George Friedman, Developer of Designer Perfumes, Dies at 77

October 15, 2012 | Alumni

By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK

October 12, 2012

George Friedman, a former advertising executive who helped develop and market perfumes named for fashion designers like Ralph Lauren, Paloma Picasso and Gloria Vanderbilt in the 1970s and ’80s, died on Sunday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 77.

The cause was a heart attack, his son, Eric, said.

Mr. Friedman first came up with the idea to release perfumes under the Ralph Lauren name while working for Estée Lauder’s global cosmetics company. When Ms. Lauder refused, he left and founded Warner/Lauren Cosmetics (the Lauren was later dropped from the name) with Warner Communications, the designer Ralph Lauren and Robert Ruttenberg in 1976. Mr. Ruttenberg had also worked for Estée Lauder and in advertising.

“George was the visionary,” Mr. Ruttenberg said in an interview. “He connected us to Picasso, he connected us with Ralph, he connected us to Vanderbilt. Yes, he was the facilitator and the creator.”

Mr. Friedman tried to match his fragrances with particular demographic groups by monitoring every aspect of development, from bottles to advertising.

“It’s not just a nose in a vacuum,” he told The New York Times in 1981. “You have to know what scent will hit the market you want when it is put in the right packaging.”

Warner Cosmetics created hit fragrances like Polo, Lauren, Paloma and Vanderbilt.

Marketing perfume under an established designer’s name was a novel approach, and it proved immensely successful. When Vanderbilt was introduced in 1982, Warner Cosmetics expected sales to be $25 million to $30 million in its first year. “We did $72 million in the first 12 months,” Mr. Ruttenberg said.

Other innovations included simultaneously releasing Polo and Lauren, fragrances for men and women, which allowed for a broader and more sustained promotion in department stores. The company also advertised heavily on television in 30 markets tied to local department and specialty stores, a move most cosmetics companies eschewed. Vanderbilt was sold in both drug and department stores, a two-pronged approach that department stores had resisted.

In 1984 Cosmair, L’Oréal’s American division, purchased Warner Cosmetics for $146 million. Four years later Mr. Friedman and Mr. Ruttenberg formed a joint venture with Limited called Gryphon Development, to develop fragrances for brands like Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works and Abercrombie & Fitch. Limited bought Mr. Friedman and Mr. Ruttenberg out of their share in 1992 for more than $300 million, Mr. Ruttenberg said.

George Friedman was born on Jan. 4, 1935, in Brooklyn to Samuel and Ann Friedman. He attended Brooklyn Technical High School and graduated from Brooklyn College with a degree in psychology in 1956. He served in the Army but did not see combat.

Mr. Friedman spent 12 years in advertising after he left the service, working for prominent firms like Foote, Cone & Belding and Young & Rubicam. He began working for Estée Lauder in 1968, eventually becoming group president for the fragrances Aramis and Clinique before leaving to start Warner.

In addition to his son — from his first marriage, to Dian Rabinowitz, which ended in divorce — Mr. Friedman is survived by his wife, Pam Bernstein Friedman; two stepsons, Josh and Andrew Bernstein; and two brothers, Marvin and Alan. His second marriage, to Diane Love, also ended in divorce.

Mr. Friedman also taught marketing at Brooklyn College and in 1984 was a visiting lecturer at the Sloan School of Management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University’s business school.

Originally published by The New York Times