PER FUMUS

a journey of the senses by FLACONNEUR

Estée Lauder Finding Their Niche?

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The beauty industry giant Estée Lauder Companies managed to pull two unsuspecting niche perfume houses under its conglomerate umbrella recently with the purchase of Le Labo and, more recently, Editions de Parfums – Frédéric Malle. The company claims to reach half a billion customers a year, and with their latest procurement they will surely increase that number with these latest acquisitions. Estée Lauder remains one of the world’s leading manufacturers of skin care, makeup, fragrances and hair care products. The company has world-wide recognition, with their products selling in over 150 countries. The Estée Lauder Companies includes such familiar brands as Aramis, Clinique, Prescriptives, Lab Series, Origins, Tommy Hilfiger, M-A-C, Kiton, La Mer, Bobbie Brown, Donna Karan Cosmetics, Aveda, Jo Malone London, Bumble and bumble, Michael Kors, Karphin Paris, Flirt!, GoodSkin Labs, Tom Ford Beauty, Coach, Ojon, Smashbox, Ermenegildo Zegna, AERIN Beauty, Osiao, Marni, Tory Burch, RODIN olio lusso and now Le Labo and Editions de Parfums – Frédéric Malle.

The company got its start in 1946 with the creator, Mrs. Estée Lauder. Lauder started her beauty house with only four products: Super Rich All Purpose Creme, Creme Pack, Cleansing Oil and Skin Lotion. Subsequently, five other brands were developed giving her company further recognition. A men’s line of fragrances and grooming products launched in 1964 by the name of Aramis. The industry’s first dermatologist-guided, allergy-tested and fragrance free cosmetics brand, Clinique, came in 1968. In 1979, a color authority with highly individualized products was developed by the name of Prescriptives. A men’s skincare product line called Lab Series Skincare for Men debuted in 1987. Finally, Origins launched in 1990, a plant-based line of skin care, makeup, bath, body and sensory therapy products.

I want to talk more specifically about the perfume side of Estée Lauder’s business. While many of the companies under the Estée Lauder umbrella sell perfume or fragrances in one way or another, it is the niche brands in particular that are of interest to me. More importantly, why are they of interest to Estée Lauder? There’s no argument that the Aramis brand is the company’s own creation. The iconic men’s fragrance line has done very well over the last 50 years. It seems that Estée Lauder has some significant experience and success with many of their fragrances. In some respects, Estée Lauder has managed to make some solid choices when considering their buyouts. They are accumulating a fairly respectable list of companies, enhancing the Estée Lauder Companies reputation. I will focus on four brands that currently reside under the Estée Lauder umbrella: Jo Malone London, Tom Ford, Le Labo and finally, the latest addition, Editions de Parfums – Frédéric Malle.

Jo Malone sold off her skillfully created, multi-million-dollar fragrance company Jo Malone London to Estée Lauder in 1999. The amount was not disclosed, but was probably somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5 million dollars. Jo Malone opened her first shop on Walton Street in London in 1994 and proceeded to make over one million dollars within her first year of business. After a very brief five years, Estée Lauder took over the profitable brand and Malone stayed on creatively. But she decided to leave when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. At times, Malone referred to her business as her best friend that saw her through the best and worst of times in her life. After leaving the business, she still felt a connection to her fragrance industry. In 2011, Malone returned to the world of scent with the introduction of her own line called Jo Loves. So, what’s happened with Jo Malone London under the safeguard of the Estée Lauder umbrella? Not much has changed with regards to the brand name and its image. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that Malone herself was still in command. There are interesting introductions, limited editions and seasonal products that fall under the English garden inspired themes of woods, spice, citrus, fruity and floral categories, just as Malone intended. Malone herself has admitted that the company she worked so hard to develop is in safe hands.

