By  on September 30, 2005

NEW YORK — Forget the yellow smiley faces, Wal-Mart is rolling out the red carpet for a barrage of celebrity-endorsed products made exclusively for the nation's largest retailer.

As Wal-Mart strives to establish itself as a place for fashion as well as bargains — note its interest in Tommy Hilfiger — the chain inked beauty deals with Jessica Simpson and Ashanti for products customers can only get in its doors. It isn't the first time Wal-Mart has grabbed an exclusive.

The chain was also the first with Enchantment, a fragrance based on the daytime TV soap "All My Children," the first chain to offer marykateandashley cosmetics and fragrances and it was ahead of the proprietary skin care curve with Skin Simple from Elizabeth Arden.

But perhaps no other celebrity launch can rival the buzz surrounding the exclusive debut of Jessica Simpson's Sweet Kisses. Fresh from success with Dessert Beauty, which is sold in specialty venues such as Sephora and QVC, and the drugstore line Dessert Treats, the company has teamed up with Wal-Mart for the Sweet Kisses bath and body collection.

What's different about Sweet Kisses is that the line is pared down to three flavors — Vanilla Cupcake, Crème Brûlée and Strawberry Shortcake — and a simple array of items including a flavored fragrance, a hair and body shimmer mist, a body frosting, a plumping gloss and a gift set.

Pricing is much lower than the versions sold at Sephora. The Deliciously Kissable Lip Fragrance Plumping Gloss will retail for $8.87. A plumping gloss retails for $21 in the Dessert Beauty line sold at Sephora.

Simpson said there are shoppers that don't like fragrances, but that everyone loves the smell of fresh baked goods. "I like all of the products, but when I want it on my body or mouth I always choose something with vanilla. I think the best smell is cupcakes baking, especially my grandmother's cupcakes," she said.

The packaging hits consumers over their heads with Simpson's endorsement thanks to graphics of the popular actress and singer. "It is weird to see my picture on the tubes," chuckled Simpson at a personal appearance to unleash the line on Monday. In addition to talking up her products, she made a pitch for her sister Ashlee's concert, which was held this week in New York. Following the event, she was whisked to QVC's headquarters where she made an on-air appearance where viewers could call in to chat with her.The items also bear her signature and the symbol "xoxo" for hugs and kisses. Simpson talked of how this line will make her products more affordable. "Even for me," she added. Despite the luxurious Smythe blazer and Christian Louboutin sandals that she was wearing, Simpson knows a good deal.

Sweet Kisses will bow in 2,500 Wal-Mart stores next month. Wal-Mart executives said it will be featured on end-of-aisle displays, as well as in a one-foot in-line peg wall area — a huge commitment to a new offering.

According to a Wal-Mart executive, the chain sought out Simpson because she has an enormous following with Wal-Mart shoppers. "It fit in with our customers' music tastes. We wanted to get more involved with her," said the executive.

Industry sources estimate the brand should achieve sales exceeding $15 million in less than a year.

Ashanti made an appearance Wednesday night to mark the debut of Precious Jewels by Ashanti. The inspiration for the scent comes from Ashanti's Grammy Award-winning recording career. She wanted to pay tribute to her fans by creating a signature scent that would be accessible to everyone. Again, Wal-Mart viewed Ashanti as a good fit and will have the initial bragging rights to the scent — much as it did with Enchantment.

Ashanti agreed Wal-Mart is the appropriate launchpad. "Wal-Mart is perfect for the fragrance I had in mind. It was all about making my scent accessible to all my fans and what better way than to sell the fragrance through Wal-Mart. There are stores all over the country and I love the fact that a consumer can buy my CD and fragrance at the same time," she said.

Ashanti helped develop the fragrance, produced by AMC Cosmetics, which is a sparkling, fruity floral. A 0.5-oz. bottle will retail for $15, a 1-oz. for $22.50 and a 1.7-oz. for $28.50. In concert with the name, the bottle has a hanging rhinestone and pink jewel charm. There is also a fragrance mist priced at $12 for a 5.8-oz. bottle and a shimmer stick for $12 for a 0.33-oz. stick.

"I'm such a girly-girl when it comes to fragrance," said Ashanti Wednesday evening, adding that the scent is sensual and sexy. "A guy will always remember how you smell," she told a crowd of 200 onlookers.Executives said Ashanti had a great deal of input on the fragrance, and choose the pink-colored juice and the charm on the bottle. "I wanted everything to be perfect," said Ashanti. "I must've driven the fragrance developers nuts by making sure everything was exactly how I envisioned — from the actual scent to the packaging," she said.

"It's been a labor of love and a real joy to work with the AMC team," said Wal-Mart buyer Yale Martin.

Precious Jewels by Ashanti hits Wal-Mart next month and will eventually roll out to chain drugstores and mass market doors.

Rounding out the week was an event Thursday to kick off the That's So Raven fragrance and cosmetics line, reported in last week's WWD. And Hilary Duff confirmed market reports that she'll be the face behind a new Elizabeth Arden scent that is part of a larger licensing campaign from the actress and singer.

Wal-Mart has never seen so many celebrities under its roofs.

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