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PARIS — MAC Cosmetics is ratcheting up its international profile with an otherworldly flagship set to open on the tourist-clogged Champs-Elysées here on Tuesday.
And the Paris unit could be only the first of many as the brand plots an aggressive push overseas. Another five flagships could be in the offing, including units in Beijing, Shanghai, London, Rome and possibly Tokyo and Seoul, according to Karen Buglisi, global brand president of MAC Cosmetics. These will join two more Paris store openings before the end of the fiscal year in June 2014. In the Europe, Middle East and Africa region alone, 70 MAC stores were added this year.
“It has to be the right place, it has to have the right opportunity for business and the right opportunity for exposure,” Buglisi said.
James Gager, senior vice president and creative director of MAC, added, “And they will be very carefully designed, so it feels relevant to the market we are entering into — but still feels MAC.”
Like a Thunderdome of beauty, the Paris store has a soaring ceiling in an elliptical arch, a gleaming white floor — and makeup as far as the eye can see. Futuristic touches include a columnar LED display featuring colorful, amorphic forms gliding around, and highly reflective black glass panels.
“This will be a truly global store,” Fabrizio Freda, chief executive officer of the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., told WWD Thursday in one of the VIP areas on its second story. “My ambition is that this [location] will represent the concept of ‘global’ the way the Estée Lauder company sees it, which means just the opposite of standardization. It means inclusion, it means local relevance, which means making everyone feel that they can find the answer to their own fashion ambitions or simply trends, inspirations or products and services in that store.
“The essence of prestige [for us] is not only about selling products but selling an overall experience that adds value to the product,” he added.
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The flagship’s location in one of world’s most visited cities is also pivotal, as the EMEA zone, comprising Europe, the Middle East and Africa, has become MAC’s largest market in revenues outside North America, supplanting the Asia-Pacific region.
Lauder executives declined to divulge sales projections or costs for the shop. However, Freda said it represents the most expensive freestanding-store real estate investment ever made by the entire Estée Lauder company.
Buglisi added that saleswise, “I think for sure it’s going to be in [MAC’s] top five, and ultimately it should be our number-one store.”
Industry sources estimate that the brand is shooting for a target of $10 million in revenues the first year, and $12 million in the second. The sources calculate that it cost $2.5 million to build the store.
Gager designed the 4,022-square-foot Paris location (with 1,800 square feet of selling space), which will be the third and largest flagship for the brand, following one on New York’s Time Square and another on the city’s Fifth Avenue. Each one is different.
Gager described the new boutique as looking like a “cathedral of light.”
“We’ve been in search of a location here for many years, but it had to be the right location, and the Champs-Elysées is an iconic street in the world, is a fashion street [with] 170 million visitors,” said Buglisi.
Here, 40 makeup artists hail from many different countries and speak 15 languages — including Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Arabic, Turkish and Portuguese. The product range spans 1,200 stockkeeping units.
“So we have the shade for you, whether it’s a lipstick, whether it is an eye shadow, whether it’s a foundation,” said Buglisi.
The shop will have more than 40 makeup collections per year, which MAC executives liken to fast fashion.
Gager said lighting for the eight makeup stations is crucial. After senior MAC makeup artists tested the shop’s light, one traveled to Germany, where the lights were being sourced, to work with the manufacturer.
“It gets you the best makeup light possible, so when you’re having your makeup done you look pretty much the same when you leave the store; I think the worst thing for a woman to do is to have her makeup done in light and she thinks she looks amazing but then she looks outside and her friend says, ‘You look horrible,’” said Gager. “That won’t happen here because it’s very balanced light.”
“Delivering the right experience to the consumer has so much to do with how makeup plays in light,” continued Buglisi.
To help with product navigation, Gager conceived small panels hanging from the walls with succinct product information.
“I think that navigation is really, really critical [for] a modern consumer that has many different kinds of moods during the day and is also very busy. [The panels allow] you to have a pre-information or pre-knowledge of products,” he said.
The VIP areas (there’s a second, more luxurious nook downstairs, used as a private makeup room) are unique to the Paris flagship.
Gager added the location would be used for events, like hosting guest DJs or an after-hours party for an emerging designer.
Like the two New York flagships, the MAC Champs-Elysées store will frequently customize windows.
“It is [one of our ways of] getting someone interested in our brand — enticing them and seducing them so they want to see what our product offering is, so it will always keep it fresh and exciting for anybody who is passing by,” said Gager. “They are almost one-offs.”
A first for MAC in France is a lash bar, allowing women to hold a little translucent wand with eyelashes stuck on to see how they look before making a purchase.
In wall niches sit look books with drawings of faces with various color cosmetics, so people can browse different styles. Empty pages allow for the store’s makeup artists to include their own sketches.
Accessories, which are often an impulse buy, are located near the cash registers.
The new location is just a stone’s throw from the Sephora Paris flagship, also on the Champs-Elysées, where MAC is carried, as well.
“There is still a lot of opportunity for building the awareness of the brand, to make the brand known and appreciated,” said Freda. “When people get to know [MAC], they love it. So the fact that we opened a freestanding store does not mean that we will sell less in the other stores or in the other points of sales which are in the city; just the opposite. It means they will sell much more everywhere.”
In a MAC first, for the shop’s opening a limited-edition run of 600 lipsticks in an especially created color and a sleeve saying “MAC Champs-Elysées” were made. These will be handed out with a tote bag to the first 600 people entering the Paris location on opening day.
“I would say everything about this store is unique,” said Buglisi.
MAC is forging ahead with its expansion in Europe, where its business has been growing by double digits and doubled over the last five years, according to Buglisi.
“We have a very aggressive expansion plan for this region,” said Buglisi.
That’s despite the fact Europe currently has a weakening cosmetics market.
“But [it] remains the biggest prestige cosmetics market of the world,” said Freda. “So for us as a company it is very important to continue growing in Europe, even in a period of slight market decline, and to gain market share. We are growing in Europe. Last year, MAC grew more than 20 percent in this declining market.”
He said in France, the Estée Lauder Cos. is growing 8 percent in a market that is down 1 percent.
“So we are building significant market share, and MAC is one of the brands which is driving this success most aggressively and this strategy will continue,” said Freda.