By and  on November 17, 2005

NEW YORK — Henri Bendel unveiled a new, larger beauty department at its flagship store here Wednesday night, the first step in an overhaul of the store as a whole and a blueprint for future Bendel's.

The overarching concept executives are forging here is intended to guide the look of new Bendel's locations that parent company Limited Brands plans to open in the next few years. The Columbus, Ohio-based company, which opened a second Bendel's location at Easton Town Center near its hometown a year ago, has said it is identifying locations for additional Bendel's stores for construction next year.

"We took a look at the flagship and wanted it to be an umbrella for the balance of the stores," Ed Bucciarelli, president and chief executive officer of Henri Bendel, said of the New York renovation during an interview Monday.

While Bucciarelli, who joined the company last summer after 10 years with Liz Claiborne, said he believes the U.S. market could sustain as many as 200 Henri Bendel stores, he noted such expansion wasn't likely within the next two to three years. "I'll concentrate on the first 10 [stores]," he said, adding additional units could be opened here.

"Starting the [flagship] renovation with beauty made sense," Bucciarelli said. "Beauty is a big part of the business and heritage [of Bendel's]."

He said that after Christmas, attention would be shifted to the store's fashion departments. Bucciarelli declined to go into specifics about what categories would be renovated after the beauty department is completed, but executives plan to regroup after the holidays to finalize additional phases of storewide renovation.

The revamp of the beauty department began in early August and is expected to be wrapped up this week. The redo expands the amount of floor space devoted to beauty by 2,250 square feet to a total of 5,900 square feet.

Major changes include the expansion of the category up to the second floor, the launch of established and new brands, and a wider focus on fragrance and skin care. Also, there are plans for a Frédéric Fekkai salon and spa to be opened on the fourth floor in spring.

Bendel's new-look main floor features modern, white and sleek black alcoves, which are built amid light-colored flooring and the beige columns of the existing building. "It eliminates the clutter but not the energy," Bucciarelli said of the design, which was handled in-house.Bendel's executives declined to comment on the cost of the beauty department's renovation, or to make a sales projection. According to estimates by industry sources, however, the cost of the renovation may have totaled between $6 million and $8 million. Sources added the new department could generate between $25 million and $30 million in sales volume in its first year.

In contrast to other retail flagships here, namely Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York, where beauty has been moved down into the basement, at Bendel's, the category has been expanded up the store's curving staircase. The department now occupies the first floor, the stairwell and areas of the second floor, with some accessories sprinkled in between.

Powerhouse designer brands like YSL Beauté and Chanel have been added to the beauty merchandising mix, as has Nars. Claudia Lucas, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty, said YSL and Chanel were brought on board to create more of a "balance" between designer and makeup artist brands, "rather than the business being driven by [the latter]," like Trish McEvoy, Laura Mercier and MAC Cosmetics.

"We wanted to bring the designer influence to color," said Lucas, who joined Bendel's last year after five years in beauty at Selfridge's in the U.K. Commenting on future plans for new brands, Lucas said, "We're in negotiations for a few big ones next spring."

While she noted that color is a big part of Bendel's beauty business, Lucas acknowledged skin care and fragrance were "underdeveloped" categories. "Color will always be predominant," she said, "but there's [room] to grow the other businesses. [So far] we're seeing amazing growth in skin care and fragrance." The former is said to be up 20 percent season-to-date.

On the second floor is a skin care room featuring some 20 names, from dermatologist Pat Wexler's skin care line, N.V. Perricone and Rodan and Fields to Caudalie, Talika and Boscia. This area was the first beauty space to be established off the main floor, a move that took place last year, and there are plans to remodel the skin care room after the holidays.

Also on the second floor, two fragrance "play" bars, as Lucas calls them, occupy an area adjacent to the store's balcony. One of the bars features a dramming service from Caron, as well as scents from Comptoir Sud Pacifique, Fracas and Agent Provocateur.Adjacent wall displays contain scores of bottles and numerous brands, such as Carthusia, Fragonard and Molinard. Other units display scents from Miller Harris, Child, Velvet Rope and Aqaba. Next to all of this is a recently opened L'Artisan Parfumeur shop-in-shop.

Lucas said the fragrance strategy is clear: "Smaller vendors with a heritage of fragrance making — it adds to the aura and mystique," she said. "Younger customers are looking for something more individual, so we avoid commercial, celebrity and designer fragrances."

While numerous fragrance brands have ascended the stairs, fragrances marketed by brands with existing counters on the first floor will stay put.

On the main floor of Bendel's, beyond areas devoted to MAC, McEvoy, Mercier and Nars, there's an "emerging brands" area featuring Awake, Tarte, T. Le Clerc, Kevyn Aucoin, Giella and Pout. Other brands in the immediate area are YSL, Benefit Cosmetics and Paula Dorf.

A central row of display units runs the length of the main floor. "This is our launchpad," said Bucciarelli. The space is a flexible area designed to change frequently and capitalize on speed to market. Lucas noted that within a week after Bendel's sees a new beauty brand, it could appear somewhere on this central strip.

Brands like Playboy Beauty, Lucy B, Piaffe and Freeze 24-7 were featured on the displays this week.

Elsewhere, the store's McEvoy counter, which formerly used pink quartz fixtures, now features dark wood fixtures to create an "at-home feel," said Lucas.

For the moment, shelves of Fekkai hair care products reside at the back of the main floor. The planned Fekkai salon, the stylist's third, is expected to be comparable in size to Fekkai's existing New York salon.

"Both Bendel and Fekkai share a similar point of view on beauty and fashion," the stylist remarked, "and we both take a modern, sophisticated approach to style. Women who shop Bendel's are very modern, style-conscious and of the moment," he added. "It felt right for us to be there."

YSL's counter in Bendel's, which opened two weeks ago, features two firsts for the brand in the U.S. — a makeup bar and a skin care bar — while spotlighting the entire product assortment. The 150-square-foot space is the second largest YSL counter in the U.S. after its Macy's Herald Square location."It's a beautiful new environment," said Maggie Ciafardini, ceo and managing director of YSL Beauté. "Bendel's gave us an opportunity to really make a statement."

Ciafardini projects that 70 to 80 percent of YSL's business at Bendel's will be generated by color.

The Chanel space, which occupies much of the store's staircase, will feature a cabine for private consultations. In addition to beauty products, Chanel sunglasses also will be merchandised on the stairs.

Maureen Chiquet, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc., said Bendel's made the brand "an offer we couldn't refuse" in space and presentation in the new beauty area.

"This renovation is resulting in more of a focus on classic brands," said Chiquet. "We wanted to be a big player in that business [at Bendel's] going forward. We've customized a space that gives the energy of our color assortment in a new way. It also showcases our skin care and fragrances. We wanted a counter where people felt comfortable coming and playing — and we've done it with this."

The new space consists of 500 square feet of selling space on the mezzanine, set off by an 18-foot tall, 40-foot wide wall of LCD screens and illuminated panels.

Nars has 350 or so doors in the U.S., but its Bendel's debut in September marked the brand's first "full installation" in this country, according to Kimberley Thomas, the brand's executive director of sales.

"It's important because Bendel's has a different customer not being touched by other retailers," said Thomas, who added that the new department is "very cutting-edge, artistic and ahead of the trend."

She noted that Nars' performance at the store has so far exceeded its business plan.

"People look toward Henri Bendel to set the trends," said Kirk Summers, president of High Maintenance, Playboy Beauty's licensee. "While some retailers might be reactive in their buying, Bendel's is more progressive — they set trends other people follow."

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