by Elisabeth King
The launch of Viktor & Rolf: Fashion Artists at the National Gallery of Victoria in October
was a squeezing room-only event. A world-first exhibition of the Dutch designers’ elaborate and flamboyant fashions of the past 25 years, hovering in the background of the fashion spectacular was the powerful presence of Viktor and Rolf’s global smash hit fragrance - Flowerbomb - one of the world’s top 10 best-selling perfumes. A limited edition of Flowerbomb, also in the top 10 in Australia, punched home the message in the gallery’s shop.
The avant-garde pair first came to global attention in 1998 with their landmark ‘Russian Doll’ collection. Over the next six years, Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren, to spell out their full names, debuted a ready-to-wear collection, footwear, handbags and menswear. In 2002, they signed a fragrance deal with L’Oréal, joining a stable of established names including Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren. The multinational’s first designer agreement in 17 years.
Flowerbomb started cautiously in 2004 in selective distribution - only 50 doors in the US. At the time, Snoeren commented: “It’s a way to reach a bigger audience, so it will be a boost for the brand”. From the get-go, there was never a doubt about having a strong link between the fashions and the fragrance. Horsting added: “We’ve always said that fashion is more than a product, more than clothing. It’s about dreams, and perfume is a dream in a bottle”. In a premonition of how big Flowerbomb was to become, Viktor and Rolf presented a senior L’Oréal executive with a wedding ring engraved with the names of both companies following the official inking of the deal.
We always wanted Flowerbomb to be an integral part of our universe, Viktor and Rolf recently told Esprit during their Australian visit.
“We always wanted to offer something to aspire to and create beauty from. We also love the fact that it appeals to all women, not a particular age group”.
Flowerbomb was three years in the making, twice the normal fragrance development period. Viktor and Rolf rejected 400 fragrances put forward by IFF before opting for the final juice. Upon smelling the scent for the first time, the duo’s friend actress Tilda Swinton described Flowerbomb as smelling like a “sexy wedding”. She’s right. Opening with bergamot and citrus notes, Flowerbomb has middle notes of jasmine, rose and orchid and a drydown of amber and musk. The iconic bottle resembles a faceted diamond and a grenade and Viktor & Rolf ’s signature black trademark around the neck. An over-sized pink box tied with a black ribbon seals the commercially appealing package.
In November 2015, Viktor and Rolf celebrated the 10th anniversary of Flowerbomb in their own avant-garde way. During Paris Fashion Week, they filled the runway with models clad in black with motor cycle helmets alongside others in dreamy dresses of satin and ribbon. As the grand finale approached, a deep voice started chanting Flowerbomb, followed by an explosion of flower petals.
Over the past 11 years, L’Oréal has released 30 flankers globally from a run of Christmas limited editions through extreme versions to exclusive releases such as the Neiman Marcus Exclusive Swarovski Flowerbomb in 2016. Viktor and Rolf rightly regard fragrance as their “modern day business weapon” - a theory put to the test with the release of BonBon fragrance in 2014.
“We love sweetness, so it was logical to launch something even sweeter than Flowerbomb”, say Viktor and Rolf in unison, a habit that every interviewer has to get used to. “We brainstormed the packaging, too. Bows are a very important part of our fashion work, so we decided that the BonBon bottle should be shaped like a bow because it’s visually sweet”. The fragrance was unveiled at the designers’ show in Paris, featuring dancers walking en pointe in flesh-coloured latex dresses.
Cute and fashionable, BonBon has been a hit with younger women. “But we also evolved it into an Haute Couture formulation”, says Horsting. “The scent is deeper, deluxe and more powerful with even more caramel”. Cecile Matton and Serge Majoullier, the perfumers behind the original BonBon, were pressed into service again for the recently released BonBon Couture. The oriental-gourmand begins with a juicy combination of mandarin, neroli oil and peach, followed by a heart of white flowers and a base defined by a woody accord and caramel.
Like all fashion designers, Viktor and Rolf have missed the mark a couple of times. Their first men’s fragrance - Antidote - failed to fire and has been discontinued. In 2011, L’Oréal released Spicebomb, the male counterpart to Flowerbomb. “The ambition was to create a men’s Flowerbomb”, says Snoeren. “We were jealous of women, one could say”. The new scent was crafted by Olivier Polge, one of the perfumers responsible for Flowerbomb, and was designed to be “deliberately powerful, bold and sensual”, adds Snoeren.
Cueing in with its name, Spicebomb’s bottle resembles a grenade and the fragrance is released by pulling the pin. With notes of chilli, saffron, leather, tobacco and vetiver, the juice also features ‘cold’ spices such as pink pepper. “Spicebomb Extreme launched in Australia in time for Christmas”, note Viktor and Rolf. “It’s a more condensed version with even more impact”.
Viktor and Rolf will be concentrating more on their fragrance business going forward. They plan to position the brand in the highest luxury segment of fashion and stopped their ready-to-wear shows in early 2015, shuttering their Paris flagship store in the Rue Saint-Honoré in early 2016. Continuing their haute couture business may also help to fuel fragrance sales, as it does for Celine and Yves Saint Laurent.
In mid-October, Viktor and Rolf launched a niche fragrance collection in the Upper East Side Academy in New York. Guests included actress Taraji P. Henson, Saturday Night Live comic Sasheer Zamata, and Sean O’Pry, the face of Spicebomb. Called Magic!, the collection comprises six scents and will roll out first exclusively in Saks Fifth Avenue stores and its online site in February. The Australian launch is scheduled for the last quarter of the year.
“They are an unexpected twist on niche fragrances, each one a paradoxical fusion of natural ingredients and innovative accords”, says Horsting. “They cover the olfactory spectrum because we always wanted to do a fragrance collection. There’s one over-arching theme of making the impossible possible. That’s why the names sound like magic tricks - Dirty Trick, Liquid Diamonds, Sage Spell, Dancing Roses, Sparkling Secret and Lavender Illusion”.
Euromonitor has tapped designer makeup as a strong trend, following the success of Tom Ford Beauty at Estée Lauder and the acquisition of the Dolce & Gabbana license by Shiseido. “Journalists always ask if we are going to do a cosmetics line”, say Viktor and Rolf. “We’ve said right from the start of our partnership that we would love to. We love all aspects of fashion, not just fashion collections, but also fragrance and beauty”. Watch this space.
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