NEW YORK--After decades of nurturing its niche as a house of classic women's fragrances, Jean Patou Inc. is about to take another crack at the elusive men's market. Next month, Patou will introduce Prive, the company's first men's fragrance since the advent in 1980 of Patou Pour Homme, which did a marginal 6 percent of Patou's U.S. business last year, or about $700,000 at retail. The new scent, which will be launched only in the U.S. this fall, will be aimed at the highest-priced level of the men's market, one now occupied primarily by Boucheron and Cartier. Alan Beck, president and chief operating officer of Patou's U.S. subsidiary, said his ambition is "to be dominant in the exclusive men's market." The opening price point is $68 for a 2-oz. eau de toilette splash. The three other items in the line include a 3-oz. spray version for $90, an $80 aftershave splash and a $75 aftershave balm, each in a 4-oz. bottle. The fragrance is a floral amber fougere with a top note that includes bergamot and lavender. Middle notes are sandalwood, patchouli and "new-mown hay," with a vanilla base. The fragrance, which was developed by Jean Kerleo, the Paris-based parent company's in-house perfumer, was tested on 400 people three years ago. "We can afford to gamble, but we can't afford to lose," Beck said with a smile. Beck expects Prive to do far better than Patou's last men's fragrance, which was spicier as a woody amber, which appeals mostly to consumers in the southern regions of Europe and of the U.S. and in South America. On Sept. 27, Prive will start rolling out to about 90 doors, a total comprised of Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin and four doors of Barneys New York. The Barneys doors will include two stores in New York, plus the Chicago unit and one other door that has not yet been picked. Beck said it will be one of Barneys' smaller stores. "We are certainly excited about it," said Steve Bock, senior vice president of Saks. "We think his approach is where we are in the men's business. We had a good success with Cartier and a great success with Boucheron." Bock, who said Saks will launch the fragrance in mid-October, added that Patou "talks to our customer, with the tradition of fragrance, heritage and prestige." He noted that Joy, Patou's 1934 women's fragrance classic, "epitomizes prestige" and Sublime, the company's 1993 women's entry, is in the top 20 women's fragrances at Saks. Patou, a tenacious niche player, is known for building fragrances meticulously. "Success is not in the first year," Beck said, "but the second year. We care what happens in years two and three." As for Privé, sources indicate that Patou is aiming for a retail volume of $1.5 million for the first 12 months. One of the more striking aspects of Patou's U.S. business is focus. When asked who the target customer will be, Beck replied, "the Neiman-Saks woman shopper." Armed with the advertising slogan, "Raise Your Standard of Giving," Patou hopes to entice women into buying Prive as gifts for men, some of whom might have given them bottles of Joy in the past. Or as Beck put it, the campaign is intended to give women the chance to "return the favor" after having received perfume in the past. "It's very subtle marketing and very personal," Beck said. The ad campaign will appear only in W magazine. "What the merchandising is supposed to do is match the distribution with no waste," Beck said. The launch will also be backed with 300,000 direct-mail pieces inviting consumers to come to fragrance bars for free samples. The company also will hand out facsimiles of cigar boxes, holding two 2-ml. samples of the fragrance and one 5-ml. tube of aftershave balm. The boxes will be given to customers who buy Privé as "a token of appreciation." Patou avoids using the term gift-with-purchase. "When a person buys a fragrance for $90," Beck said, "somebody should say thank you." As usual, the company will rely heavily on making an effort on the selling floor. Patou employs 125 rotators, who move from store to store dealing with customers and sampling fragrances. During a launch, their concentration is focused on the new fragrance. Beck said two or three people will be devoted to the launch in each store and there will be another manpower push at Christmas. The Patou president decided to go after the men's market for two reasons. The first was the nature of U.S. business, which is built on Joy. Since gift giving generates much of the volume here--in sharp contrast to France, where women mostly buy their own--men are already familiar with the brand, since they do much of the buying. "The male-female relationship exists very strongly in North America," Beck said. He noted that 44 percent of his business is in perfume, compared with the industry average of 6 to 7 percent. Patou also steered its advertising into a gift-giving theme during the last two years. Talking to men through magazines like Forbes, Smart Money and Worth, the company not only used the headline "Raise Your Level of Gift Giving" but also "She'll Forget You Forgot," aimed at men who failed to remember a birthday or anniversary and need a making-up gift. The other reason is simply that Beck could use a strong men's business here, unlike in France, where Patou's Lacoste men's scent is an established hit. "It's consistently in the top four fragrances," Beck said, noting that Lacoste does only a small volume in the U.S. "In France, it is what Polo is here. Patou's 1993 U.S. retail volume has been estimated by industry sources to be in excess of $10 million. That primarily represents Joy, which is distributed in 1,000 doors, and Patou's recent entry, Sublime, which rivals the company's mainstay in some markets, plus the lesser fragrances, including 1000 and Lacoste . Sublime's distribution has grown to 250 doors this year with an estimated retail volume of $5 million, which has pushed Patou's total for 1994 past $15 million, according to estimates. Next year, distribution will swell to 375 doors, including the addition of a few doors of May Department Store Co. These volume estimates do not include the fragrances that Patou does not own but which it distributes--Rochas, Caron and the newest addition, Duende.
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