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Forty years ago, enterprising beauty entrepreneur Estée Lauder bristled at the notion of putting the name of the fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro — or any name other than her own — on one of her company's fragrance bottles.
That intractable position immediately unraveled her namesake company's licensing arrangement with Ungaro to develop his first fragrance. Recounting the tale, Estée Lauder's daughter in- law, Evelyn—the firm's senior corporate vice president—says with a laugh, "That was our first foray into designer fragrances and it was an abortion."
As Evelyn Lauder reminds, in the Sixties, the designer fragrance category—carved out in part by Bill Blass and his licensee Revlon—was a novel idea. It has since grown into a $1.93 billion piece of the $2.88 billion prestige fragrance market in the U.S., according to The NDP Group. After a deluge of celebrity scents over the last few seasons, designers are once again asserting their primacy at department store counters. This fall's launch lineup includes Emporio Armani Diamonds, Daisy Marc Jacobs, Very Michael Kors, Vivara by Emilio Pucci, The One by Dolce & Gabbana, Prada Infusion d'Iris, Midnight Poison by Christian Dior, DKNY Delicious Night, Donatella Versace's Versace and Gucci by Gucci, to name a few.
But ideas for designers scents don't simply march off the runways. Behind each one is a team of designers in their own right. It's this team of beauty marketers and perfumers who assists fashion designers — masters at sketching and sewing their artistic point of view into clothing — on how to bottle their aesthetic and personality into a fragrance.
By all accounts, creating a designer fragrance is an emotional process and sparks can fly when attempting to blend creativity and commercial considerations. But when the team of artistic collaborators get it right, fragrance offers a way for designers to broaden their audience beyond merely the deep-pocketed. It also extends the promise of brand longevity.
"Designers take fragrance seriously because it's something that may be around longer than themselves," says fragrance consultant Ann Gottlieb, who has worked on scents for Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta.