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Usher Set to Reveal VIP Fragrance

WWD interviews singer Usher about his latest men's fragrance VIP, which features top notes of tangerine and bergamot.

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Usher Raymond IV wants to cut through the increasingly crowded celebrity fragrance field with VIP, his newest men’s scent.

“I consider all of my fragrances tools of engagement for seduction — but this one demands a different type of attention,” said Usher (who uses his first name professionally), during an interview at the Gates, a Chelsea-based restaurant and lounge, on Tuesday. “That is part of the reason I led with the males only with this one — it is made for a man but for women to enjoy.”

Usher entered the fragrance category in the fall of 2007, with men’s and women’s juices dubbed Usher He and Usher She, respectively, then followed up last year with two additional scents, UR for Him and UR for Her. His first men’s scent hit number one, then settled into the top five the following year.

“With every album I put out, it is a different page, a different journey based off of where I’ve been and what I’ve seen,” said Usher. “My fragrances are no different. I really feel like VIP represents the growth I’ve had in the last two years. The man that wears this fragrance, hopefully, will go out in the world empowered by what he’s wearing.”

The scent, concocted by Usher with Firmenich’s Harry Fremont, has top notes of tangerine, bergamot, kumquat and nutmeg; a heart of violet leaf, lotus flower and saffron, and a drydown of vetiver, oakmoss and suede. The collection includes eaux de toilette in two sizes — 1.7 oz. for $50 and 3.4 oz. for $65 — as well as a 3.4 oz. after shave soother, $40; a 6.7 oz. shower gel, $25, and a 2.6 oz. deodorant, $16.

The bottle, a heavy crystal orb, was inspired by fine cognac bottles, said Usher. “When you feel the bottle, you feel the heaviness — it feels expensive,” explained Usher. “It has the look and shine of a cognac bottle — and, of course, the spinning rings that have been a part of all of my fragrances.”

The collection will launch at the end of September in about 1,800 department and specialty store doors. Print advertising will begin running in October men’s, women’s and lifestyle magazines. In July, the brand will film a TV commercial in Monte Carlo, Monaco, which is expected to be used during the upcoming holiday season, said Art Spiro, executive vice president of Liz Claiborne Brands for Elizabeth Arden, noting it is the first time the company has done new TV for a launch in several years. The brand is also aiming for upward of 60 million scented impressions, said Marcy Fisher, vice president, Liz Claiborne Global Marketing, Elizabeth Arden.

While he acknowledges both the celebrity fragrance category and the overall prestige scent category are crowded, Spiro believes VIP has the firepower to break through the clutter. “Design is a strong element in everything we do, and that sends a message to consumers,” said Spiro. “The weight of the glass, the quality of the fragrance — these make VIP stand out. But the biggest asset is Usher himself. There’s been debate in our industry about the strength of celebrity fragrances — Usher breaks through the clutter as an artist, which allows us to break through the market.” Added Fisher, “He is so well-rounded and so driven by giving back, about the good he can do with his celebrity. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to work with him.”

Usher’s devotion to philanthropy — not to mention his own foundation for mentoring at-risk youth, Usher’s New Look — is an intrinsic piece of the entertainer’s personality and has earned him a number of honors, most recently being inducted into the Boys’ and Girls’ Club Hall of Fame. The honor had special meaning for him, he said, because he was mentored at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club as an at-risk teen. “For those men and women who take the time to make the development of our young men and women a priority, you’ve got to be thankful for that,” he said. “Obviously, I could have chosen to be a product of my experience in a bad way, because I did see some bad things — but at the Boys’ and Girls’ Club, it was always positive. They always spoke of not giving up and believing in your dreams. I actually followed their example and started the New Look Foundation.” Among the foundation’s work: teaching kids about the business side of the sports and entertainment industries at summer camp sessions.

While Usher and Arden executives declined to comment on sales projections, industry sources estimated that the scent could do $30 million to $40 million at retail globally in its first year. The great majority of the fragrance’s distribution will be in the U.S., although selected markets in Europe and the Middle East will get the scent as well. Those launches will be timed with Usher’s tour dates, noted Spiro.

Industry sources also estimated that Arden will spend upwards of $5 million on advertising and promotion for VIP.

Going forward, Usher still plans to enter the fashion business — “I want to find the right partner, to find a team that would operate with integrity and be supportive of my vision, and fight me when it’s needed, and I’d like to do it sooner rather than later,” he said — and will release a new album with the working title of Monster in the fourth quarter of this year.

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