By  on June 10, 1994

NEW ORLEANS -- Specialty retailers in the Canal Place Shopping Centre are freshening up sales with a variety of fragrances.

Canal Place, with 50 upscale specialty shops along with anchor tenant Saks Fifth Avenue, is strategically located between the Mississippi River and the French Quarter. It is a hub of retail activity and on the itinerary of many of this city's estimated nine million annual visitors.

A number of Canal Place's specialty retailers, who market a range of merchandise -- including leather goods, apparel and jewelry -- have discovered that fragrances appeal to their customers' sensibilities and have added scents to their product mix.

Lillie Rubin, known for glamorous gowns, stocks its own signature fragrance in its 2,500-square-foot store at Canal Place, one of three Rubin locations here.

Launched in the company's 75 stores nationwide three years ago and supplemented later with the introduction of a body treatment lotion and gel, the scent "was designed to enhance the overall picture of Lillie Rubin," said owner Georgette Rubin.

She estimated that 30 percent of her regular customers buy the fragrance, which ranges from $35 for a 1.7-oz. eau de parfum to $195 for a 1-oz. perfume.

In addition to being featured in the store's catalogs, published five times a year, the perfume is highlighted via semi-annual promotions, which include various gift-with-purchase offers.

Laura Ashley has two stores at Canal Place, one called Mother & Child and the other a combined apparel and home furnishings shop, featuring the designer's floral scent, called No. 1, and the oriental-floral Dilys, as well as companion bath and body products.

Laura Ashley has red, yellow and lavendar flowers applied by hand to her No. 1 perfume bottle, making an indelible impression on her customers, regardless of whether they end up buying the clothes or home furnishings, noted Suzanne Mulroy, marketing director for Parfums Laura Ashley.

In addition to the Canal Place outlets, however, Laura Ashley fragrances have worldwide exposure through a 5,000-door distribution, which includes department stores and duty-free shops.

In the Canal Place shop, the fragrances are displayed in wood cases at eye level behind the register. Customers tend to sample the testers while they pay for merchandise. If that doesn't result in a fragrance sale, promotions staged at Mother's Day, then in June and August and again at Christmas are sure to spark interest, Mulroy said.Laura Ashley's No. 1 is a hot seller in New Orleans, especially in the tourist season, she said.

While the elegant image supplied by a Laura Ashley fragrance spurs the Ashley store's overall sales, exclusivity is the lure of the Italian, French and German fragrances featured at Le Sac, which specializes in high-end leather goods, silk ties and scarves, along with some crystal.

That exclusivity translates into the scents logging as much as 50 percent of the shop's annual sales, according to store manager Mavie Kamiab.

"Our customers want something different that they won't see at every other store," she noted. "I hear them say frequently that they have never smelled our fragrances in any other place."

Turnover for a fragrances is swift, Kamiab said. Once a European fragrance has gained recognition in the U.S., Le Sac discontinues selling it and goes for a newer scent.

In addition to new European fragrances, however, Le Sac specializes in providing older classic fragrances such as Cabochard by Parfums Gris, priced at $37 for a 1-oz. bottle, and Balmain's Ivoire, at 3.4 ounces for $79, which she said are nearly "impossible to find elsewhere in the U.S."

Among the current best-selling fragrances for women are Tomango's eau de parfum and eau de toilette, one ounce for $32 and $59 for 3.4 ounces, respectively.

For her cost-conscious clientele, Kamiab said she carries Leonard de Leonard's 1.7-oz. eau de toilette for $49, but not the perfume.

"Some customers want to start with a lower-cost fragrance at first," she said. "I will order the perfume later for them if they like it."

However, she added, "I think many of my customers will pay up to $85 for a fragrance. Mentally, it's not a luxury item and they don't give it a second thought."

Mignon Faget, a jewelry designer who has two other stores here and a new shop in Houston's Galleria, confines the selection at her Canal Place unit to one product: Antonio's Flowers.

The shops offer three sizes: a 1.7-oz. eau de toilette at $54, a 3.4-oz. size at $84 and a 1-oz. perfume at $128. Fragrance sales represent a fraction of Faget's annual sales, which focus on her jewelry.Faget said she introduced the fragrance to her high-end shops five years ago on somewhat of a whim.

"A customer brought the fragrance to my attention, and I found it such a light, natural fragrance. You don't even know you are wearing it -- it becomes a part of your persona," she said.

Faget said the fragrance is a perfect fit with her jewelry collections, which feature a variety of designs inspired by New Orleans' architecture, aquatic creatures and other images.

In addition, the designs have numerous botanical references, providing another connection with Antonia's Flowers.

The fragrance complements an additional selection of lotions, soaps, powders and potpourri -- all based on floral scents.

"They are clean, fresh, not too sweet," Faget said. "They have to be easy fragrances to live with. The heavy ones give me a headache. I don't even like to go close to them."

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