Diptyque Sticking to Its Traditions

BOSTON — Four years after Diptyque opened its first U.S. store here, director and co-owner Mohamed Lataoui finally arrived from Paris to savor the moment. He strolled to the 850-square-foot Newbury Street boutique and then retired to toast the store with Chateau Haut-Brion — in the company of his U.S. distribution partner, Alain Falkenburger.

Lataoui’s pace seems almost archaic in this era of swift-moving, luxury empires. But it fits Diptyque, founded in the early Sixties by a trio of artists who created scented candles for the elite. Until 1999, Neiman Marcus and other U.S. retailers who sold Diptyque picked up their orders like everyone else, at the shop at 34 Boulevard Saint-Germain. Lauren Bacall made an annual Christmastime pilgrimage to Paris for Pommander and other scents.

The company still works at an artistic putter, taking up to two years to produce a single new fragrance out of its 23-person Parisian workshop. It’s a culture in which prices of new fragrances are “arrived at,” Lataoui claims, once the scent is perfect.

As upscale candles proliferate, Diptyque sees strength in reduced numbers. It is planning to pare back U.S. doors to 250, from roughly 300, and make up the revenue loss by growing existing accounts, said Falkenburger, who co-owns distributor French Look International with wife Annie. Diptyque is a $10 million brand at retail in the U.S., according to Annie Falkenburger. Candles account for 70 percent of revenues, led by the best-selling Baies, a red currant-Bulgarian rose combination. Eau de toilette makes up the remaining 30 percent of sales. Barneys New York is the company’s biggest U.S. account.

The company has moved a little faster since Lataoui became a stakeholder in 1998. Stores opened here and in San Francisco. The company is looking for a third space in Los Angeles, but has set no timetable. It is also diversifying product with colored candles and mini candle sets. A travel set, composed of top-selling Fig, Baies and Lavender candles, scheduled to retail at $75, will be available in September. Diptyque’s latest fragrance, Sweet Pea, will be available in March.

There are no plans, however, to extend designer collaborations beyond last year’s Essence of John Galliano, a project of several years initiated by the designer and longtime Diptyque customer. The birchwood, musk and iris scent bowed at retail last year. — Katherine BowersSales of French Beauty Products Rise

PARIS — Pretax wholesale sales of French beauty products rose 2.6 percent to 14.12 billion euros, or $18.44 billion at average exchange rates, in 2004 over 2003, according to the Federation des Industries de la Parfumerie.

Beauty sales in France were flat at 6.51 billion euros, or $8.5 billion. Domestic pharmacy and parapharmacy sales in the category rose 5 percent; selective distribution beauty sales increased 1.3 percent, and direct beauty sales grew 1.9 percent. In the mass market, beauty sales decreased 1.7 percent.

Sales of exported French beauty products rose 4.8 percent to 7.61 billion euros, or $9.94 billion. France’s exports continued to rack up stellar business in China and India, where growth rates were 64.3  and 29 percent, respectively. By region, sales were up 12.5 percent in the Far East; 8.8 percent in the Australia-Oceania region; 8.8 percent in Africa; 5.3 percent in Europe outside the European Union; 4.2 percent in Latin America; 4 percent in the European Union; 2.3 percent in North America, and 0.6 percent in the Near and Middle East.

French beauty products’ business in Germany — their biggest importer, representing 13 percent of France’s exports — dropped 0.5 percent. Meanwhile, exports to the U.S., which make up 7.8 percent of French beauty exports, rose 3.4 percent.

The Federation noted that each day in France, the following are sold: 166,000 bottles of fragrance, of which 45,000 are for men; 72,000 cosmetics for lips; 327,000 products for faces; 564,000 shampoos, and 531,000 bath and shower products. It also said men’s products represent 10.4 percent of the overall French beauty market, and that French people spend 204 euros, or $269.20 at current exchange rates, on beauty and personal hygiene items yearly. — Brid Costello

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