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How Tom Ford Beauty Plans to Scale Luxury

A new fragrance will increase the base price for the Signature line in fragrance, while the addition of skin care is expected to help fuel the brand's Asian growth.

Move over Chanel, Dior, Armani,

With the launch of Tom Ford Research, its new skin-care arm, Tom Ford Beauty is looking to become the first big designer master brand of the 21st century, playing across multiple categories in key geographies around the world.

The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.-owned brand launched fragrance in 2006 and color cosmetics in 2011. Since then, it has introduced more than 60 fragrances and reached estimated retail sales of more than $1 billion.

Lauder executives declined to comment on the numbers, but say that Tom Ford Beauty has risen 40 ranks in the past five years and is today the 25th largest beauty brand globally. The ambition is to gain at least five more spots by 2025 and double its current sales volume, all the while maintaining its tight luxury positioning.

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“This is controlled, profitable growth,” said John Demsey, executive group president of the Estée Lauder Cos. “The distribution is really tight. Our productivity per stockkeeping unit is high. The intention is to be in business forever.

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“It’s not like a lot of other things where people are trying to maximize a trend or moment or category,” he continued. “We see this as the first global luxury fashion brand in beauty.”

Lauder seems to be backing up that assertion with resources. For the launch of skin care, Tom Ford requested — and received — his own lab. For the last three years, a team of researchers has been exclusively devoted to the brand, with their own lab coats to boot.

“I wanted to start a serious skin-care arm and have it be science-based,” said Ford. “This is a real skin-care product and regimen. I’m not a designer who has thrown his name on a beautifully packaged cream.”

Tom Ford Research will launch with two products: Serum Concentrate, $350, and Crème Concentrate, $450, which will debut at Saks Fifth Avenue and Tom Ford in the U.S. in August, and then roll out globally to about 500 doors in September. Industry sources expect first-year retail sales to be in the $30 million range, a figure executives declined to comment on.

The primary ingredient in the line is caffeine, including white porcelain cacao which comprises less than one percent of all of the cacao plants in the world, Ford said, and gyokuro, a Japanese green tea.

“Years ago, a dermatologist told me that the best thing for puffy eyes was moist tea bags. Every time I did it, I noticed that it also moisturized my skin,” said Ford. “Caffeine became one of the most important things we researched,” he continued, noting the products also contain glycolic and lactic acids to abet cell turnover, hyaluronic acid and peptides.

In all, the team created over 75 different formulations for the two products before Ford approved the final ones. Three more products, including an eye cream, will launch in March.

There will also be products geared to the skin-care habits of Asian consumers, a key demographic for the brand. Tom Ford Beauty first launched in China in 2016; today the market represents almost 40 percent of its consumer base worldwide, according to Guillaume Jesel, global brand president of Tom Ford Beauty.

The brand is in about 20 doors in China, and in April, expanded its presence by launching on Tmall. Jesel said Tom Ford Beauty ranks number three in the eye category in China, number nine in fragrance and number one in lip in travel retail — rankings which do not include Tmall sales.

Both in China and globally, Jesel attributes the strong performance to Ford’s luxury positioning, and the successful acquisition of younger consumers. “We’ve offered recruitment price points—not more affordable things, but more affordable formats,” he said, citing a 30-ml. fragrance and body sprays as two examples.

“Those few small tweaks, without changing the product or the prices, allowed us to completely change the demographic profile of the brand and reach a 25-year-old customer in the specialty multichannel space,” said Jesel.

Fine-tuning product segmentation geographically has also been a key strategy. “We can dial up or down depending on the market forces and opportunities in a certain region,” said Demsey. “The modularity of the business — the ability to make a carefully crafted commercial execution on this brand is super targeted.”

Demsey noted that Asia is driven by makeup, while Europe is driven by “strong olfactive corridors” that tie into the emerging markets of Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The U.S. is more balanced between makeup and fragrance, he said.

“The products that we sell are not consistently the same all over the world,” said Demsey. “The one thing they have in common is they are all Tom Ford.”

The other commonality is that growth is outpacing the market in each region: Tom Ford’s Asia business is said to be up 58 percent, Europe is growing at 20 percent, and the U.S. is up in the high-single digits, with some scents, like Ombre Leather, growing in the 20 percent range, said Jesel.

Skin care isn’t the brand’s only major initiative for the second half of the year. A new fragrance in the signature line, Métallique, is launching in August in 7,000 doors globally, including 1,200 in the U.S., where the launch partners are Sephora and Nordstrom.

The juice, created by perfumer Antoine Maisondieu at Givaudan, is the first floral aldehyde for Tom Ford, and also marks a higher price point for the signature line at $150 for 50-ml. and $195 for a 100-ml. bottle.

Ford’s other scents in the signature line, like Black Orchid, start at $125, while prices in the Private Blend range start at about $240 for a 50-ml. bottle.

“The idea is to pivot this category towards more luxury and higher quality, because we believe niche fragrance is scaling,” said Jesel. “In our segment of the market, we see a flight to luxury.”

Jesel wouldn’t discuss a sales estimate for Métallique, but industry sources estimate first-year sales could reach $50 million globally.

Model Joan Smalls is the face of the brand in a campaign photographed by Steven Klein.

“This scent is more specific and feminine than a lot of our fragrances,” said Ford. “I think of it as a more feminine expression of my taste.”

Although he’s usually drawn to richer, more gourmand scents, he’s been wearing Métallique since working on its development. Asked how he liked it, Ford sounds almost surprised at the question.

“I love it,” he exclaimed. “Even if it’s out of my comfort zone, I have to love it. If we’re missing a particular classification of fragrance, we need to fill it, but I always have to love it and want to wear it.

“When you create a great fragrance, it lives for years. When you design a dress, in three months people are going to be tired of it,” Ford said. “Fragrance has a longevity that is incredibly appealing. That alters the way you think when you’re designing products.”