PARIS — Puig Beauty & Fashion Group continues to ramp up its designer fragrance profile by snapping up another avant-garde player on Europe’s fashion scene.

The Barcelona-based, family owned firm just signed a worldwide fragrance licensing agreement with Comme des Garçons Parfums here, WWD has learned exclusively.

The move is the latest in a series of Puig-related deals. In June, the company signed a letter of intent with Prada to form a joint venture to create and distribute fragrances and skin care under the Prada label. Announced in January, Puig inked a beauty license with designer Hussein Chalayan, whose first scent is due out next year, at the earliest.

With beauty markets stagnating and the demand for novelty ever quickening, firms today are in a lather to acquire indie and niche beauty brands — particularly with in-the-limelight designer names attached — to help give them an edge on crowded perfumery counters and the critical mass needed to negotiate in a retail scene, where stores have consolidated to a position of increased clout.

Procter & Gamble is among the major players to accelerate its current buying spree. In the past year, P&G purchased the beauty licenses of Yohji Yamamoto, Jean Patou and Lacoste, among others. Wella AG’s Cosmopolitan Cosmetics division has also been quick on the acquisition uptake. In August, it bought Atkinsons and in June formed a joint venture withTony & Tina Vibrational Remedies.

Puig said it had been eyeing Comme des Garçons for years, appreciating its creativity in fashion and the "unconventional" job it has done in the perfumery arena, according to Manuel Puig, president of the Puig Prestige Beauty Brands (PPBB) division, in an interview with WWD.

Comme des Garçons’ scents have been consistently unconventional. In March, for instance, it launched the fragrance Comme des Garçons 3, which was inspired by an imaginary flower. From its plastic outer packaging to its juice to its textured glass bottle, everything was see-through.

However, creativity alone could take them just so far. For Comme des Garçons, the partnership with Puig is meant to bring to the brand a wider reach. "I believe we had reached a plateau," said Adrian Joffe, managing director of the firm. "In Puig Beauty and Fashion Group, Comme des Garçons Parfums has, it believes, found the perfect partner. Not only does the Puig Group understand and respect how important creativity and freedom is to Comme des Garçons, it has the vision to allow Comme des Garçons Parfums to freely pursue its creative goals, while at the same time developing the brand on a worldwide basis.""It is important not to lose the work that Comme des Garçons did," continued Puig.

Under the new arrangement with Puig, Comme des Garçons will continue to create its exclusive parfumParfum line of products, which currently includes four collections of scents, plus eclectic objects, such as shrink-wrapped fabric dolls. The latest addition to this grouping is a trio of Cologne fragrances — Anbar, Citrico and Vittiveru — that were launched in July for $56.85 at current exchange rates per 500-ml. bottle.

Product development for upcoming parfumParfum additions will take place within what is called a "laboratory of creation," replete with a "full team" and Puig’s technical assistance and collaboration. This lab also will serve as a think tank and motor for future joint products.

As for other Comme des Garçons scents, Puig will begin marketing some of them on a much larger scale next year. The first to be rolled out in wider distribution are Comme des Garçons 2, Odeur 53 and Odeur 71, the brand’s bestsellers.

"We will increase distribution very carefully" to keep it highly selective, said Puig. He also stressed that the products would not be launched in a cookie-cutter manner, but rather with tailored regional marketing.

Currently, Comme des Garçons fragrances are sold in about 750 doors and the parfumParfum scent are retailed in some 100 stores worldwide. The brand’s major markets are Japan, France and the U.S.

Comme des Garçons has its own 300-square-foot freestanding store on Paris’ Right Bank, called the Perfume Shop, which bowed in late February 2000 and showcases the brand’s scents. The store’s street-side wall is covered with pink glass, giving it a veiled look. Its interior has a concrete floor and products are displayed in steel fixtures painted with white enamel.

Puig plans to open other Comme des Garçons fragrance shops worldwide.

While neither Puig nor Joffe would comment on sales, industry sources estimate the Comme des Garçons beauty division, whose portfolio includes 25 scents, 11 candles and one incense, registers annual retail volume of about $9 million worldwide.

Comme des Garçons joins Chalayan in PPBB’s recently formed subdivision for cutting-edge designers. Puig, which also owns the high-end beauty brands Carolina Herrera, Paco Rabanne, Nina Ricci and Payot, among numerous other mass-market brands, posted estimated beauty sales of $783 million in 2001.

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