Fragonard: Back to the U.S.

NEW YORK — After first launching here six years ago, Fragonard is ready to give the U.S. another try. And it’s pinning its hopes on Vrai, its newest bath-and-body care collection.<br><br>Fragonard, a perfumery founded in Grasse, France, in...

NEW YORK — After first launching here six years ago, Fragonard is ready to give the U.S. another try. And it’s pinning its hopes on Vrai, its newest bath-and-body care collection.

This story first appeared in the October 25, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Fragonard, a perfumery founded in Grasse, France, in 1923, initially launched a fragrance called Soleil in the U.S. in 1996. But, soon after shipping Soleil to Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus that year, its U.S. distributor, Cosmetic Works, liquidated.

Now the house, which is run by sisters and co-managing directors Agnès and François Costa, has a new U.S. distributor, Chicago-based French Look, and a new product line called Vrai. Fragonard hopes Vrai will spearhead a carefully executed U.S. expansion plan, which will start in about 30 independent specialty boutiques and spas next Friday.

“There was no one to promote Soleil once it was sold [to Saks and Neiman’s] in the U.S.,” François Costa said, referring to the company’s initial U.S. effort.

As a result, Soleil’s distribution, along with that of a few other Fragonard brands, withered into a handful of U.S. doors. Currently, Takashimaya in Manhattan carries the widest selection of Fragonard.

That’s all slated to change and Annie Falkenburger, president of French Look, believes Vrai could be carried in 200 U.S. retail stores and spas by this time next year.

“With awareness [by consumers] of quality in the personal care category and what the spa market in the U.S. is demanding in terms of quality products,” said Falkenburger, “Fragonard decided to launch Vrai in the U.S.” French Look also handles U.S. distribution for Diptyque and Miller Harris fragrances, among other brands.

Although neither executive would talk numbers, industry sources believe Vrai could generate between $750,000 and $1 million in retail sales volume during its first year here.

Vrai, a treatment-oriented collection, employs an ingredient from Morocco called argan oil, which Agnès Costa came across while traveling. The oil is said to moisturize significantly and Falkenburger believes its popularity could rival that of shea butter as an ingredient. The line’s seven stockkeeping units range in price from $15 for a sachet of three soaps to $40 for an 8-oz. body cream. Vrai’s soft-touch bottles were designed by Jacqueline Morabito, and Givaudan’s Jean Guichard formulated the juice for the fragranced collection.

Vrai was born by Fragonard’s enduring desire to launch a U.S. business. This manifested itself again in 2000, when the company commissioned market research surveys and developed tentative launch strategies. One of these strategies included Nordstrom, but without a U.S. office or distributor — and without a product, nothing materialized.

“We had different ideas for projects, but it wasn’t done,” said François Costa. “Maybe we didn’t have the product at that time.” Now, she points out, there’s Vrai, which “we’ve been working on for the last two years. The product we’re launching now is more sophisticated.”

Vrai first launched in Fragonard’s four freestanding doors in France last summer. It is also carried in the U.K. at retail outlet Liberty. Additional avenues of distribution for Vrai are being sought elsewhere in Europe, as well as in Asia, according to François Costa.