Byline: Alev Aktar

NEW YORK — When Helmut Lang’s fragrance licensing deal with Procter & Gamble was on the table, one term was absolutely non-negotiable. The designer demanded complete artistic control over the fragrance and image.
“In order to create something new and personal, I had to have total control,” said Lang, who has a reputation for being single-minded. “They gave it to me, which is very rare in this business.”
He put his authority to good use. Lang prevailed when it came to the choice of the scents for his men’s and women’s signature duo, which debuted in Germany on Wednesday. P&G marketers had pushed for entries that had tested better.
And in an unusual move for a start-up designer business, Lang is set to open a freestanding perfumery in New York by fall 2000. He is closing a deal for space in Manhattan’s SoHo, and will follow that with units in Paris and London.
The Lang perfumeries will have an old-world European apothecary feel and a product catalog that includes exclusive items, such as soaps and maybe even toothbrushes. Customers will be able to personalize their fragrances with essential oil blends, and a refill program will be put in place. “It will be the haute couture version of fragrance,” explained the designer, who talked seriously about perfume for almost two hours.
As for the distribution strategy, Lang has planned a slow, steady build. “We wanted to start in an exclusive way,” explained the designer. “The product doesn’t have to be rushed.”
The Lang duo debuted at the new Douglas superstore in Frankfurt — said to be the largest perfumery in Europe — on Wednesday. The fragrances are sold there in a 1,000-square-foot shop-in-shop, the first ever for the German retail giant. The distribution in Germany will widen in the fall, at the same time the scents are unveiled in France and the U.K.
In the U.S., the scents will be introduced in Lang’s Manhattan flagship in May and on shortly thereafter. The duo is slated to roll out to a specialty store chain in September.
Full global distribution will be complete by early 2002.
Prices for the fragrances range between $50 for a 100-ml. aftershave for men and about $130 for a 20-ml. parfum for women (the final pricing has not been determined). The women’s 50-ml. eau de parfum will retail for approximately $60.
Lang declined to comment on a sales target, but industry sources estimate that the fragrances could generate between $750,000 and $1 million at retail in the U.S. in 2000.
Although Lang has always splashed on eau de cologne — “it’s part of the morning procedure” — it wasn’t until the 1996 Biennale di Firenze that he became truly interested in scent.
For the art and fashion exposition, Lang collaborated with conceptual artist Jenny Holzer. She created an electronic sign installation for her trademark phrases, while Lang blended a scent that was diffused in the air. “It opened a door for me — a completely different world that I didn’t know existed,” he said.
This newfound interest in fragrance convinced Lang that it was time to do a commercial fragrance, and in early 1998, he inked the licensing deal with P&G. The company’s Eurocos unit, which markets prestige fragrances, was put in charge of the project.
“I wanted something that would be completely different from everything on the market,” said Lang. “I wanted the quality and tradition of old perfumery, but we also used very advanced and modern materials.”
Working with Dragoco perfumers, Lang created his fragrances, which he describes as addictive “skin scents.” The women’s is very feminine powdery musk, while the men’s has a musky, buttery smell.
Of course, Procter & Gamble did market research. “I was against it,” said Lang. “It did best in the U.S.,” he added. “Not so good in other countries.”
The women’s fragrance is available in eau de parfum and parfum while the men’s is an eau de cologne. All are bottled in hand-finished glass flacons designed by Lang. “I wanted them to be sculptural and modern but feel like they had existed forever,” he explained.
The parfum is topped with a screw-on golden cap that is removed to reveal a glass stopper. The stopper features a special safety mechanism: the user must push it to one side for removal. The men’s bottle is square-shouldered and “fits nicely in the hand,” Lang noted.
The white cartons are wrapped in cellophane, and to remove the plastic, the user pulls a band similar to the ones on cigarette packs.
In a break from traditional fragrance advertising, the ad campaign will not star a model. “That indicates a certain feeling or group,” said Lang, who instead chose visuals that show the products or Holzer’s poetry. There will be at least four different ads: one shows a waterfall of fragrance; another is a close-up of a bottle and its label; the third is an overhead shot of many Lang bottles; and the fourth is a Holzer poem. Lang also plans to invite various photographers to interpret the bottle, and another possibility is a T.V. and movie theater campaign.
The print campaign will break in the U.S. in May.
Of course, now that Lang has been bitten by the beauty bug, he is exploring skin care and makeup possibilities. There will be other fragrances too, but Lang wants to respect the wearer’s individuality.
“The idea is to create a scent that defines you but leaves enough space for personal interpretation,” said Lang. “And I think you have to create a fragrance that you believe in strongly.”

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