Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Paul Smith is going after a world that doesn’t know him.
The British designer is launching his first fragrances, Paul Smith Women and Paul Smith Men, in September to help raise his profile in markets where he’s just a cult designer — especially in the U.S. The fragrances form part of a stepped-up expansion program that includes the opening of his first freestanding store in Milan, the launch of women’s and men’s underwear and swimwear lines, and the introduction of a lower-priced women’s wear collection.
The moves come as Smith, 53, continues to have talks with all the world’s major luxury goods companies — including Gucci and LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton — about his business, which is Britain’s largest designer label, with annual worldwide sales of about $275 million. Smith and his companion, Pauline Dwyer, own the company he founded in 1970, and over the last three years he’s been considering how to ensure its future when he wants to step back or retire.
Smith — who is now Sir Paul after being knighted by the queen recently — stressed he’s in no hurry to sell. “We’re a very solid company,” he said during a luncheon interview that roamed from the state of the world’s luxury labels to his favorite practical jokes. “We own all our freeholds in the U.K., are immensely successful in Japan and have no debt. How many other designers can say that?”
The designer is looking for a major company to initially take a minority stake to help him expand what he believes is still an underdeveloped business. Smith designs women’s, men’s and children’s wear and accessories, but about 60 percent of his sales are still in Japan, where his men’s wear is licensed to Itochu. His women’s line is produced under license by Onward Kashiyama for worldwide distribution. About 25 percent of his sales are women’s wear and women’s accessories, with the remainder mainly men’s wear and men’s accessories.
He has more than 200 stores in Japan as well as shops in Paris, Hong Kong, Taipei and Manila and eight stores in London. But he’s barely tapped the U.S., where he has a freestanding men’s wear store in New York and wholesales his men’s wear to such retailers as Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York. His women’s wear is barely sold in the U.S. at this point, but has a cult following among such stars as Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. This fall, Nordstrom will carry Paul Smith’s women’s wear at its stores on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue and in Bellevue, Wash.
Smith recognizes the U.S. is the big nut to crack. He’s begun looking for sites for a flagship store in New York that would carry all his collections. Meanwhile, the designer and his fragrance licensee, Inter Parfums SA, believe the fragrances will help pave the way.
“The fragrances can definitely raise his profile in America,” said Philippe Benacin, chief executive of Inter Parfums.
Paul Smith Women and Paul Smith Men will have a worldwide rollout of about 8,000 to 10,000 doors and are projected to have ex-factory sales of about $4.5 million in the four months after launch — or about $25 million at retail, Benacin said.
The key markets will be those where Smith is strongest — the U.K., France, Italy and the Far East — and Inter Parfums expects to spend about $6 million to $7 million on marketing the line in those countries in the first four months. In the U.S., the companies are going for a stealth approach, with limited distribution and no advertising. The Paul Smith fragrances will be launched exclusively at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and at about 70 Nordstrom stores. It will roll out in 2001, but even then will be in only 500 to 600 doors, said Gerard Pichon-Varin, chief executive of Parfums Boucheron Corp., which is distributing the fragrance in America.
“This is a huge potential event,” he said. “Everything Paul Smith does is unbelievable, but he is still very unknown. This name will be a very hot name in coming years.”
Muriel Gonzalez, vice president and general merchandise manager for fragrances at Bergdorf Goodman, said the store was keen to launch the fragrance because of the success of Paul Smith men’s wear at the Bergdorf men’s store. “It’s an unusual, whimsical-looking project that fits in with the Paul Smith style,” she said. “It’s definitely an opportunity for him to make his name better known here.”
Dale Crichton, executive vice president of cosmetics at Nordstrom, expects the Paul Smith scents to do extremely well.
“Paul Smith’s eye for color has resulted in a striking, feminine design that we think our customers will find very appealing. We are positioning both of the fragrances to be among our best-selling fragrances,” she said. “Our customers always love discovering special, hard-to-find scents, and our selling staff takes great pride in introducing products like Paul Smith to their customers. Paul Smith will soon be known to many in the U.S.”
The women’s fragrance is a fruity floral with green tea notes, while the men’s is a spicy scent with green fig and violet. The fragrances are packaged in matte gray boxes that unfold to reveal the bottles inside. With Smith’s typical wit, the boxes are wrapped in hot pink plastic reminiscent of British chocolate wrappings. The clear-glass bottles are rectangles with tinted ends — hot pink for the women’s and electric green for the men’s. The colors are meant to mirror the bright linings often used in men’s bespoke suits — a hidden eccentricity known only to the user. The bottles were designed by architect Sophie Hicks, who designed Smith’s flagship store in Westbourne Grove in London and who will design the new 2,400-square-foot store opening in January 2001 on Via Manzoni in Milan.
Smith stressed the Milan store won’t be a copy of his London flagship but will be unique to that city. For one thing, it’s a triangular-shaped site “which is certainly different from all those other huge rectangular flagships in Milan.”
The store will carry a selection of Smith’s women’s, men’s and children’s wear; the new women’s and men’s underwear, swimwear and homewear lines made by La Bonitas (which does the underwear for Dolce & Gabbana and Alessandra dell’Acqua), and Smith’s accessories, which include leathergoods, shoes, watches and glasses. It also will carry some of Smith’s new women’s Pink Label line, which will be slightly less expensive than his existing Blue Label collection. Pink Label will launch with the spring 2001 season.
“What we’ve always said about our women’s wear is that it’s modern dressing — wearing a handpainted silk shirt with a pair of beat-up jeans. Pink Label will be included in the main line but will be a small collection of what could be called basics — a few denim jeans, a skirt, a jacket, a pair of needle cord pants, cotton shirts in bright colors and some simple tops. They’ll provide a good entry-level price point for our women’s wear.”
But before he starts sounding too corporate, Smith is back to stressing the importance of quirkiness in fashion.
“The key thing about Paul Smith — whether a larger company becomes involved with us or not — is the individuality. I’m still involved and I like to go to Westbourne House on Saturdays and help serve the customers. That’s fun.
“With corporate rollouts from Prada to Starbucks, everywhere is starting to look the same. We’ve never wanted to look like anyone else or be like anyone else. It would be nice to be bigger, but that’s not what drives what we do. We just want to enjoy it — and then the customers will.”

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