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Oscar’s Willing to Buy His Fragrance Lines; Sanofi Weighing Sale

NEW YORK -- Sanofi Beaute SA is expected to decide today whether to put the $100 million Oscar de la Renta fragrance business on the block.<BR><BR>The decision easily could be to sell, since Sanofi already has a customer. Oscar de la Renta said...

NEW YORK — Sanofi Beaute SA is expected to decide today whether to put the $100 million Oscar de la Renta fragrance business on the block.

The decision easily could be to sell, since Sanofi already has a customer. Oscar de la Renta said Wednesday that he and cosmetics veteran David Horner have been discussing making a bid.

“We have the financial backing to make a deal,” Horner added. He declined to identify the backer,

other than to describe it as “a major, well-known Wall Street firm.”

Sources indicate it is PaineWebber, but executives at that firm could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Horner, a former North American president of Halston Borghese Inc., who in the early Eighties helped develop the landmark Giorgio fragrance business, implied that he and de la Renta had met with Sanofi executives with the comment, “We’re waiting to hear back.” But he did not elaborate.

There is a report that Horner and de la Renta met in Paris Sept. 1 with Jean-Paul Léon, who was named interim chairman of Sanofi Beauté in March when Claude Saujet left.

Léon could not be reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for Sanofi Beauté, Nicole Cranois, said the Sanofi group plans to make a decision on the fragrance license by the end of today in Paris. She said Sanofi had recently commissioned extensive market studies on its brand image in the U.S. Findings showed the Oscar brand is well-recognized and has a positive image among consumers, factors that would make it an attractive acquisition.

Sanofi bought the de la Renta business in 1989 as part of its acquisition of Parfums Stern for $210 million. Sanofi sought the American fragrance brand to beef up its U.S. presence. But with the acquisition of Yves Saint Laurent last year, de la Renta’s clout in America is less crucial for the group, Cranois noted.

“We are not obliged to sell Oscar, and if we decide to, it will not be sold at a discount,” she continued. “But we’re not sure we can develop Oscar in the way that it deserves to be developed and also focus on Saint Laurent.” The de la Renta brand — including the 17-year-old signature scent; the 1992 entry, Volupté, and Pour Lui — had a worldwide wholesale volume of $100 million, about 60 percent of it done in the U.S., according to industry sources, who estimated sales were down 10 to 12 percent because of the decline of Volupté.

This is the second time this year that de la Renta has huddled with Sanofi officials. In May, Sanofi was about to announce that de la Renta’s brand would be put on the block, along with the Perry Ellis and Geoffrey Beene fragrance businesses.

Although neither party would comment, it was learned that de la Renta had persuaded executives not to include his fragrance in the divestiture. Only Ellis and Beene were put up for sale. They still are.

The parent Sanofi pharmaceutical company has previously said it will sell some holdings to finance its acquisition of Kodak’s Sterling Winthrop prescription drug business.