When it comes to fragrances, cosmetics and skin care, all consumers today expect luxury packaging, according to Marc Rosen. Today, there is “masstige,” he says, which is a blending of mass merchandising and the prestige levels of retailing.

Rosen, an internationally acclaimed designer known for his award-winning beauty products packaging, will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Packaging That Sells Conference, to be held Oct. 23-25 in Chicago.

Over the course of his career, Rosen has worked with well-known manufacturers and fashion names, such as Elizabeth Arden, Coty, Revlon, Estee Lauder, Nina Ricci, Perry Ellis, Oscar de la Renta, Avon, Halston, Chloe, Karl Lagerfeld and Fendi. His designs also have been associated with such celebrities as Christina Aguilera, Joan Rivers, Celine Dion, Paris Hilton, Stephanie Powers and Joan Collins.

He says beauty companies are spending more money on their packaging than ever before and taking these costs from other expenses such as advertising or the fragrance oils themselves because they realize luxury packaging is something the consumer has come to expect.

“Every consumer, on whatever level she purchases, expects luxury packaging. She doesn’t stop and think: ‘Gee, I’m not shopping at Saks 5th Avenue, so therefore I don’t deserve luxury packaging because I’m shopping at the drug store.”

Luxury Means Quality

“Now luxury packaging doesn’t have to be gilded, embossed and looking like it’s something from Imperial Russia or from Louis XIV,” he says. “Luxury packaging can be super modern and sleek because younger consumers’ idea of luxury can be very simple but still connote quality.” 

While he has worked on a number of mass brands, Rosen is best known for luxury packaging in skin care and fragrances. For these high-end, personal-care products, luxury must be communicated to the consumer both visually and tactilely, he continues. “Packaging must speak to you. I call it the silent salesman. It has to be tactile to make you want to touch it and pick it up. It’s not until they pick it up and spray the fragrance or open the lipstick to see if they like the color” that it is successful.

Luxury packaging also speaks to an individual’s sense of prestige and status. Like a car, wristwatch or a woman’s handbag, it must say something about a person’s taste. “That’s a lot of work for this bottle and package to do, but all this goes into the design thought process.”

For either gender the thought process is the same, he says. “If it’s Fendi for men or women, it’s the same brand, so it must personify that brand image. You have to think about the cost, think about whether it should be a classical design or contemporary.”

Consistency Required

To succeed in designing a luxury product, Rosen explains the Three Ps— right product, right package and right promotion—told to him by Charles Revson, an employer early in Rosen’s career. Revson, a pioneering cosmetics industry executive who created and managed Revlon through five decades, claimed that if the product, package and promotion are well-designed and consistent, you can have a successful brand.

Rosen designs not only the primary and tertiary packaging but also display design—and he even manages public relations campaigns. “So many new products fail because of inconsistency,” he says, recalling a time he designed a fragrance for Halston.  The bottle looked like a female fashion mannequin with a draped dress. However, the advertising agency developed ads with a model in a Halston dress along with cowboys on the prairie. It was incredibly inconsistent, almost ridiculous, Rosen relates. And the line failed because the consumer was getting mixed messages.

When a child, Rosen’s parents didn’t believe in giving him a lot of toys. They wanted him to be creative and make things himself. So his mother gave him shoe boxes in which he created little scenes. That led him to seek his Master’s degree in packaging design at New York’s Pratt Institute.

First Assignment Success

One of his first assignments was to design a fragrance bottle.
His professor liked the design so much, he suggested that Rosen show it to the top design executive at the Avon cosmetics company. The executive invited him to his office and like the design so much that he paid Rosen the princely sum of $3,000 for its use.

“Wow, this is for me,” he said to himself. “They pay you well and I love doing it, so I decided I wanted to work at a cosmetic company.” The first position was at Revlon. Later, he became vice president of design and public relations at Elizabeth Arden. His first big project was to design a bottle for Arden’s Moondrops fragrance. While there, he developed the company’s enormously successful Red Door fragrance line and worked with clients such as Chloe, Lagerfeld and Fendi. 

Later, Rosen started own design firm, which he runs to this day—he’s also now a professor at his alma mater. Elizabeth Arden was first client. Laughingly, he says everything in his life is about cosmetics and fragrances—even his wife, actress Arlene Dahl.  He met her when he was hired to design a fragrance for her.
packaging drives first purchase

The packaging can be as important as the product itself, especially in the case of the first purchase which is based on the attraction to the package or packaging concept. The second repeat purchase—which is all-important—is because the consumer really likes the product.

Cosmetic design can lend itself to other segments, such as spirits, Rosen says. He would like to do more in areas such as food packaging. “Today when you walk through the supermarket, the products that are attracting you are artisan brands that are packaged in a unique, gourmet-looking packaging that may be borrowed from cosmetics,” he says. “If you are a company using only food packaging designers, you may not be getting new ideas from cosmetics, liquor or any other area.”

Brands like Belvedere vodka have suddenly become hugely popular because of the decoration of the bottle. If the physical design is unique enough, he says he may low-key the graphics. On a simpler package, the graphics become much more important. Color often is more subtle in luxury packaging. Luxury packaging uses a lot of black, white and gold.

Over the years Rosen has worked with many container suppliers, primarily glass and some metal. Sometimes the brand owner allows him to choose the supplier whose product is best suited for his design. If it’s a very heavy glass design with a thick bottom that’s challenging to blow, he says he might insist on certain supplier. The better suppliers really like a challenge. “They are excited about doing something special,” he says. “It’s rare that you get a supplier who really doesn’t want to play.”

While glass is the dominant container for high-end fragrances, caps are usually metal or plastic, while the actuator is metal. However, he says there are all kinds of decorating techniques for the glass, such as screening, stamping and applied pieces. “You can do all kinds of things today. The glass companies have really come up with wonderful ideas for decorating.”