For example? "There are certain designers in our portfolio who do not want to hear the word 'commercial,'" Walsh says, "while there are others who embrace it."
After the Ungaro episode, Lauder returned to the designer arena in 1993 by inking a deal with Tommy Hilfiger; today its portfolio also includes Donna Karan, Michael Kors, Sean John, Coach, Kiton, Missoni and Tom Ford. Describing the development process, Lauder says, "You get into a different vehicle with each person and you know what makes them tick. Each person has his or her own style, mission and concept. They use different words for what they're trying to express. We try very hard to combine their dream with what we believe is commercially feasible."
The process hinges on how well acquainted the development team is with the designer and his or her brand.
"The successful formula comes from working closely with the designer," says Christophe Cervasel, founder and chairman of Selective Beauty, which in the last year has signed deals with John Galliano, Jimmy Choo and Zac Posen. "There is a magic moment when you say, 'Yes, I have the idea.' It's like falling in love," he says, adding it involves all the senses.
Some designers throw open the doors to their studios, homes and shopping habits to give their fragrance partners a wide-eyed glance into their world. For others, fragrance is simply one bullet point on a dense business plan, best managed by the category experts of its licensee.
Regardless of level of involvement, experts say the most successful scents go deeper than the clothes. "You can't stay at the level of style," says Veronique Gabai-Pinsky, president of Aramis and Designer Fragrances at Lauder. "The style is the expression of the vision, persona and psyche of the designer in the field of ready-to wear or couture. But you have to go deeper than that to find the emotions, values and beliefs behind it. Once you do, you're able to translate them into a fragrance vocabulary." Her deep dive into designers' worlds has included a visit to Hilfiger's Nantucket home, poring through books on Karan and traveling with Kors.