Edith Touati, Jean Patou's marketing director and deputy general manager, realized that the painstakingly chic and exclusive approach that had come to define Jean Patou and its products needed updating.
The solution: Voyageur eau de toilette for men, launched in October 1995.
"Given the way things have developed, you cannot be a player in the perfume market unless you cover all sectors," explained Ms. Touati. "The men's sector was a case in point. It makes up 35% of all fragrance sales, and 50% of total volume, and we were not in it. It is too significant to keep your back turned to."
In addition to scope, the company also lacked range, Ms. Touati added. The regal exclusivity of Jean Patou products allowed a single launch to carry the company for more than a decade.
But today's market is less interested in chic than it is novelty.
"This has led us to enter a cycle of more frequent launches," she said.
"Fully 24% of all sales in the fragrance market are made by new products, which is something new. Again, as with activity in the men's sector, this is just too big to ignore. So we are changing our strategy to answer demand."
The company had focused exclusively on the women's segment. Founder haute couture designer Jean Patou had been influential in making Joy, 1,000, and Sublime favorites of women around the world. By 1980, the company realized it might be missing out by ignoring the men's sector, but an attempted entry with Patou pour Homme fizzled.
"There are no male roots in the Patou brand name, so the fragrance was not seen as legitimate," Ms. Touati said of the launch. "Also, it had a very special scent that only appeals to a very small number of men, so it remained very marginal. Voyageur is aimed at a much larger market of youthful, active men."
"Youthful" does not mean "young."
"I don't believe that you can target fragrance by age," she said. "Voyageur was created to appeal to men with youthful, sporting, playful attitudes and outlooks."
To stress a youthful male spirit, Ms. Touati and her colleagues relied on company history to create inventive packaging. Voyageur's blue atomizer bottle can be bought with a silver art deco replica of the steamliner Normandie that holds the bottle. The same packaging was used in 1935 when first-class passengers on the Normandie's first crossing to the U.S. were given a Jean Patou perfume created for the occasion.
"The reception has been really encouraging, especially for the boat concept," said Ms. Touati, who reports that sales of Voyageur have surpassed targets. (She declined to give details). "We don't explain the connection with our history to the consumer, but even without that information they seem to have taken to the boat. It's a bit like a boy's love for models, and that is part of Voyageur's spirit."
While that attraction may have worked in the markets in which Voyageur has been introduced-including France, Germany, the U.K., Italy, and the Middle East-Ms. Touati knows that the concept will not be a hit everywhere.
"There are markets, such as the U.S., where I just don't think men will want it," she said. "Where consumer taste tends to favor utility and economy, we'll just sell the bottle."
Advertising and marketing support for Voyageur's launch have been modest, with most emphasis being placed on what Ms. Touati calls "point of sales support, which is very costly." In other markets like Italy and France, Jean Patou also ran print and radio ads that were created in-house-and executed by small French agency Colo rado-with the motto "Amaze the Present." Budgets were small, with the largest being $1.1 million in France.
Introducing Voyageur in the U.S., Ms. Touati said, will not involve a national rollout, but rather store-by-store campaigns beginning later this year with Bloomingdale's, and moving steadily to other retailers by 1999.
Before then, however, Jean Patou plans to launch a new women's perfume-probably by the end of next year. That will be followed by another product two years later, in a rhythm Ms. Touati said Patou will try to maintain.
"We still won't be introducing new products as rapidly as others are, but much more than we've been used to, because the market wants newness," Ms. Touati said. "Before, women stayed with the same perfume for life, but today, their lives change so much that they want to change their fragrance along with it."
Born: Jan. 22, 1943.
Family: Married, three children.
Education: Degree from the Grenoble Business Institute.
Career highlights: Began career at Paris ad agency Publicis. From there: product manager, Lancome; group chief-perfume division, Yves Saint Laurent; international marketing director, Hermes. In 1991 became marketing director for Jean Patou; added deputy director general title in '93.