IT may be a perfectly sweet-smelling fragrance, but Yves Saint Laurent's 'Champagne' has created a real stink among the people whose job it is to protect the reputation of the chic and bubbly beverage after which it is named. The Comite Interprofessional du Vin et Champagne (CIVC) is at loggerheads with YSL over the unauthorised use of the name Champagne, claiming the word has been 'debased' by the luxury fashion house. Yves Saint Laurent, on the other hand, continues to pour vast sums of money into the advertising and marketing campaign, hoping to entice consumers into parting with their cash in a fragrance-saturated, recession-hit market. The English version of the press release, would seem to rub salt into the wound: 'Champagne! Boldness, a name that explodes, fuses, bursts like sudden laughter, banishes ennui.' At the centre of the battle is a seemingly innocuous cork-shaped bottle containing a less than distinctive fragrance that may, if the CIVC wins, become a collector's item as it is likely it will have to be pulled off the market immediately. About 100 million French francs (HK$134 million) has already been spent on the launch of the new line and sales have been 'quite good', according to industry insiders. 'I think it's because it's new and there are such huge ad campaigns and the risks of the perfume being pulled off the market are quite real,' said the marketing director of a rival French perfume house. 'People seem to be curious about what the perfume is like.' It is now available all over France at prices running up to 1,300 francs for a bottle of concentrated perfume. The Hong Kong launch of Champagne is scheduled for January, followed by the rest of Asia. 'Overseas launchings will continue as planned,' said a spokeswoman for Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. Asked for the company's predictions about the outcome of the lawsuit, she said: 'We have to wait and see. At this moment, we're not saying anything.' But the director of CIVC, Andre Enders, is happy to talk about his disappointment in Yves Saint Laurent, which ignored the association's early recommendations. Saint Laurent and his partner and company president Pierre Berge received a stern warning a year ago to abandon the Champagne project, but proceeded to launch the fragrance last month. CIVC gave its lawyers notice to bring the suit on Yves Saint Laurent almost immediately. A judgment is expected soon. 'We have a very simple way of looking at it,' Mr Enders said. 'Champagne is known the world over as a festive beverage for celebration and a symbol of success. This good will has been created progressively over two centuries by the champagne industry in France. 'Champagne is now considered a unique product when only the best will do. The name is used specifically for a precise area in France which is regarded vastly as a symbol of art de vivre.' He accused Yves Saint Laurent of 'abusing' the name and reputation of champagne by naming a perfume after an industry which generates 15 billion francs worth of sales every year. 'We consider it very important to keep the distinctiveness of champagne and for the name to be used exclusively for this unique wine. If we are to accept that other products are called champagne, even if they are not directly linked, that would open the door to pollution and will totally debase what has been built by the 'champenoise'.' The word within the industry is that Yves Saint Laurent should be worried: the CIVC has won the majority of similar cases in the past, resulting in costly product withdrawals. Mr Enders said winemakers in a number of countries, including New Zealand, had tried to use the word champagne on their label but were told by the court they were not allowed to. 'We have been involved in such cases with beverages, sparkling water and even soft drinks. One company in England wanted to use the word on its bottle of elderflower water, which had the same packaging as a bottle of champagne and even came with a mushroom cork,'' Mr Enders said. 'We understand there is no risk of confusion, but this is not the point. While these other products are not directly linked with champagne, we consider it a debasement of our product.' Ten years ago, a French cigarette company tried to name its brand champagne and was successfully sued by CIVC. Some have accused the association of being too unyielding in its protection policies and interfering with the spirit of free trade. But Mr Enders said: 'This is more than just about a country or region. It is about patrimony. It simply weakens the very meaning of our name. If Yves Saint Laurent is able to call a perfume by this name, someone else can come along and give the brand to a box of soap. We have to maintain the purity and distinctiveness of our product. Anything else is in the end detrimental to the public.' The CIVC accuses companies using the word champagne to market and sell their products as 'devising to take advantage of something that is not theirs'. 'These other companies can choose a brand name which may or may not be successful, depending on luck and the way the public accepts the product. When a company produces something with so much investment, they should think carefully about the name.' The CIVC is confident the judgment will be in its favour - if it is not, an appeal will almost certainly follow. 'We are not prepared to stop. It became pointless discussing this [with them].' Mr Enders said he was 'disappointed' a company with such a reputation would 'embark on such a risky and unwise position'. 'If, as we hope, they have to change their name, it will be a waste of money and effort. I am unhappy to see such an important company entering business in such an unsatisfactory way,' he said. In the meantime, the elusive designer is said to be largely unconcerned with the legal proceedings. Clearly, he is used to controversy: when he launched the Paris perfume some years ago, he was embroiled in a legal battle with city officials over the use of the name but won; then the public thought the decision to use the name of a drug in his Opium fragrance was a little tasteless. But Saint Laurent has every reason to be smug as both fragrances have been successful. Industry insiders believe the decision to proceed with Champagne is borne of Saint Laurent's love of controversy. But Mr Enders says honour and justice will prevail. 'The public should be asking itself if it is right or wrong to take flowers from someone else's garden. That is exactly what they are doing.'