Lauder, Karan’s beauty licensee, something to crow about: Industry sources put the two-week Macy’s West volume at $250,000. And Macy’s West said the fragrance had taken the number one spot as one of the largest launches in the store’s history. The launch was so powerful that it doubled the volume of the entire Karan franchise, including the fashion categories, during the period.
Last year, industry sources projected that the DKNY fragrances — a men’s fragrance will be launched in September — could generate $100 million in the year following the rollout. Lauder vice chairman Jeanette Sarkisian Wagner, speaking in Los Angeles last week, said so far DKNY has quadrupled expectations.
It’s been two and a half years since Donna Karan International signed a fragrance and cosmetics licensing agreement with the Estee Lauder Cos. Lauder inherited 46 stockkeeping units generating $40 million in wholesale volume, then promptly discontinued most items in the line.
Eighteen months ago, Karan began developing the DKNY women’s fragrance — an urban floral, heavy with the scent of orange and vodka and intended to evoke the energy of New York. Almost immediately the mythmaking began, with the tale of Karan’s looking out of her office window and onto the bustle, lights and skyscrapers of the city, deciding that was what she wanted to bottle.
“You don’t need another ‘me too.’ It doesn’t smell like anything else. It’s a hit of energy,” said Karan of the fragrance, post-pep rally and prior to the product-signing.
Dressed in a red leather jacket and skinny black pants, Karan was sitting in a store office. Models Esther Canadas, of the bee-stung lips, and her chiseled husband, Mark Vanderloo — figureheads for the fragrance campaign — wandered in and out with their chihuahua puppy.
“It was a natural evolution. It was going to happen, whether with Estee Lauder or not with Estee Lauder,” said Karan. “The demand was there. We just couldn’t get it produced in that kind of demand, so we needed a partner-in-crime.”
Lauder continued Donna Karan Eau de Parfum, Formula cleanser, Cashmere Mist and the Cashmere Mist bath-and- body collection.
“It’s strengthened the whole franchise,” said Elizabeth Morello, Macy’s West senior vice president for cosmetics and fragrance, of the Lauder-Karan alliance. “It’s strengthened the Donna Karan Cashmere Mist fragrance, where we’re running twice where we were a year ago. That’s not typical of what will happen with a second fragrance.”
Said Jane Hertzmark, senior vice president and general manager of Donna Karan Cosmetics, “I think it could be the first time a new fragrance has launched without cannibalizing an existing one.”
Meanwhile, lines of excited fans snaked through Macy’s cosmetics department. Holographic, skyscraper-like displays — the designs for which struck Karan as she watched the reflection of the setting sun on such buildings — were scattered throughout the store. TV monitors ran footage of Vanderloo and Canadas against a moody, New York cityscape.
The fragrance launched on the East Coast last fall at Karan’s Madison Avenue store, followed by Bloomingdale’s on 59th Street. It then rolled out to Saks, Lord & Taylor and surrounding areas in December. In January it was shipped to 1,000 doors.
In Costa Mesa, a local teacher cut school to buy several $38 bottles of the 1.7-oz. spray as well as the $55 3.4-oz. size. “I spent about $280,” she said, peering into her bulging Macy’s bag. Susan Keilholz drove in from Orange in a Donna Karan-like getup of black skirt, tights and sweater. “It’s kind of a spiritual moment for me,” she said.
Psychiatrist Dr. Karen Norton let her 17-year-old daughter, Samantha, cut school and buy two $55 bottles of fragrance and a $28 bottle of lotion. “It’s for prom and junior prom. You want to smell good,” Samantha said.
Saturday, the DKNY juggernaut continued on to San Francisco, where Karan attracted a frenzied crowd at Macy’s Union Square flagship. Every window displayed DKNY merchandise, and the store’s facade was draped with a six-floor-tall banner.
Karan toured the store, dispensing advice about the DKNY displays and taking time to sell a DKNY slicker to a starry-eyed customer. After a spring 2000 fashion show and hours of signing and snapshots, Karan and her entourage slipped away to a waiting limo and headed home — to New York and real skyscrapers.