From the smells of it, George Friedman had a pretty charmed life. He was a Brooklyn kid, attending high school at Brooklyn Tech in Ft. Greene and graduating from Brooklyn College with a degree in psych. After serving in the Army, Friedman worked for 12 years in advertising, including a stint at Estée Lauder. Friedman would eventually head up the business group for the fragrances Aramis and Clinique.
This experience would guide Friedman well as he left to open his own shop called Warner Cosmetics. Under Friedman’s watch Warner developed perfumes for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Paloma Picasso, and Gloria Vanderbilt, marketing them in previously unseen ways.
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.
Friedman was bought out twice. First with Warner Cosmetics, which was purchased by Cosmair (L’Oreal) in 1984 for $146 million (or $311 million today):
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.
Friedman also went back to his alma mater, Brooklyn College, to teach marketing.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.