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Taking Liberty With Conventional Wisdom

LONDON -- For its first venture into cosmetics, Liberty is bending some of the traditions of beauty retailing.<BR><BR>The new 2,000-square-foot cosmetics department, which opened in November in the department store chain's Regent Street flagship, has...

LONDON — For its first venture into cosmetics, Liberty is bending some of the traditions of beauty retailing.

The new 2,000-square-foot cosmetics department, which opened in November in the department store chain’s Regent Street flagship, has been something of an experiment in the following ways:

  • It is emphasizing self-service for fragrances.

  • It is using Liberty-designed lacquer and nickel-plate counters instead of those designed by the beauty companies.

  • It is building a computer database of product information for customers’ use.

  • It is forsaking some major names for smaller, more exclusive beauty houses.
Through Christmas, the results justified the changes — the department was 48.6 percent ahead of projections, according to Lorna McKnight, the consultant who developed Liberty’s new plan.

The best-selling lines are Clinique and Chanel, which was 49 percent ahead of its target through December. In fragrances, the bestsellers are Jean Paul Gaultier and L’Eau d’Issey.

The department’s sales so far have been split equally between fragrance and skin care. McKnight said the store is emphasizing treatment and fragrance over color cosmetics.

In layout, the department is divided between avant-garde companies and more classic suppliers such as Chanel, Lancome, Estee Lauder and Clinique, McKnight said. Among the houses missing from the department are Elizabeth Arden and Clarins.

Smaller companies with counters are Aveda natural treatment and makeup products from the U.S.; Espa, a 32-item aromatherapy range from Britain; Shu Uemura makeup, and Octee, a fragrance and skin care line. Liberty is the first European store to carry Octee outside of the line’s own shop in Paris.

Fragrances are arranged not by supplier but by geographical origin — French, international and American. The plan is to list top notes, middle notes and base notes on the back of each tester to enable a customer to identify the type of fragrance she likes.

Educating the customer is also the purpose of the computer database, which contains ingredient information and brief descriptions of every product in the department. For hair and makeup products, the information also is broken down by price point.