For Santa Ana Perfume Creator, Individuality Is of the Essence

Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Anne Pliska and her perfume are a lot alike. They’re both assertive, feminine and pink.

On this particular day, the 30-year-old Santa Ana resident and creator of the pink-colored Anne Pliska fragrance collection is wearing a hot-pink blazer, hot-pink lipstick and hot-pink high heels as she scrambles madly to meet a production deadline.

But five years ago, when she decided to break into the fashion industry by launching a fragrance, she had no idea how to peddle her product or handle a deadline scramble.

“I literally went through the phone book and called a perfumer,” she says from her Irvine industrial park headquarters. “I didn’t know anything about the industry. Fortunately I had called a world-renowned company and the creator of (Calvin Klein’s) Obsession, but I didn’t know any of that at the time.”

What she did know was that she wanted a classy scent that would be both extremely feminine and distinctive. So she decided to market a fragrance in her favorite color.


The company she chose to create the scent--Roure-Bertrand-Dupont, which has offices in France, New Jersey and Woodland Hills and has created such fragrances as Bijan, Sophia, Obsession and Poison--put together some samples that filled Pliska’s request for a classic, feminine fragrance different from any other on the market.

After two years of smelling samples, Pliska chose the slightly Oriental fragrance of fruit and spice essences that she sells under her name (pronounced anay to rhyme with Renee) to Nordstrom, Harris’ in San Bernardino, The Jones Store in Kansas City, Dayton Hudson in Detroit and other outlets across the country. (The Ritz-Carlton resort in Dana Point and Nordstrom stores are the only places to purchase the perfume in Orange County.)

As a girl growing up in Newport Beach, Pliska had long dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. But after a couple of years designing women’s clothing and accessories, she found that she was just as poor and obscure as before she started.

“It didn’t pay the bills,” she says. “So I thought I should get a real job. I tried the corporate world and found . . . I was not corporate-minded. I realized I was not a political animal. After being fired from my last corporate job, I thought maybe I’d better go back to designing,” she adds, her pink lips forming a huge smile.

But designing what?

“It was sort of like, where do you start eating the elephant? The fashion world is huge, and I wasn’t sure where to start. But I thought with fragrance, that it would get me a name faster.”

She was right. Once she launched the fragrance, large department stores began requesting huge orders. (The orders are filled in Irvine, after the scent mixture is sent from Roure-Bertrand-Dupont to other labs, where it is mixed with alcohol and made into gels, body lotion and other products.)

But it took nearly two years of product development before the perfume hit the market--settling on the scent, devising the marketing plan and designing the packaging. Choosing the fragrance, she says, took the most time.

Most perfumes and colognes are created by fragrance companies, which a designer or cosmetics firm contacts when ready to market a new product. Once a scent is created, the designer usually signs a contract with the fragrance company, which agrees to supply a certain amount of scent mixture for a certain price. The mixture, which is sold by the pound, is sent to labs where it is made into the products you see in the stores.

In Pliska’s case, she has an exclusive contract with the Roure-Bertrand-Dupont company and its assurance that a similar scent will not be created for another designer. There are no copyrights or patents on fragrances, says Annette Green of the Fragrance Foundation in New York.

For any given scent, perhaps two dozen trial fragrances will be compiled by perfumers in a fragrance company’s laboratories, explains Ron Benton, regional vice president of fragrance sales for Roure-Bertrand-Dupont, which, according to the Fragrance Foundation is among the world’s top producers of fine scents.

Into these samples will go between 100 and 150 ingredients, elements that will be continuously fine-tuned until the final product is selected, he adds.

“It’s like writing out a recipe,” he says. “It might read 2% jasmine, or 3% sandalwood, and all the ingredients that go into a single perfume are compounded in the lab and presented to the customer.”

The scent might take years to develop and more years to market. But despite the investment in time and resources, Benton says that the average life span for perfume is five years and that only a few survive to join the ranks of such classic scents as Chanel No. 5 (created in 1924) and White Shoulders (born in 1939).

Pliska is determined to nurture one of the survivors.

“I’m really striving to become a classic,” she says. “I think quietly and surely, I’m developing a steady, loyal following. . . . I don’t intend to be a mass-market fragrance fad.”

Her research shows that the Anne Pliska customer is a woman 25 years or older who is not into trends. “It’s someone who wants a scent that speaks of individuality,” she says. “American women are beginning to turn away from the European and even the Madison Avenue ideals of glamour and are beginning to celebrate their own individuality.”

After settling on the fragrance and the color, Pliska chose luxurious white and gold packages to promote an upscale, exclusive image for the line of eight fragrance products, which start at $25 for bath gel and go to $80 for a half-ounce of perfume.

Soon, Nordstrom came knocking.

“Actually, I hadn’t planned to sell to Nordstrom or any other store,” says Pliska. “My plan was to sell through a catalogue, and perhaps create a demand by being unavailable. But I went to the Nordstrom perfume buyer (at South Coast Plaza) just to talk about strategy and pricing, and they wanted to buy it right then. Nordstrom likes things they know you can’t buy elsewhere, that have an exclusive quality.”

Since then (Anne Pliska fragrances first appeared at Nordstrom on Valentine’s Day, 1987), it’s been a mad dash to meet demand.

“It’s beaten me to death,” says Pliska with a laugh. A newlywed whose husband handles many of the company’s finances, she says despite the travel and reputed glamour of the fragrance industry, she is too busy to be having fun with it.

She and her husband (“I’m married but may not be for long if business keeps up”) just moved from Newport Beach to a 1926 house in northern Santa Ana, but she hasn’t had much time to settle in.

“I know, it seems everybody else is moving in the other direction, from Santa Ana to Newport Beach, but I went the other way.”

The same could be said of her professional life.

“It does seem I’ve always run against the crowd,” she says.