By  on December 10, 2004

NEW YORK — The Limited Brand’s Bath & Body Works division unveiled its long-awaited C.O. Bigelow beauty line this week, embarking on a brand reincarnation that ultimately could spark new trends in beauty retailing.

Limited’s chairman and chief executive officer Leslie H. Wexner is famous for plucking an inconspicuous label, such as Victoria’s Secret, and building it into a blowout brand. Thus, industry interest has mounted on Bigelow.

His new strategy honcho, Neil Fiske, is at work transforming BBW into a multibrand retail power, and the advent of a C.O. Bigelow Apothecary personal care line is the first major salvo of that campaign.

Based on the practices and recipes of the venerable Greenwich Village pharmacy that dates back to 1838, Bigelow has reached back to the pre-Civil War touchstone of its beginnings to fashion a modern cosmetics line that seems fresh and disarmingly authentic, amid the inebriation of today’s celebrity-crazed marketing.

The personal care range consists primarily of skin and body care — aimed at both genders — based on old formulas. Executives proudly point to the lettering on the new line’s packaging that derived from the time when Herman Melville was still writing. And with ingredients like rose water, lemon extracts, peach-nut oil and witch hazel, the Bigelow line is designed to evoke a feeling of purity from a long-gone era. The executives proudly point out that no color cosmetics or fragrances have been included, except scents given off by necessary ingredients. With names like Dr. Keightley’s Mouthwash Concentrate and Dr. Galen’s Herbal Skin Tonic, Limited is clearly betting on old-time religion turning today’s jaded consumers into believers.

But Fiske, ceo of Bath & Body Works, and his partner, Ian Ginsberg, president of the family-owned Bigelow pharmacy, are tackling the challenge in a methodical fashion. During an interview this week at Limited’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, Fiske said the Bigelow line will make its debut Jan. 18 with a soft launch.

Fiske is pondering the ultimate shape of distribution. Now, he says, the line will initially be launched in January in Bigelow’s existing New York flagship, a new-generation store that Limited opened in the Easton Town Center in Columbus in October and in Henri Bendel, another Limited division. A smaller product assortment will be launched in the nearly 70 Bath & Body Works flagships in January and an even smaller product set will go on sale in the 1,600 core stores of BBW. The 90-plus stockkeeping unit line will go into the entire distribution by the end of February.

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