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Over the decades, much has been made of what is in a fragrance bottle — hope or science? For Mary J. Blige, it’s transformation.
“I wanted my fragrance to be something special for my female fans,” said Blige of her new fragrance with Carol’s Daughter, My Life, named for her landmark 1994 recording of the same name. The album represented a major turning point in Blige’s life and by using it as a reference, she is attempting to encapsulate her decadelong transformation and triumph.
“I was crying out for help, because I was going through so much,” she said of the period around the time of the recording, speaking exclusively to WWD on the set of the ad shoot for her scent. “And four million women said, ‘Mary, we’re going through it, too, but you’re helping us by calling on us.’ From that day on, I began speaking truths about my life, and about their lives, and everything around us. So it’s a special tribute to us as women. My fans and I are smart now. We know we’re smart now, but we didn’t know it then. We know we’re beautiful now, we didn’t know it then. We’re educated now, we didn’t know it then. We’re soft, we’re edgy — we’re all those things. And I wanted this perfume to represent every female’s everyday life.”
While the My Life scent may be meant to represent everyday life, Blige and Carol’s Daughter are breaking the bonds of traditional prestige fragrance retailing by choosing to launch My Life solely on HSN on July 31. Blige is an investor in Carol’s Daughter, which also is a break with industry practice.
Blige, who worked with Firmenich to create the scent, concedes fragrance development was new to her, but she did have a secret weapon: Pamela Baxter, president and chief executive officer of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics North America. Blige’s husband and manager, Kendu Isaacs, has an uncle who is married to Baxter, who Blige affectionately calls Aunt Pam.
“We’ve been family for years,” Blige said, before adding about developing a fragrance, “I’ve never done it, but it was so much fun because I have a keen sense of smell. I knew exactly what I wanted and would ask for an incense smell, a musk smell, a wood smell. I also wanted florals, but edgy florals. Every day they would bring me blotters to test — after a while, everything started to smell the same, so I had to pull back.”
Once she got the juice to an early stage, Blige shared it with Baxter. “Aunt Pam came to our house for Christmas during that time, and I said, ‘Pam, I love it, but something’s causing me to hate it.’ What is that smell — there’s too much of it. And Pam said it was wood. I got on the phone right away and said ‘take the wood out!’” Blige said with a laugh.
Baxter noted that Blige is studious about every task she tackles. “She likes to know what she is talking about,” said Baxter. “She is not one to let anyone manage her life. She wants to learn everything from top to bottom.”
Despite the assist from Baxter, Steve Stoute, lead investor in and chairman of Carol’s Daughter, is quick to stress that Blige had free rein to create whatever she wanted to. “No one said to Mary, ‘this is what the industry likes, this is what will sell.’ It was completely Mary’s creation, and she went through six different iterations before it was perfect. And that way, it really has become her fragrance. The endorser becomes the author.”
The scent’s top notes are of gardenia petals, Bartlett pear and white freesia; the heart is of tuberose, blooming jasmine, gold lily and apricot flower, and the drydown is of cashmere woods, praline, sesame and incense. It will retail for $46 for 1.7 oz. and will be sold with a clutch purse.
While some high-profile names are fine with smelling a final scent and cashing a check, Blige isn’t one of them. “I have to be involved,” she said. “Because when your name is attached to something, and it’s not good, that’s your name. So I prefer a good name rather than vanity and riches.
“At the end of the day, it’s for me,” she continued. “So if I look ridiculous and not know what I’m talking about and not know what’s in my own fragrance, it doesn’t look good to people. When I was doing the [public service announcement for her charity, filmed earlier in the day on set] out there, I was saying education is power. That’s what I mean. It is powerful to sit here and talk to you and tell you I know what’s in my fragrance. I was there, putting it together.”