NEW YORK — Another chapter ended Tuesday in the ongoing brand-building saga at Estée Lauder Cos., when Jo Malone, one of the brightest stars of the indie scene, announced from London that she has decided to "step back" from the brand that she and her husband, Gary Willcox, sold to Lauder six years ago while continuing to build the business to what industry sources estimate at $75 million in retail sales.

"After much soul-searching, I believe that this is a good time to make this decision as the brand is in a secure position and I have many other dreams and passions I would like to fulfill," Malone said in a letter of resignation that was circulated Tuesday.

Even though Lauder had acquired the business, Malone had remained its creative director and driving force of product development and merchandising. Moreover, Willcox remained at the helm of the home turf U.K. business, as managing director. Global control of the brand remains in the hands of Maureen Case, who, in mid-December, was named president of Lauder's specialty brands, including La Mer and Bobbi Brown Essentials, as well as Malone. Lauder acquired the business in October 1999 for an estimated $10 million to $15 million. The company declined Tuesday to indicate the final buyout price.

"Every moment of building this special business — from the first day we opened our doors through today and all the wonderful moments in between — has been a magnificent journey," Malone's letter continued. "I want to thank everyone who has helped and encouraged us, and I remain particularly grateful to [Lauder chairman] Leonard and [senior corporate vice president] Evelyn Lauder for their mentorship and friendship."

Malone could not be reached for elaboration Tuesday, but Leonard Lauder, reached in New York, described the parting as "extremely amiable."

Considering that the 42-year-old Malone first started working in the industry in 1983, Lauder sympathized, "she really needs some breathing space and for that, I appreciate her decision." He made no further comment.

However, it's been known in past years that Malone has faced personal challenges, including publicly acknowledging a successful bout with breast cancer. Sources close to her say she has been in good health for the past two years.Lauder praised the existing team as "superb," while noting that the company will hire a new general manager for the brand. He described his feelings about the state of the Malone business as "thrilled," a situation buoyed by a 26 percent sales increase last year. The distribution was expanded to Germany and Greece last fall and to Thailand in December, bringing the total number of markets to nine. Malone operates in 112 retail doors worldwide, with 90 of them in the U.S. and Canada. Industry sources estimate the American retail volume at $35 million. When Lauder bought the brand, the American business reportedly was at an embryonic $2 million.

Lauder said Malone's departure was not a sudden decision. It was a possibility that has been discussed over the last three years, and this is a logical juncture since it is the end of the buyout period.

Lauder underscored the fact that he had campaigned to keep the founders in the company, referring to "all the permutations we went through to keep them." While seemingly resigned to the decision, Lauder clearly was not cheered by it, but seems to hold some hope that one day, the partnership will resume. "They may be back with us — with Jo Malone or maybe something else." Asked if the couple could go out and start another cosmetics business, Lauder said not under the terms of the company's contract, considering that Lauder bought the name.

As an act of friendly closure, Lauder said he plans to travel to London in a couple of weeks to bid the couple farewell. "As I described it to Jo," he added, "we just finished one chapter in our long relationship, not the book."

When asked what he admires in Malone, Lauder said: "I like her taste, her ambition and drive, her sense of modernity and I like her personality."

"Personally, we will miss her," said Ed Burstell, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Bergdorf Goodman, Malone's first major account in the U.S. "We've enjoyed wonderful successes with the Jo Malone brand in the U.S at Bergdorf Goodman. However, we are totally confident that Estée Lauder will continue to run the brand in an innovative and profitable way."It is difficult to imagine Malone leaving the business. It is in her blood. Her parents had owned their own skin care company, and she entered the scene by performing facials and skin care treatments on private clients using products she developed. Malone opened her 600-square-foot Walton Street store in London in 1995 with Willcox. That store was replaced with a 1,200-square-foot space on Sloane Street in 1999.

Malone's fragrances — which now number 16 — have had a foothold in the U.S. market since the late Nineties. Both here and abroad, the trendy Brit has long been known for her unusual fragrance blends — her first to market, Nutmeg & Ginger, continues to be a strong seller. Other popular Malone scents include Lime, Basil & Mandarin and Amber & Lavender; she has just launched her first entry into the "fruity" category, Pomegranate Noir. In the U.S., a 30-ml. bottle retails for $50, while a 100-ml. bottle is $90.

Before the Lauder acquisition, Malone's fragrance, skin care and home fragrance stockkeeping units were sold in the U.S. at Bergdorf's and Saks Fifth Avenue, and in Canada at Holt Renfrew; they continue to be available in those doors as well as select Neiman Marcus doors. A little over a year after the Lauder acquisition, in December 2000, the first freestanding Jo Malone retail location opened. It was a 1,200-square-foot space in the Flatiron Building in Manhattan. A second store followed on New York's Upper East Side and, most recently, the third U.S. shop opened at the Wynn Resort in Las Vegas in May.
Pete Born with contributions from Julie Naughton

P&G Taps Dayanara Torres
NEW YORK — Procter & Gamble is sticking with who it knows and has named Dayanara Torres the new face of Clairol Hydrience hair color.

Torres, former Miss Universe 1993 (and ex-Mrs. Marc Anthony) has been repping P&G beauty brands since her crowning, including Pantene in the Philippines and Vidal Sassoon in Latin America. Her contract with Hydrience will last until 2007 and is estimated to be worth as much as $1.5 million a year, according to industry sources.Torres also is the model for Wal-Mart's new contemporary apparel line Metro 7, a deal inked last year.

Hydrience brings Torres into the world of hair color, even though she has been coloring her light brown hair much darker shades for many years. Now, she uses Hydrience #44 Mocha Splash to keep her hair a rich brown, without any brassy red undertones.

"It is very hard to get a perfect brown. Sometimes when you go for such a dark color it goes red and I don't like red. But with Hydrience, it went to a perfect brown," Torres said.

Torres shot TV advertisements for Hydrience in December, which are scheduled to air in late March. In the commercial, Torres talks about how the hair color brand can help nourish dry, brittle hair. Her contract also includes print and public relations efforts.

The mother of two recently moved to Los Angeles from Miami, a change she's very excited about, since being on the West Coast has the potential to boost her budding acting career. But she is scheduled to visit Miami again in the spring for a yet-to-be-announced press event.

Nelson Miranda, associate marketing director for P&G/Clairol Retail Haircolor, said in a statement that choosing Torres for the spokeswoman role was easy since she is a "role model for women and embodies the qualities of the Hydrience brand."
Andrea Nagel

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