Byline: SOREN LARSON

NEW YORK — St. John Knits will enter the fragrance business this fall with a determination not to stray from the course it has followed during 32 years in the ready-to-wear industry.

Its first scent, St. John, is designed as an accessory to the apparel line, according to Fred Fusilier, director of the Irvine, Calif.-based company’s fragrance division.

“We wanted to create something that was like the ready-to-wear,” he said. “We aimed for something classic and elegant, yet still modern.”

Fusilier noted that the first goal of the company is to capitalize on its existing customer base.

“A woman can walk into a St. John boutique and be outfitted from head to toe with everything from ready-to-wear to accessories,” he said. “And a fragrance is the most intimate kind of accessory. So in a sense it helps to complete the wardrobe.”

The scent will be introduced in October in the bulk of the company’s apparel accounts, the largest of which include Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. It will also be sold in the 13 freestanding St. John boutiques nationwide.

“We’re still in talks with a few retailers,” Fusilier said. “We’ll probably be in 150 doors by the end of the year, but we’re not ever going to go beyond the ready-to-wear distribution. The fragrance distribution will be limited and will continue to be limited.”

Fusilier said that based on opening orders from retailers, the company is projecting retail volume at nearly $2 million for its first three months.

“We wanted to be fairly conservative in our predictions because we’re calling this an introduction, not a launch,” he said. “We don’t see the value in all these mega-launches. We don’t want to make a quick burst and then fade away.”

Robert E. Gray, chairman and chief executive officer of St. John, stressed the advantage of having an established apparel clientele.

“We feel we’ve built a strong name after all this time,” said Gray, who founded the company in 1962 with his wife Marie St. John Gray, now head designer at the firm.

According to its annual report, St. John’s wholesale volume topped $100 million last year.

“We think that our customer base will basically be willing to try anything with our name on it,” Gray said. “They trust us, and that’s why we don’t license the name.

“This has been a completely in-house project from the start, except for the fragrance itself,” he added, noting that the juice was created by Firmenich.

In order to carry out the strategy of first getting the attention of its existing base, St. John will promote the fragrance at its trunk shows throughout the fall, Fusilier said.

The scent will also be sold in outposts in stores’ apparel departments, as well at the fragrance bar.

In addition, St. John will back the new product with a print advertising campaign scheduled to first appear in October issues of fashion magazines, Fusilier said. The fragrance will also be featured in store catalogs.

“We’ll be doing value sets, but we’re considered nonpromotional in that we won’t be giving away any freebies,” he said, referring to gift-with-purchase promotions. “We’ll be doing sets four times a year.”

The scent is priced in the upper end of the market, Fusilier said, “though [it is] certainly not the most expensive out there.”

The fragrance line will include a 1-oz. perfume, retailing at $250; a 1/3-oz. perfume for $100; a 3.3-oz. eau de parfum for $85; a 1.7-oz. size for $60 and a 1-oz. version for $45.

Fusilier said a $45 body lotion also will be shipped, although the size has not been determined.

A body cream, body powder and soap will be added in November.

“The rationale is that a lot of lines make body products a second thought,” Fusilier said. “But from the inception, we wanted to make them an integral part of the collection.”

The bottle, which was designed by Marie Gray and developed in-house, features a piece of hand-enameled St. John jewelry embedded in the center.

The fragrance itself is a floral-oriental, with a “fresh, modern top note,” Fusilier said. “The heart of the fragrance is ‘night-blooming florals’ — jasmine, moonflower and gardenia.

“The era of loud fragrances is over,” he continued. “This is meant to be a very intimate and personal product.”

While building the business slowly, Fusilier also said the company wants to eventually reach beyond its apparel clientele.

“The St. John customer is typically in her 40s,” he said. “But we think the fragrance could stretch well beyond those boundaries.”

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