By and  on March 19, 2008

PARIS — In a bid to raise its game in the men's category within mass market channels, L'Oréal France will introduce a line of fragrances with French activewear brand Airness next month.

Through a licensing deal, which was signed at the end of 2007, L'Oréal aims to become the leader in the men's eaux de toilette and deodorant categories, in the mass market, in which it ranked fourth and second, respectively, in 2007, according to Information Resources Inc.

"This agreement is part of our strategy to reinforce our position as the biggest player in deodorants and eaux de toilette in France by developing our presence on the men's market," stated Pierre-Emmanuel Angeloglou, managing director of Lascad, a subsidiary of the French beauty giant. From 1996 to 2006, the men's market grew 50 percent compared with just 0.8 percent for total mass beauty sales, according to L'Oréal, citing figures from IRI.

"Airness enjoys very strong notoriety among consumers under 30," stated Alain Ducasse, managing director of L'Oréal consumer products, France.

Sales at the privately owned Airness, which supplies sporting apparel for French soccer, rugby and basketball players, topped 140 million euros, or $176 million at average exchange, in 2006.

"We're seeing Airness evolve into a lifestyle brand, borderline between sports and fashion, with high awareness and potential," said NPD sports analyst Renauld Vaschalde.

While Airness has already diversified into categories like cell phones and glasses, the L'Oréal deal marks its first foray into beauty.

"It's a very crucial development for Airness in a new field," stated chief executive officer Malamine Koné, a former amateur boxer who founded Airness in the Parisian suburbs of Seine Saint-Denis in 1999. Koné persuaded French soccer stars to wear his clothing off the pitch despite already being signed to front rival activewear brands on the field. By signing with L'Oréal, Airness aims to further broaden its consumer base, Koné added.

Three Airness eaux de toilette and six deodorants, all featuring the brand's distinctive panther design, will bow in France next month, then roll out to 3,000 doors by the summer.

The beauty line, dubbed Instinct, is based on six different scents, five concocted by Givaudan and one by International Flavors & Fragrances. They are Instinct Cool, a fruity fougere; Instinct Musk, a woody oriental; Instinct Power, a green fougere; Instinct Urban, a spicy woody; Instinct Deep, an amber oriental, and Instinct Fresh, a fresh fougere.

Each edt will retail for 17.45 euros, or $27.50, for 75 mls., while deodorants will be priced at 4.54 euros, or $7.16, for a 150-ml. aerosol can.

To fete the launch, L'Oréal and Airness threw a party, featuring a performance by French hip-hop artist Passi, for some 900 guests here Tuesday night.

— Ellen Groves 

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