By  on June 10, 1994

NEW YORK -- It's been 10 years since Antonia Bellanca started selling her eponymous fragrance at her flower shop in East Hampton.

Today, the original item -- a 2-oz. eau de toilette -- has blossomed into a seven-item line and the one door it was sold in has evolved into 176. The distribution of Antonia's Flowers now includes specialty shops, such as Fred Segal in Los Angeles, 14 Barneys New York doors, three Neiman Marcus units and, most recently, nine doors of Saks Fifth Avenue.

Bellanca first conceived the idea of developing a fragrance in 1982, when she owned and ran Antonia's Flowers, a flower shop in East Hampton.

"I had fallen in love with the smell of freesia so much and could not find a fragrance that replicated its fragrance," she said. "I realized that if I wanted that kind of scent, I would have to do it myself."

Bellanca closed her flower shop in 1989 in order to dedicate herself full time to the fragrance business.

According to the entrepreneur, retail sales passed the $1.5 million mark last year and she is anticipating at least 30 percent growth this year. This would give the fragrance a retail volume of around $2 million.

"We've been growing at about that rate each year since 1989, when I expanded the product lineup with the perfume and the body lotion," Bellanca said, noting that she attributes a substantial portion of this year's projected gains to her launch in Saks last fall.

"I think that being in Saks will probably increase our sales by around 20 percent," she added.

The Antonia's Flowers lineup now contains a 1-oz. Asoluto concentrated fragrance for $95, a 1.7-oz. eau de toilette for $40, a 3.4-oz. version for $62, an 8-oz. body lotion for $30, an 8-oz. bath and shower gel for $25 and a 4-oz. twice-milled soap for $13.50.

Bellanca said she plans to expand the line further, as well as continue to increase distribution. For the holiday season this year, she will add a candle, priced at $25 to $40, and a talc, for $25 to $30.She is also looking overseas. In 1990, Antonia's Flowers bowed in Japan, where it has since reached a distribution of more than 50 doors.

Bellanca is planning to continue to expand in Japan while entering other countries, possibly in Europe.

"I think we can get into England within the next year," she said, noting that she expects the scent to do well there since freesia, the dominant note of the fragrance, is the Queen of England's signature flower.

Adding products and doors is just part of Bellanca's equation for success. Sampling is another.

At Saks and Barneys this year, she plans to give away 50,000 small bags filled with deluxe miniatures of every item in the line.

"The salesgirls wanted to keep these for special occasions or use them as gifts-with-purchase," Bellanca said. "But I think that it is incredibly important to get your product into as many hands as possible."

For the last two years Bellanca has taken a hands-on approach to all aspects of the business, from sales and taking and filling orders to conducting training sessions for the sales associates.

"If you ask me, the key to any successful fragrance business is with the salesgirls," Bellanca said. "They are really the angels of the industry. If you can get them into it and excited about your product, they will translate that over to the consumer."

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