Sweet beginnings for the lily

Crabtree & Evelyn’s brand guardian Datuk Sandra Lee has many reasons to be excited. She tells INTAN MAIZURA AHMAD KAMAL more during a very English affair at the Carcosa Seri Negara, Kuala Lumpur.

“I’M in love with Kate Middleton!” squeals Datuk Sandra Lee, brand guardian of Crabtree & Evelyn, surprising me somewhat, having been so regally composed for the most part of our chat.

“She has such amazing poise for a young lady. And I love her fantastic sense of style. Effortless chic!”

Looking stunning in a rich fuchsia Dior ensemble, with a strand of pearls around her neck, the bobbed-haired 50-something, who was at Carcosa Seri Negara for the recent launch of the brand’s new Floral Fragrance Collection, confides just how excited she is about the impending nuptial of Middleton and Prince William.

“In London, we’ve prepared a whole range of souvenirs for their wedding in anticipation of the millions of tourists who’ll be converging to the capital for the event.

"We’re using the CW (Catherine and William monogram), and the Royal Coat of Arms with the date 29 April, so that the effect is subtle and elegant,” she adds, beaming.

“They can take a momento home that reminds them of their visit during the royal wedding.”

On offer are a variety of the Heritage Crabtree soaps in various fragrances, which customers can choose from and have packed in a box with the bespoke royal logo of CW.

“The box carries our Heritage prints with icons from London or UK — the English Royal Guard, the Union Jack, Scotsmen, a cup of English tea and biscuits, and so on.”

The company has also designed a special commemorative tag, which has the royal logo, the April 29 date and the Crabtree logo.

“The idea is to offer items that are of high quality, beautiful, yet carry a commemorative tag that’s subtle, unlike those available in the tourist shops. The tag will be used on current favourite Crabtree items.”

Unfortunately, this range is available exclusively in the UK only.

Closer to home, the excitement doesn’t cease. The Singapore-born Lee, who moved to Malaysia three decades ago following her marriage to Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK)’s CEO, Tan Sri Lee Oi Hian, is flushed at the fact that the company, which has half of its 452 outlets in Asia, posted US$8.4 million (RM25.4 million) in pre-tax profits for the year end September 2010.

Last week, she launched the brand’s expanded range of soliflores (single note fragrances), the Floral Fragrance Collection, comprising Rosewater, Lavender and Lily. This follows last year’s encouraging debut of Iris.

The artfully crafted range is presented in elegant packaging featuring unique watercolour designs — a modern take on botanical illustrations inspired by the vibrancy found in nature.

For the home, the collection includes delicately-scented candles, diffusers, home fragrance sprays and scented lining paper for drawers printed with graceful watercolour illustrations.

“We redesigned the whole packaging and upgraded the formulation,” shares Lee, who used to work as a brand manager for several cosmetic companies and fashion labels.

“The brand is 40 years old, the original packaging was designed 40 years ago, so it was time to change. We need to evolve with the new trends in fashion, lifestyle and the needs of our new consumers.”

Despite that, Crabtree & Evelyn continues to remain true to its brand DNA. “We’ll never move away from the essence of the brand, which is rooted in the garden — the fruits and botanical flowers.”

To evolve and cater to new consumer needs is a brave move, concedes Lee. The company needed to ensure that it didn’t end up alienating its existing customers. A year was spent on research in the US, Canada, UK and Hong Kong, and focus groups were engaged.

“We showed both our old customers and potential new ones our new designs and from there we graduated to a big re-design exercise.”

Water colour was selected as it is part of the English heritage, adds Lee, who has a marketing background. “This medium is very light and fluid, and we believe that this would actually enhance the product line, which is all the single floral inspired by England. A young English girl fresh from the UK’s St Martin’s School of Design, whose forte was watercolour, was chosen to execute the idea.”

The scents, meanwhile, except for Rosewater, the brand’s No.1-selling fragrant, were reformulated to make them more current.

“Lavender has a twist of lemon added on so it’s very fresh, while Lily is completely refreshed with the addition of citrus leaves,” says Lee, whose favourite scent for the day is fresh lily. At night, she often opts for heavier fragrances such as Iris or Rose.

Lee, a mother to two boys and two girls, is passionate about nature. Her spacious garden in Ipoh where she resides with her family is her private haven and her labour of love.

“We developed it for more than 20 years, adding layers and layers to it.” She smiles. “We have palm trees and beautiful rainforest species in the bigger field. Nearer to the house, we have frangipani, bougainvillea and a lot of water features — there’s a pond and around it are various water plants.”

With such a hectic schedule (Lee spearheads the group’s management and operations team in the UK and US in new product development, works with several established global creative companies in the UK for its designs, accessories and gift programmes, and oversees the UK team in rolling out new store design concept to enhance shoppers’ experience), it’s no wonder that her most precious down time is spent in her garden.

“The break of dawn is my favourite time,” confides Lee, an active philanthropist. She’s the co-founder and executive chairperson of Persatuan Daybreak (acronym for Disabled Adults and Youth Being Rewarded, Encouraged and Accepted in Kinta), a vocational training centre for the physically-challenged to be self-reliant and independent.

“That’s when I have my quiet time sitting in the garden, reading, watching the dawn breaking. You should see the colours changing as the day progresses. Everyday is like a painting.”

As our session nears a close, I couldn’t help bringing this amiable lady back to the subject of Middleton, again. Which scent from the new collection would Lee choose for her favourite fashion icon?

The self-confessed Anglophile, who grew up in Singapore listening to the Beatles and Cliff Richard, and whose style icons were the lovely Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, replies, eyes sparkling: “The lily of the valley of course. It’s fresh, young and spirited — just like her!”

The Lily is presently available in all Crabtree & Evelyn stores. Rosewater will follow next month and Lavender in May.

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