By  on June 27, 2008

Nine months after acquiring Caswell-Massey Co. Ltd., investment firm Equitium Group is giving the venerable personal care brand a high-end spin by expanding distribution of its newest line, called the Luxury Collection, to select specialty stores.

The Caswell-Massey Luxury Collection, which consists of home fragrance diffusers, candles, liquid and bar soaps and a soap dish, is to be rolled out in September to Bergdorf Goodman and Studio at Fred Segal.

Also in September, a newly designed Caswell-Massey Web site is to make its debut; a print ad for the brand is scheduled for the September issue of Bergdorf's magazine, and a new-look, more limited-distribution Caswell-Massey Luxury Collection catalogue will be launched.

All told, the efforts could drive sales of the Luxury Collection to $2 million during the 12 months after the line's introduction at Bergdorf's.

"We want to bring [Caswell-Massey] back to its roots, where it comes from in terms of [a luxury] positioning," said Anthony Nichtawitz, a managing partner at Miami-based Equitium, which invests in luxury lifestyle brands and last month acquired fashion firm Luca Luca.

Nichtawitz noted that well-known customers of Caswell-Massey, which was founded in Newport, R.I., in 1752 by Scottish immigrant and doctor William Hunter, have included George Washington, John F. Kennedy, the Astors and the Vanderbilts.

But, since the Eighties, no less than six major ownership changes have held back the brand, according to Amir R. Amir, also a managing partner at Equitium.

"It lost its way with this revolving-door ownership," said Amir. "We want to bring it up to the level where it is supposed to be — able to stand up to European brands in terms of a luxury positioning."

After buying Caswell-Massey, one of Equitium's first steps was to discontinue international distribution of the brand and limit it to the U.S. Equitium also has focused on "getting the organization running efficiently" from a personnel, back-office and online standpoint, said Nichtawitz.

As a result of these initial efforts, growth has been slow in the first half, but, "second-half growth will be higher," said Nichtawitz.

While overall sales of Caswell-Massey are less than $20 million, according to industry sources, the new initiatives this fall could drive high single-digit increases in revenues.Equitium's strategy calls for the Luxury Collection to be exclusive to Bergdorf's and Studio at Fred Segal, as well as Caswell-Massey's Web site, catalogue and six stores — in New York; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Newport Beach, Calif.; Tampa, Fla., and West Palm Beach, Fla.

The Luxury Collection, which first began appearing in Caswell-Massey's stores and catalogue late last year, features some existing products and others that have been reformulated. The line reflects the brand's newest packaging — products feature clean designs and simplified graphics, as opposed to image-heavy motifs of the past. Also, prices in the line are between 10 and 30 percent higher than similar items marketed previously.

Prices in the Luxury Collection range from $25 for the 16-oz. liquid soap pump to $50 for the 8-oz. fragrance diffuser. The 7.5-oz. poured soy candle is $35, a box of three 5.8-oz. soaps is priced at $35 and the ceramic soap dish is $30.

The soaps, candles and diffusers have four scents in common: Lavender & Violet, Fresh Cut Flowers, Rosemary & Tarragon and Lemon Verbena. Miniature soaps are slated to join the Luxury Collection in October, and for holiday the brand has planned a three-wick candle for Bergdorf's. Early next year, hand and body lotions are to be added to the Luxury Collection.

Overall, Caswell-Massey markets some 400 to 500 products — everything from fragrances and lotions to talc and combs — at about 1,800 stores, most of which are gift shops, independent boutiques and apothecaries.

A repackaging effort involving Caswell-Massey's "classic" lines is to begin in September with the brand's Florals bath and body line, said Nichtawitz. He added that cities where Caswell-Massey has no retail store presence are being eyed as potential new markets, including Boston and Washington.

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