WANG AND UNILEVER TIE THE KNOT
Byline: Kerry Diamond
NEW YORK — Vera Wang has finally said “I do” to a fragrance license.
Her significant other? Unilever Prestige, the designer license division of Unilever that was created as part of the company’s recent reorganization.
The first product, a signature fragrance, will be launched in fall 2001 in conjunction with the publication of the Vera Wang bridal book. Other products will follow, including more fragrances, scented home items and possibly even cosmetics.
The license is a major coup for Unilever because Vera Wang is a household name, thanks in large part to the cult that has grown around her bridal business. The average 22-year-old woman in the Midwest might not know Marc Jacobs or John Galliano, but she certainly knows Vera Wang — even if the idea of marching down the aisle in a $10,000 Vera Wang gown is a fiscal fantasy.
Wang said she is thrilled to be able to reach women like these through her beauty business.
“I can’t tell you how many women come up to me and say, ‘I can’t afford your wedding dresses,”‘ said the designer during an interview at her showroom here.
Chet Hazzard, president and chief operating officer of Vera Wang, said the company had considered doing a fragrance years earlier, but the timing just wasn’t right.
“We’re in a better position today to market a fragrance,” he said, referring to the expansion of the Vera Wang brand beyond bridal and into eveningwear, ready-to-wear and sportswear. “Also, finding the right partner was crucial. If we had found the right partner five years ago, we would have done it.”
The Unilever relationship, however, is no mere marriage of convenience, said Wang. It seems to be a love match. “They understand me,” she said.
What they understand is that there’s more to Vera Wang than a bustling bridal business. “Vera is complex,” said Laura Lee Miller, president of Unilever Prestige. “She is a mother and a designer, and we will expand on that as we build our fragrance platform.”
Part of the attraction for Wang was that Unilever didn’t want an absentee designer to lend his or her name to a fragrance project. “I would never sign a license where I didn’t have control. Control has been a big issue for me since I was seven years old!” she joked.
Certainly a big factor that worked in Unilever’s favor is the company’s experience with designers Calvin Klein, Valentino, Nino Cerruti and Karl Lagerfeld. Unilever has built Klein’s fragrance and beauty business into a $700 million franchise and helped expose the designer to a worldwide audience.
Wang’s beauty business will be much smaller. One industry observer said it could reach $100 million retail, or $60 million wholesale, by 2005.
“I certainly think she has the potential to be a powerful name in beauty,” said Deborah Walters, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of fragrances and cosmetics at Saks Fifth Avenue. “I’m very excited about this.”
Wang’s first fragrance launch is more than a year away, but the designer promised her beauty business would stay true to her fashion philosophy. “I try to be respectful of women in everything I do,” Wang said. “That respect is lost a little in fashion today.”
Wang certainly knows what she likes and dislikes about fragrance and makeup. “My friend Bobbi Brown is going to kill me,” she said, referring to the makeup artist and cosmetics entrepreneur, “but being middle-aged, I love MAC because they have wonderful coverage. I also love their color range.”
When it comes to fragrance, Wang prefers French fragrances like Chanel No. 5 and Chanel No. 19, and she has been known to tailor her scents to her mood. “I’ll wear Bal a Versailles on the days I’m Madame Pompidou,” she explained. “On the days I’m an astronaut, it’s Rocabar by Hermes. If you’re modern, you want to experiment.”
She also loves men’s toilet waters and Gucci Rush, although “the Rush packaging doesn’t work in your handbag,” she griped.
Pat Saxby, divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics and fragrances for Bergdorf Goodman, which carries Wang’s eveningwear, is excited to see what the Wang-Unilever team produces.
“The potential for her beauty business is enormous,” Saxby commented. “Vera Wang has a huge following and she reminds me of Martha Stewart in a way. She can build quite a beauty empire with what she has going.”