Somewhere between the appetizer and main course, French perfume tycoon Bernard Lanvin slipped in the memorable advertising phrase: "Promise her anything but give her Arpege."
At Neiman-Marcus for the American debut of a new-strength Arpege, Lanvin recalled that an employee, a pilot turned fragrance executive, created the slogan in the '50s. It surfaces, he added, at odd moments: "Sometimes a customs official will check my passport, see the name and repeat the words."
Original Is 60 Years Old
The perfume itself, created 60 years ago, has reached to the ends of the Earth. It is the No. 1 selling fragrance in Australia and New Zealand, Lanvin said, his hand playing across one of the shiny black boxes dotting the table.
Inside was L'Eau de Parfum Arpege (weaker than perfume but stronger than toilet water), formulated as a birthday tribute to the first Arpege. The original ingredients have been rearranged, according to the grandnephew of Lanvin founder Jeanne Lanvin: "The new top note is much more floral, stronger and more vivacious."
The prospective buyer, he says, "is a contemporary woman looking for a new fragrance. She hasn't tried Arpege yet because she thinks of it as a classic."
Part of the beauty of the new Arpege is its outward appearance. "Today, 60% of a fragrance's success is tied to the packaging," Lanvin explained in fluent English (a byproduct of undergraduate studies at Williams College and years of working in New York).
Sleek, Arty Bottle
The sleek bottle is an abstract rendering of a woman in a black dress (Lanvin haute couture, to be sure) encircled with a gold belt. The lack of any lettering was a Lanvin must: "I wanted something soft, feminine that a woman would want to display on her dressing table. She knows what she bought. She doesn't have to be reminded of the name."
To "romance" women into wearing Arpege (or the company's other famous fragrance, My Sin), Lanvin says: "We have a strong sampling program." Whether drawn from samples or the bottle, the scent belongs "on the pulse points, behind the ears, in the bend of the arm--and between the breasts. That's very important."
Initially, the eau de parfum will be sold only by Neiman-Marcus and Macy's in New York. Such exclusivity is calculated to bring "outstanding results," according to John Weiller, vice president of Colonia U.S., the company marketing Arpege in America. "This is a wonderful world," he said, as he watched a customer shyly shake Bernard Lanvin's hand, ask for an autograph and sample the fragrance. "People want what they can't get."