In the hypercompetitive world of celebrity fragrance, Lady Gaga needed only seven days to reach all-star status. Fame, her debut perfume, launched this past fall in collaboration with Coty and was an instant home run. It sold more bottles in one week than any other celebrity fragrance of 2011, making it the most successful launch in history.
Celebrity perfumes are known for being cloyingly commercial—so why would Gaga, who is anything but generic, want to have one? She didn’t, at first. “I had always joked when other celebrities launched fragrances, ‘Ugh, I hate this. No!’ And then I said, ‘You know what? If I ever do that, I’m going to make it fucking black.’” Her idea—the first black perfume—was enough to attract legendary collaborators Steven Klein, who shot the print and TV ads, and Nick Knight, who designed the grenadelike bottle. “They are photographic heroes in my mind,” she gushes. “I wanted to shine a light on them, the people that inspire me.”
Hundreds of perfumers bid for the job of concocting the scent. “It was the most competitive project ever,” explains Richard Herpin of Firmenich, who eventually won the contract. Yet Gaga’s approval of the exact formula was hard to come by. It took Herpin six months and thousands of variations before he arrived at Fame, a fruity floral based on the deadly belladonna plant. “I was a real pain in the ass to work with,” Gaga admits. “I wanted something that would stand the test of time.” The fragrance’s blockbuster success had Coty execs dreaming up a sequel just days after the launch, but Gaga isn’t in a rush. “I think it’s silly when an artist makes most of their money selling perfume,” she says. Her monstrous music career comes first. “What if I were to have sold my new album with my perfume?” she wonders aloud. “I would have sold 6 million copies in one week. Just something to think about.” CAITLIN GAFFEY
Still from Lady Gaga Fame, a film by Steven Klein