By  on September 14, 1994

NEW YORK -- Sanofi is apparently in no hurry to decide the fate of its Oscar de la Renta fragrance business.

Jean-Paul Léon, acting chairman of Sanofi Beauté, the beauty division of the Paris-based pharmaceutical firm, said Tuesday that the company is still pondering what course it should take with its fragrance and cosmetics brands, dashing expectations of an imminent decision on whether to sell the de la Renta business. A verdict had been expected Friday.

As reported, de la Renta himself has said he would like to buy his fragrance license and business back from Sanofi. The designer added that he has been meeting with cosmetics veteran David Horner and discussing plans to make a bid.

There also have been reports of interest by other companies, including Procter & Gamble Co. A spokeswoman at the Cincinnati-based consumer products giant declined comment.

Despite de la Renta's interest and the possibility of other suitors, Léon said Sanofi is not entertaining bidders. Léon, who was interviewed here this week, said, "The first step is to have a strategy [upon which to base] a decision."

Léon said it would be "realistic" to assume that the question would be resolved before the end of year. He noted that only a year ago, Sanofi acquired Yves Saint Laurent's fragrance, cosmetics and treatment business, and the company has to determine the best fit with the other brands.

In May, Sanofi put the Perry Ellis and Geoffrey Beene brands up on the block, where they remain. Stendhal also is for sale.

Sanofi's other brands include Nina Ricci, Van Cleef & Arpels, Roget & Gallet and Yves Rocher.

Léon said there have been dramatic changes in the global business.

"You must decide how you can be the most effective," he said, "how you can manage the business to be the best for the next five years."

Putting Ellis and Beene up for sale was a comparatively easy decision because they are relatively low-volume businesses, Léon said, while de la Renta is an important American brand.

Industry sources have estimated that Ellis's worldwide wholesale volume last year was $38 million, Beene's $8 million and de la Renta's $100 million.On one point, Léon said, there is certainty: Despite industry speculation, Sanofi has no intention of abandoning the beauty business.

"The question of strategy is not whether we want to remain or whether we want to leave," he stated. "We want to remain in the business."

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