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“I thought about it so much, but I don’t want to just do clothing because everyone else is doing clothing,” she said, noting that an earlier T-shirt collaboration with designer Catherine Malandrino was a benefit for FFAWN. Gesturing to her $900 snug-fitting black jeans, she noted that she wanted to “do it right,” with style, comfort and premium quality. “I feel like I could wear these pants every day. That’s the kind of clothing line I want to do — a clothing line where people don’t mind paying $300 for jeans and they feel great and they look great. So until I can get it right, I’m cool.” She’s taken meetings on the subject, but is more than willing to wait for the right partner.
“I don’t think everybody’s goal is my goal. The goal is to make sure that people are comfortable and fly. What good is your beautiful dress if you’re not comfortable in it? I believe in comfort. Your shoes have to be comfortable or else you’re not going to be able to think. This is a woman’s thing.” Case in point: After the photo shoot, Blige swapped out a towering pair of fanciful Rodarte heels for fuzzy pink slippers.
While she noted that her earlier years were painful, they also helped shape her into the woman she is today — they even influenced how she developed the scent. “In ’94, I wouldn’t have known what was in it,” said Blige. “It wouldn’t have been in my mind to pay attention. Since I’ve evolved and changed my life, I pay attention to everything. I don’t dig and pry — that’s not what I do, I’m not a nosy person. But the things that are for me to learn, they fall in my lap, I learn them. I dig and dig and dig with those things.”
That tendency to research and study has worked well for Blige, who admittedly is somewhat shy. “That’s why I like to make sure I’m prepared,” she said with a soft laugh. “Because if I’m stumbling and fumbling and stuttering and not knowing what I’m speaking about, it bothers me later. So I like to prepare myself, to know what I’m speaking about. It gives me the confidence to cut through the cameras. It’s sort of like making Mary J. Blige the character for the day. She’s being prepped as a businesswoman.
“My singing career is one thing, and I still want that all to overflow,” she said. “But this is something new — people have never seen me in this light. My ambition is to constantly let people see me in another light — to see me as a philanthropist with FFAWN, to see me as a businesswoman and entrepreneur with Carol’s Daughter. Of course, they know Mary the singer — she’s always there. But people never suspect that they would see me like this. [It’s almost like] ‘Really? Good for Mary. I’m proud of her.’”
Blige noted that while she hasn’t sold anything on TV before, she’s looking forward to doing so. As is HSN’s ceo, Mindy Grossman. “I don’t have preconceived notions of how beauty should be sold,” said Grossman, who came to the channel in 2008 after stints as an executive at Nike Inc., Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., The Warnaco Group Inc. and Tommy Hilfiger Corp. “I come to it from the brand point of view, and look at how I can tell the story. I don’t think this is the way it’s always been done, so this is the way we have to do it. You have to tell the story with integrity and respect. We will invest to bring this brand to life.”
That’s evident in the way the fragrance will be launched: during six HSN shows on July 31. Blige will appear in all of the spots, and the scent will be the channel’s featured product for the day. HSN is filming a series of documentary pieces about Blige’s life, which will air during Blige’s July 31 appearances on the network.
“My [initial] ignorance about the beauty industry has been an advantage,” said Stoute, who in 2005 put together a star-studded group of investors — including Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, Thalia, Tommy Mottola, James Lassiter, Jimmy Iovine and Andrew Farkas — to fuel the growth of Carol’s Daughter, the then-$5 million beauty brand founded by Lisa Price in her Brooklyn kitchen in 1993. The brand now does an estimated $30 million-plus in retail sales, with My Life expected to add a significant amount to that annual tally. “The whole notion of ‘if you can’t smell it, you can’t sell it’ wasn’t on my radar.
“Everyone can choose how they want to sell. We chose to capture Mary J. Blige’s life and tell it to 93 million people,” said Stoute. “HSN is not skimming the surface of Mary’s life. We have a visual documentary of her life. I’d rather have that than part-timers spraying at the department store; fragrance is about telling a story, and what better way to sell that message than on TV, with the author herself telling the story? With HSN, the obstacle of going into the department store — the department store as the tollbooth between the consumer and the product — has been removed.
“I’m not saying there is a death of bricks-and-mortar,” continued Stoute, noting that Carol’s Daughter does well in Sephora, Macy’s and other brick-and-mortar retailers. “I’m just saying that now other people are at the table.” And, he said, “the retailer no longer builds the brand. The brand needs to build the brand, no matter where it is purchased. That allows you not to shop the channel, but the brand.”
Stoute and Grossman declined to discuss sales projections or number of available units, although industry sources estimated that My Life could do more than HSN has ever tallied with a fragrance show. Industry sources interpreted that prediction to mean $5 million to $7 million in sales on the first day alone. If My Life follows past Carol’s Daughter-HSN patterns (for instance, the brand moved 3,000 units of bath salts in 15 minutes and 3,300 units of its body soufflés in 23 minutes during a May 2008 appearance) the scent may sell out before Blige does her last show.
Print advertising for My Life will break in fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, including Allure, Essence and Glamour. The scent will be sampled at the Essence Music Festival the first week in July. Carol’s Daughter, which has had a pop-up store at the festival for the last few years, will be taking pre-orders for the scent at the festival, and Blige —who will perform July 4 — will sign autographs at the Carol’s Daughter booth. “More than 300,000 women come to this festival,” noted Stoute. “This is a call to action. We will distribute scented bracelets and encourage them to tune in to HSN on July 31.”
And that day can’t come soon enough for Blige, who has finally come to a point in her life where she accepts herself as beautiful. “Beauty is you not being afraid of who you are. Whatever that is, that other people are not satisfied with, as long as you’re satisfied with it, you’re going to cut through as beautiful to everyone,” she said. “Because that means from the inside, you accept all this. Because if I don’t, all this means nothing [gesturing to the mirror].
“The makeup is the fun part because it’s a beautiful asset to who you are already. You’ve just got to be able to accept who you are, know who you are, and makeup will be the cherry on the cake. And that’s beauty to me: Self-acceptance. Inner beauty is gorgeous. The makeup and the clothes are great, but mean nothing if you can’t accept what you see at home. I forget it sometimes, but I need to keep saying it and remind myself that’s how I feel.”