VOL. MMXIII..No. 209

Bold Moves | Strategy in Perspective

The Banned Brand: How Yves Saint Laurent Lost his Fight with Champagne





We love naming brands and products. There is nothing more intoxicating than coming up with the perfect name that instantly registers with the consumer and makes them feel a product is alive and effervescent.


“Intoxicating” and “effervescent” are also words used to describe champagne, and in 1993 it was “champagne” that inspired designer Yves Saint Laurent to use as the name for his newest fragrance.

{ Champagne was the inspiration for a hedonistic new scent meant to emulate the decadent Saint Laurent lifestyle. }


Saint Laurent knew a lot about champagne: it fueled many a wild night at Paris’ Le Palace and must have made perfect sense in terms of brand alignment. Champagne was his muse (along with other stimulants), and the inspiration for a hedonistic new scent meant to emulate the decadent Saint Laurent lifestyle.


The bottle design was perfection: Champagne came in a stout little glass bottle that looked just like a giant cork, and featuring a metal “cage” and metallic top.


b. on brand recently found a bottle of the banned fragrance at a local Goodwill. Champagne was meant to be as decadent and luxurious a fragrance as Saint Laurent’s last hit, Opium.

For the launch, Elf-Sanofi (which at the time was the parent group of Yves Saint Laurent), budgeted $17Million on a massive marketing push throughout Europe, Africa, and the Middle East (it launched last in the U.S.)

Champagne was a hit, raking in more than $35Million in global sales.

But it all became sour grapes when France’s wine producers took Elf-Sanofi to court claiming that Saint Laurent’s fragrance was coopting champagne’s brand equity and diluting the integrity of the legendary beverage.

{ ‘Champagne’ was a hit, raking in more than $35Million in global sales. }


So wait a minute: then why does Miller beer still get to use “the Champagne of Beers”?


Budweiser has never relinquished its tagline, “the Champagne of Beers” even if technically, it isn’t legal.

Because they started using it in back in 1903, long before there was any real protection for appelations. Therefore Miller is exempt because their right was grandfathered in. They continue to use it today, as does Korbel sparkling wine.


In 2006 the United States and the European Union signed a wine trade agreement which included no longer permitting the use of terms like “champagne” on any products not from France’s Champagne region.

Yvresse, which replaced Champagne following a lawsuit in French courts.

More recently, however, even Apple came under scrutiny when they used “champagne”  to describe a color of iphone casing.


So what happened to Yves Saint Laurent and his suddenly nameless hit fragrance?


In 1997 it was relaunched with a bottle ever so slightly different and a new name: “Yvresse” – a play on the French word ivresse —  to be drunk or intoxicated.


Watch the original television spot for Champagne.

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