Tom Ford’s induction to the Estée Lauder family came in 2005. The company’s hopes were that Ford would add a much-needed injection of youthfulness and a dash of sex appeal to the brand. Ford aligned forces with Domenico de Sole, who he previously worked with in transforming Gucci in the 1990’s, entering into a collaboration that would be two-fold with Estée Lauder. First, Ford would create a limited collection of “Tom Ford for Estée Lauder” fragrances and beauty products. Then, Estée Lauder would introduce a stand-alone Tom Ford beauty brand of product. The products previously offered with the Tom Ford for Estée Lauder name would eventually be phased out, leaving Ford with a brand bearing his name alone. After Ford’s historical successes with Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, this new alliance was projected to be an instant triumphant success for both Ford and Estée Lauder. What would Ford get out of the relationship? His alliance with Estée Lauder would allow him to establish a brand name for himself in the beauty industry. Estée Lauder would benefit from Ford’s expertise in style and sex appeal, giving the company a younger edge, and profits as a side benefit. The concept for the Tom Ford Private Blend fragrances was designed with the fragrance connoisseur in mind. These creations begin with a single note, that secondary notes are developed around, creating complexity and interest. I find little to no evolution in the Tom Ford line of fragrances. As a matter of fact, I find the brand to be a bit long in the tooth. When compared to some of the original successful offerings like Tuscan Leather, Amber Absolute and Tobacco Vanille, the latest is not necessarily the greatest or even better than previous offerings. The Tom Ford brand is a bit stuck in its ways. The recent releases of Patchouli Absolu, Costa Azzurra, Mandarino di Amalfi and Velvet Orchid are in line with the sensual, multidimensional fragrances Tom Ford is known for, but I find myself a bit. Even I realize that from time to time, there is need to reinvent yourself. Personal opinion aside, the Tom Ford brand is very successful for Estée Lauder and continues to be so.

The apothecary-like perfume house Le Labo was founded in 2006 by Fabrice Penot and Eddie Roschi. It was announced that the company was acquired by Estée Lauder in October 2014, with final arrangements to be sometime the following month. The company is well-known in the niche perfume circles for their perfumes, gels, lotions, soaps, room sprays and candles. Le Labo is different from most other perfume retailers, right down to the way in which your order is prepared. Their perfumes are not pre-packaged in a factory but mixed right on the spot, including a personalized label with your name and a suggested use-by date. All these niceties makes Le Labo’s product very special. Le Labo currently has retail stores in New York, London, Paris, San Francisco, Tokyo and Hong Kong with annual sales reaching nearly $30 million dollars. Estée Lauder seems to have recognized Le Labo’s distinctive products and specialized approach, and felt this company worthy for consideration. Le Labo’s creators, Penot and Roschi had this to say about the company’s purchase of their brand:

“The Estée Lauder Companies is the ideal home for us and for our brand. We founded Le Labo with the guiding principle that the soul of a fragrance comes from the intention with which it is created, and the attention with which it is prepared. The Estée Lauder Companies not only understands and respects the core elements of our business, but also has the resources to help us continue to grow into a more fully expressed sensory lifestyle brand. The Company has a strong track record of growing and nurturing prestige entrepreneurial brands, and we love that they are so supportive of and committed to our vision.”

It’s way to early to tell, but let’s hope that there is no effect on the Le Labo product as a result of the buyout.

The latest addition to the Estée Lauder family will be the French niche perfume brand Editions de Parfums – Frédéric Malle, with their take-over this month. The Estée Lauder Companies’ Group President, John Demsey, will be managing the new acquisition. Frédéric Malle is the grandson of Parfums Christian Dior founder Serge Heftler-Louiche. Malle has been intricately involved in the perfume industry from an early age. He started his own label in 2000 called les Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. Malle acts more like the curator who invites famous perfumers to create fragrances without boundaries of price. They also have only the best raw materials at their disposal. The perfumers are allowed as much time as necessary to work on their creations and they are free from the restrictions imposed by brands and marketers. The idea that the process of perfume creation was directly being affected by designer branding was a concern of Malle’s. Les Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle label was his way of combating this growing market. It was also a way of putting some of the best noses in the industry to the task of creating without limitation. Some of the most famous perfumers in the industry have created fragrances under the Frédéric Malle brand including: Pierre Bourdon, Jean-Claude Ellena, Edouard Fléchier, Olivia Giacobetti, Dominique Ropion, Maurice Roucel, Edmond Roudnitska, Michel Roudnitska, Sophia Grojsman and Ralf Schwieger. Now, what does all of this mean now that the exclusive label will be under the famed Estée Lauder umbrella? No one is certain. The fear is that the brand will get watered down and not maintain the integrity currently in position. Based on the last three examples, this might not come to fruition, which is a good thing. Malle was quoted as saying “The Estée Lauder Companies has great respect for the art of perfumery and for the creativity, dedication and mastery required to create truly exceptional fragrance experiences.” That will remain to be seen over the next few years.

I guess the next question would be, who’s next? I am certain that the powers that be are considering that question carefully. It remains to be seen who Estée Lauder will allow to find shelter under their massive umbrella. Estée Lauder has certainly done a fabulous job at the selections they have made so far. With the company boasting profits of more that $10.9 billion dollars at the end of the fiscal year, those well-planned decisions have certainly paid off. The Estée Lauder Companies have a very long, respectable history. The company is committed to excellence and providing the best quality possible, while providing innovative cosmetic products. The company’s performance and prudent commitments are a tribute to Estée Lauder herself.

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