By  on May 13, 2005

NEW YORK — The Bath & Body Works train continued to pick up speed Thursday with parent Limited Brands' acquisition of Slatkin & Co., a major force in the prestige home fragrance market.

BBW and Limited Brands will bring the force of the acquisition to bear on two levels. The New York-based Slatkin & Co. will function as a subsidiary of BBW with founder and president Harry Slatkin still developing business in prestige outlets around the world, beyond the Limited's retail universe. On a second level, he will operate in the newly created position of president of Home Design, Limited Brands, reporting to BBW chief executive officer Neil Fiske.

In his second role, Slatkin will be creating brands and products for BBW, White Barn Candle Co., Victoria's Secret, Henri Bendel, Limited Stores and Express. The scope of his creative canvas will span 3,835 stores, including 1,600 BBW stores alone.

Details were not divulged, but industry sources speculated that the purchase price of Slatkin & Co. was well above the $13 million that was rumored. The wholesale volume of Slatkin has been estimated at $15 million.

Slatkin sounded ecstatic Thursday, declaring that the Limited's huge resources and creative license will help him in his quest to reinvent and redefine the category. Asserting that his goal is to expand home fragrance beyond scented candles and traditional products, Slatkin noted "I can create anything I want." He asserted that his goal is to become "the Oprah of home." To do this, he must expand the market definitions. "How do we make it the iPod of the next century?" he asked.

Slatkin launched his company 14 years ago by catching the eye of Rose Marie Bravo, who had just arrived in New York from San Francisco to become the new president of Saks Fifth Avenue. Distribution has since spread to Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York in the U.S. and Barneys Japan, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Joyce Hong Kong and Liberty of London overseas. Slatkin said his distribution totals 300 to 400 specialty stores around the world.

The line consists of scented candles, potpourris and room sprays, divided into five signature lines — Slatkin & Co., Oscar Home; Elton John; C.Z. Guest, and Kabbalah.Slatkin said he plans on relocating his office next week to BBW's Manhattan office in SoHo.

At BBW, Fiske said that Slatkin is capable of such "an enormous number of creative ideas" that it was clear to executives that his reach extends across the Limited's multiple retail formats. His sophisticated aesthetic sense is seen as a great asset in improving the home fragrance business already conducted by BBW and White Barn, as well as in creating new lines and entire brands, Fiske added.

Slatkin has already proven to be a great help in upgrading the holiday offerings that will hit counter in October, said Fiske. The Henri Bendel collection is another obvious application. He acknowledged that Limited has made "a priority of promoting and growing the Slatkin business in the accounts it is now in."

But, as with everything else at BBW, Fiske is clearly focused on expanding the total business in breadth and definition. "It's an opportunity to merchandise a home fragrance and lifestyle collection in a more compelling way than has been done in the past," he said. When asked if this could possibly mean moving into the realm of home decor, Fiske indicated that such a blurring could occur, while remaining in a beauty context. He noted that the company already merchandises decorative pillows, candle holders and vases.

Fiske added that an assortment of Slatkin products is already sold in the Bigelow pilot store in Easton Town Center in the Limited's home turf of Columbus, Ohio. There's a more limited assortment in BBW stores including Best Buddies, a Slatkin charity project.

Overall, Fiske clearly sees the home fragrance arena as "one of the growth pillars with signature growth potential."

The deal was done with the participation of Compass Partners, acting as investment bankers, Slatkin said, and Marvin Traub Associates, which put the parties together.

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