By  on June 17, 1994

BUDAPEST-- Clinique opened its first freestanding boutique anywhere in the world here this week and quickly demonstrated its global cachet.

The 600-square-foot store rang up $6,000 in sales on Tuesday, its first full day of business, as a mainly Hungarian crowd packed into the space at 8 Vaci Utca, a pedestrian shopping street that is the city's most chic retail district.

"It's an exciting culmination of Mrs. [Estee] Lauder's extraordinary career," said Jeanette Wagner, president of Estee Lauder International, which runs the Estee Lauder Cos.' foreign operations.

Although Estee Lauder was born in New York, she is of Hungarian descent. A store under the Lauder name opened here in 1989.

The Clinique store's ribbon-cutting Monday afternoon drew hundreds of onlookers, several TV crews and many local dignitaries, including U.S. Ambassador Donald Blinken, Hungarian Princess Katalin zu Windischgraetz, Austrian socialite Sylvie Liska and Monika Fedelevits, owner of the local model agency Style Promotion.

"My mother told me I had to call her as soon as the opening ceremony is over, even though it's about 6 in the morning in New York. She wants to know what Hungarian women are wearing and saying," joked Ronald Lauder, Estee's son and chairman of Clinique and of Estee Lauder International, before he, Blinken and Clinique founder Carol Phillips together cut the store's ribbon.

Clinique had wanted to open the Budapest store last year but was held up by a lack of suitable space. The site that was eventually selected is just a few doors from Lauder's existing store and across the street from a Christian Dior boutique that opened last year.

These three retail spaces stand out like neon lights in the burgeoning, though still drab, atmosphere of central Budapest. Yet in the half-decade since Communism ended here, a middle class has clearly emerged and has begun buying Western products.

Although the Estee Lauder store here does $1 million annually, Wagner predicted that Clinique would take several years to reach that figure. Prices are not noticeably different from those in Western Europe -- a bar of soap costs about $13 (1,300 forints), while Clinique's famed Three-Step treatment retails at around $40."People have asked me if people here will be able to afford our products. But Hungarian women appreciate quality, and I'm confident the store will be a major success," Ronald Lauder told guests at a gala dinner in Gundel, an opulent local restaurant that represents another Lauder enterprise here. Ronald Lauder is a principal owner.

The $1 million store, designed by Robert Eickmeyer, senior vice president for store design at Clinique International, is open, bright and approachable.

"My theory is that buying cosmetics in department stores is a gauntlet for most women. I wanted them to see what was inside, so they wouldn't be nervous about coming in," said Eickmeyer. Thus, the window contains products with the prices visible, the stock cabinets are glass and the store has many large signs with concise explanations of Clinique products in Hungarian, teamed with Irving Penn color photos.

"I think that people believe more what they read than what they are told," explained Eickmeyer, who also dreamed up a carousel that spins around to display color cosmetics more easily.

Clinique took out full-page ads in Budapest's two leading dailies and promised a free lipstick to anyone who brought in an insert card from Hungarian Elle and agreed to be skin-tested. And on Tuesday, shoppers, many of them men, did just that.

Bestsellers were the classic Three-Step system of soap, one of four Clarifying Lotions and Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion. The product mix is essentially the same as in the U.S., except the Budapest store carries the European shade range, which emphasizes more brown than pink, and does not stock the hair care line.

Wagner said the store does not represent a radical departure from the company's current strategy, but is "more of an extension of what we have been doing."

Clinique will open its next store in Prague in September, has recently checked out the Romanian market and, Wagner hinted, is planning its own boutique in the U.S. Wagner predicted that sales in the Clinique-owned boutiques will never amount to more than 10 percent of company sales.

"The beauty of these stores is that you can make service and not promotion the issue," explained Wagner.Phillips, who is also chairman of Clinique USA, said the biggest obstacle in the project was finding and developing the right attitude among the six-member sales staff.

"We have found an excellent staff, but training them to smile and be agreeable with even a difficult customer isn't easy," she said.

Clinique has made a commitment to training its beauty consultants with the construction of a basement conference room meant for classes.

In the first week of June, the store was very busy with private consultancy. Demand was so high, the shop had to reorder before its official opening, Phillips explained.

"I launched Clinique back in 1968 in New York. Today feels like the second launch," said Phillips, just before cutting the ribbon on Monday.

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