NEW YORK — Jean-François Lazartigue has had his share of tough times.

Three years ago Lazartigue’s main hair care suppliers in France filed for bankruptcy, resulting in serious out-of-stock problems and, subsequently, a chilly rapport between himself and the retailers that carry his luxury hair care brand.

To add fuel to the flame, luxury hair care makers began infusing the market with a flux of high-priced shampoos and treatments. So, while Lazartigue was dealing with production issues, Terax, Phyto, Renee Furterer and Kerastase were racking up sales. By yearend 2002, Lazartigue’s business — including products sales and revenues from his six salons — was suffering from 30 percent sales decreases, down to $2.2 million.

But it wasn’t until Lazartigue was approached by a small French hair care maker to sell his company that he realized he either had to get out of the business or bite the bullet and become competitive.

Lazartigue, who tends to get emotional about the topic, didn’t have to think twice about what needed to get done.

Rather than sell, Lazartigue decided to embark on a self-funded restructuring, one that would include repackaging all of his products, hiring a complete sales staff and returning to what had brought him success in the first place: high-priced, luxurious hair care treatments.

Eager to get back on that track and reintroduce himself as the king of luxury hair care, Lazartigue has been working feverishly to concoct the market’s most luxurious hair treatment, specifically for dehydrated, damaged hair. It would be one that customers can apply at home and customize according to their hair type. And, it would have a luxury price point to match.

Arriving in select Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue doors, spas and salons in January is Home Spa Essential Duo, an at-home pre-shampoo treatment mask. For $250, consumers can select from two variants, one for thick hair and another formulated for fine hair. Each kit includes a jar of cream, formulated with behen oil — the extract from the Moringa oleifera tree, known for its nutritional and antioxidant properties — and a bottle of serum. Kits for fine hair use a serum made from 33 percent tea oil; kits for thick hair contain a serum containing 36 percent bancoulier oil, known for being exceptionally rich in essential fatty acids. Both serums contain a balance of hazelnut, avocado and grape seed oils.While the Home Spa kit looks to put Lazartigue back on the map, the Les Soins d’Exception brand it is launching under will expand with two shampoos and two conditioners in 2004.

But Lazartigue is not relying merely on an expensive product to get his good name back. He has visited retailers in France explaining his restructuring with the hope of mending relationships there. He has also promoted Marie Bensignor, a former marketing manager, to general manager, charged with building a national sales force. A new salon manager will be joining his New York salon, too.

Whether a $250 treatment can elevate Lazartigue’s prestige back to rock-star levels remains to be seen, but it appears Les Soins d’Exception will give consumers new hope for achieving perfect hair, at the very least.

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