Michelle Pfeiffer could have gone the tried-and-true route of many celebrities: Lend her image and name to a perfume, and receive a hefty fee in return. But when the Scarface and Dangerous Minds star considered doing that years ago, she couldn't find a company that sold a perfume she'd actually want to wear. Now she's decided to launch her own instead.

On Monday, Pfeiffer will roll out a line of five fragrances under her own brand, called Henry Rose, after the middle names of her two children. Unlike any other fine fragrance line, Henry Rose discloses all of its ingredients. The line is the first to be certified by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a not-for-profit that researches and rates household and personal care items for safety and environmental impact.

"It was impossible 10 years ago, because the industry wasn't ready," Pfeiffer says. "But they are now." 

After the birth of her children more than two decades ago, Pfeiffer, like many new parents, took a much greater interest in the ingredients of the personal care, cleaning, and other products her family used. In 2004 she stumbled across the EWG website and was dismayed to find that any product that contained "fragrance" tended to get a poor rating from the group, because "fragrance" can contain any number of ingredients, none of which need to be disclosed. "We pound fragrance in the ratings," says Ken Cook, EWG's founder and CEO, "because we don't know what's in it."

Pfeiffer quit wearing perfume. Then, about two years ago, Cook--whose board Pfeiffer had joined--suggested she approach the fragrance houses to remedy the situation. In 2017, International Flavors and Fragrances, a fragrance vendor better known as IFF, agreed to take Pfeiffer on as a client and work with EWG to produce a perfume the group would agree to certify. IFF was already working with Cradle to Cradle, a not-for-profit focused on sustainability, so EWG became a third partner.

Pfeiffer had to learn to communicate with perfumers. "The first hurdle for me was understanding that there was a whole language," she says. The team at IFF would give her a scent, and ask her what it reminded her of. "I was like, I don't know, oh, just sort of--Barbie doll head!" she says. "And they knew what I was talking about!"

EWG, Cradle to Cradle, and IFF had to decide what ingredients would be acceptable to use. From an initial list of 3,000 ingredients, they eliminated all but about 300. Most, including many natural floral scents, dropped off the list because of their potential to cause allergic reactions.

While Pfeiffer was learning the vocabulary of scent, she was also trying out her fledgling products--which now carry names like "Fog" and "Torn"--on anyone she could corner. She got such a variety of responses that she realized one fragrance wouldn't be enough, and the team eventually developed five. Pfeiffer funded the whole venture herself.

Of course, there are many established perfume brands on the market already, and celebrity entrepreneurial ventures have a mixed record of success. And like most famous people who have launched brands, Pfeiffer will get significant help running the company's day-to-day operations. Last June, she brought in Melina Polly as her CEO. Polly was formerly the head of marketing and communications for the meditation company Headspace, and before that the global managing director for the Apple account at TBWA/Media Arts Lab.

The existing range of Henry Rose fragrances is just the beginning, Polly says: "We have quite a few that we would like to perfect." Pfeiffer responds: "But that we have five? It's a miracle."

As with other new products claiming the mantle of affordable luxury, Henry Rose will be sold direct to consumers, with each 50-milliliter bottle costing $120. Sampler kits, also available online, will cost $20, and come with a $20 credit toward the purchase of a full-size fragrance.

Published on: Apr 8, 2019