Sunday, July 23, 1989

Another big name on a little bottle: Princess Stephanie dabbles in the perfume business

THE celebrity scent gimmick is an extension of the couture perfume business. There has to be A Name. The stakes are high: of the 500 or so perfumes on the market, fewer than 20 account for some 80% of sales in a $1.5 billion industry. Paloma Picasso's is one. Elizabeth Taylor's is another, in America at least. Cher's Obsession and Deneuve are also fighting for customers.

And now, in France, there is Stéphanie. The 24-year-old Princess Stephanie of Monaco is launching her own scent. Or to be exact, the Bourjois cosmetics company (the House of Chanel's mass-market division), having secured her name against unspecified royalties, has produced, packaged, and will soon be flogging (at £17 for 3.5oz) an eau de parfum called Stéphanie in department stores and "a few selected supermarkets''.

The launch was celebrated at the Ritz in Paris last week. There was a video presentation, a press conference, a "picture opportunity'' - a ritual involving the release, Circus Maximus style, of two dozen growling and clicking French paparazzi who swarm before the celeb on display for a few minutes, before several security guards shoo them away - and a lunch. The tone was understated, but forceful. Princess Stephanie, for those few readers who have managed to escape all of the past decade's gossip columns, is the rock-singing, disco-going, swimsuit-designing one. The idea was to make us forget all those Paris-Match covers.

There were, therefore, five Bourjois execs on the rostrum, surrounded by huge, glossy pictures of their precious property: Stephanie elle-même, in a severe Saint Laurent charcoal suit, high heels and sheer black tights. She is unexpectedly and strikingly beautiful, in a fine-boned, coltish sort of way. She sat down, fidgeting, tossing her head back or hiding behind her hands. Everyone's eyes were distracted from the video screen to her, and back, assessing, comparing. The Cartier watch matched the outfit. The silver slave bracelet belonged to the blue-jeaned, Mexican-booted Stephanie of the gossip magazines.

The video must have cost a mint. It showed us Stephanie walking on the beach at Deauville and Malibu, waterskiing, sitting in a Californian house to the sound of Aretha Franklin's Natural Woman and of Maurice Jarre's Out of Africa score, so that we could understand her Creative Process. ("C'est bien,'' she said, on being given perfume samples to smell. "Non, c'est pas bien.'' "Oui, j'aime bien ca.'')

The Bourjois people had rigged the press conference so that the first question would be suitably deferential. They looked alarmed when another journalist grabbed the microphone from their plant. Knowing the French press, they needn't have worried. Stephanie was addressed as "Princess'' and was given the opportunity to explain how Jacques Polge, Bourjois's star "nose'', had taught her that smells remind one of images and memories.

Why had she chosen to embark on the perfume business? "I was asked.'' How much work would the launch entail? "As little as possible.'' The execs showed dismay. Would she follow with the whole line bath oil, soap, body lotion? How about cosmetics, nail varnish, eyeshadow lines? Antoine Housset, chairman of Bourjois, soothingly took over. "Of course, if the princess wishes to...'' "The princess,'' Stephanie snapped, "hasn't decided yet.'' We then trooped out to lunch, she herded by Bourjois hostesses in blue and silver lamé dresses matching the scent's package. Finding myself next to her, I asked if she felt whether that woman, the one in the film and on the pictures and on the bottle displays, was really her. "I don't understand your question,'' she said.

Two or three months ago, I had attended a similar charade at l'Automobile Club in Paris: Liz Taylor had been whisked out of a Californian fat farm to launch the men's line of her Passion scent. The Passion hoopla, which must have earned the club serious money, was the kind of thing that has older members of L'Auto scuttering for the Travellers, the Interallié or the Jockey-Club: TV crews, all the tabloids, arc lights, massive security. Taylor looked terrible - she was an embarrassing three stones heavier than on publicity pictures surrounding her - and sold her stuff like a trouper. "Wear it everywhere you want to be touched,'' she said coyly.

But despite the hype, not every celebrity scent succeeds: can you remember Sophia, Sophia Loren's perfume? Or the ghastly Forever Krystle after Linda Evans's character in Dynasty? Which brings us to the question: what is Princess Stephanie's scent like? It's flowery, fairly strong, and it smells a bit of vanilla. Mon parfum est comme je suis, goes the advertising slogan. That Princess Stephanie doesn't seem to know exactly who she is doesn't seem to bother anyone.

23 September 1989

© Times Newspapers Ltd & Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, 1989.

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