By and  on April 24, 2009

Benefit Cosmetics believes its latest fragrance endeavor is hot property.

With Crescent Row, a trio of scents modeled after three fictional characters and their neighboring apartments, the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned brand aims to build a portfolio of new fragrances, which industry sources estimate will generate $20 million in first-year retail sales.

“We’re introducing a category within Benefit that we have never really taken that seriously,” said company co-founder Jean Ford, who, with her twin sister Jane, grew Benefit from a tiny makeup boutique in San Francisco’s Mission District neighborhood into the estimated $400 million global makeup brand it is today. “We understand that fragrance is an important category that we feel belongs with Benefit.”

Scheduled for a global launch in July, Crescent Row is intended to be the pillar of the Benefit fragrance franchise, which until now has consisted of Maybe Baby, which launched in 2003, and B Spot, which began last year.

“When I came on board about three years ago, my sense was that this was a brand that was perfectly positioned for fragrance,” said Jean-Andre Rougeot, Benefit’s chief executive officer. “Today we do less than 3 percent of our business in fragrance, and while we will always be first and foremost a makeup brand, I think we can build this into 5 percent of our business.”

Inspired by a trip Jean’s daughters took to a row of Georgian townhouses in Bath, England, called The Royal Crescent, Crescent Row is designed to speak to three different young women who Jean and Jane Ford envisioned living in the chic residences. True to Benefit’s irreverent sense of humor, when presenting the concept to journalists in London over afternoon tea at Claridge’s, the siblings recounted the scents’ background with a harmonized song. The three fragrances, named Laugh With Me LeeLee, Something About Sofia and My Place or Yours Gina, are meant to personify each woman’s lifestyle.

“Each flat defines the essence of the gal who lives in it,” said Jane Ford. “Each of these fragrances is like a piece of custom jewelry that has been created with each woman’s personality in mind.”

The scents’ outer cartons are each decorated with those personality traits in mind. The front of each box features a door, so that when lined up next to each other the crescent’s facade is formed. When opened, the front of the carton flips down to reveal the “building’s” interior. Gina’s pad, for example, depicts a room decorated with a dressing table, a shag-pile rug and a pair of stilettos haphazardly discarded on a staircase.

Modeled after a “lady’s cocktail shaker” that the Ford sisters found while rummaging through their grandmother’s belongings in Bloomington, Ind., Crescent Row’s glass bottles — done in gold — were developed by Parisian design firm Ateliers Dinand. “We presented them with this Twenties-era cocktail shaker, and they had never seen anything like it,” said Jane Ford. “We didn’t want the bottle to look too antique or vintage, because it’s a modern fragrance — so we smoothed out the borders and tweaked the rim.”

The Ford sisters spent two years creating the three fragrances, working with the fragrance houses Robertet and Firmenich. The two suppliers collaborated with LVMH master perfumer François Demachy, who made a trip to the company’s San Francisco headquarters to get a true sense of the brand’s playful approach to beauty.

As for the individual scents, Laugh With Me LeeLee, a woody floral designed to be fun and feminine, has top notes of cassis, melon and citrus; a heart of black violet, lily and jasmine, and a drydown of blond wood, amber and santal.

There’s Something About Sophia, an oriental created to be bit more free-spirited, consists of top notes of mango and freesia; middle notes of sheer lily, jasmine sambac and peony petal, and a drydown of musk, white caramel and vanilla bean.

The more provocative My Place or Yours Gina has top notes of pink pepper, bergamot and tangerine; a heart of peony, wild raspberry and white lily, and base notes of patchouli, tonka bean and vanilla.

Laugh With Me LeeLee, Something About Sofia and My Place or Yours Gina come packaged in a 1-oz. bottle for $36. A holiday gift set will contain a 1-oz. juice and a 2-oz. body lotion, retailing for $46.

The Crescent Row trio will launch in 750 U.S. doors July 1, including Sephora, Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Henri Bendel, as well as in Benefit’s freestanding boutiques and online. The San Francisco-bred brand will simultaneously launch in 950 international doors across the U.K., Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Russia.

“We will do over 65 percent of our sales outside the U.S. this year,” said Rougeot. “Benefit is now in 28 countries worldwide. We entered China 18 months ago, and we have become the number-one brand there in every door we’re in, and we just opened Moscow in February and are ranked number one there in our first two months of business.”

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