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YSL’s Beauty Boom

YSL BeautE is cooking.

YSL BeautE is cooking.

This fall, the beauty arm of PPR-owned Gucci Group will launch the first fragrance, a men’s scent, by designer Stefano Pilati; a new olfactory concept by Stella McCartney will bow; a new foundation will be linked to YSL’s top-selling Touche Eclat highlighter pen, and a $430 skin care product, Temp Majeur Elixir, is expected to build on the double-digit growth of the brand’s luxury-price skin care range, Temp Majeur.

Next year, a YSL women’s fragrance will be launched, according to executives, and another McCartney product will follow.

Although known in the past for its iconic fragrances, YSL Beauté has been working for the last six years to build its color cosmetics and makeup credentials. Chantal Roos, who took the helm as president and chief executive officer six years ago after the house was acquired by Gucci, said that, since 2000, YSL’s cosmetics volume has increased by 56 percent.

In the U.S., color and skin care are growing by 11 percent at retail, and the two categories account for 30 percent of the business; that figure is expected to rise to 40 percent in 2008, according to executives.

In 2000, YSL reportedly did 68 percent of its global business in fragrance, 23 percent in makeup and color, and 9 percent in treatment. Now the percentages stand at 60 percent, 30 and 10, respectively.

YSL has moved into third position in France, ahead of Chanel, Roos noted, and ranks number one in color at World Duty Free, a key travel retail operator.

She acknowledges that skin care needs work.

“We are not there yet, but we are improving,” Roos said, noting that the push to expand skin care’s share of the YSL sales pie is expected to be the focus of the next five years.

While YSL is scoring pluses in color and treatment, the results have been far more mixed in its struggle to launch a hit fragrance. Although scent was YSL’s hallmark in the Seventies and Eighties — with Opium, Paris and Kouros — the global market now is in turmoil. Even with the partnership of Tom Ford, who was then Gucci and YSL creative director, the launch of Nu in 2001 and M7 in 2002 attracted attention and an elitist knot of fans, but overall sales results admittedly did not live up to expectations.

Cinema, launched in 2004, also did poorly in the U.S., which is YSL’s most difficult market. But the women’s scent prospered in the rest of the world, according to Roos, who said it generates volume equal to that of Paris, the house’s number-two fragrance.

But the division’s fragrance business goes beyond the YSL brand. It includes licenses with Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen and Ermenegildo Zegna. There is also a stable of classic fashion brands, consisting of Boucheron, Oscar de la Renta and Van Cleef & Arpels — plus the Roger & Gallet toiletries business.

First fragrances by McCartney, McQueen and Zegna all were launched in 2003. The McCartney scent was received well in “the Anglo-Saxon markets and the Middle East,” Roos maintains. The Zegna brand, driven by the 2005 Z Zegna follow-up, also is doing well. Sephora confirmed that McCartney ranks in the top 10 and Zegna in the top 20.

Roos was more philosophical about McQueen, saying that, while he has his ardent supporters, the brand is not as broad-based as the others.

The YSL Beauté division registered 2005 sales of 613 million euros, or $789.7 million at current exchange rates, down 1.3 percent year-on-year. When asked why the volume dipped, Roos replied that part of the problem was finding a new business model for the classic fragrance group in a go-go climate when retailers are constantly demanding new launches.

In an unrelated reorganization move, the company announced in early April plans to sell its factory in Bernay, France, and cut 118 jobs from its Neuilly-sur-Seine headquarters, resulting in a loss of about 10 percent of its French workforce. The move was intended to improve productivity, Roos said, as well as move the organization closer to the market.

When Roos took over in 2000, she went to work trying to mop up YSL’s extensive gray market business, closed 6,000 unproductive doors and then renovated 1,000 counters, restoring the original black-and-gold YSL look. The strategy in promoting the makeup business is that it most directly tells the total brand story to consumers.

It apparently worked. Claudia Lucas, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty at Henri Bendel, said, “We are really happy with their performance. When it comes to designing color, they do a good job.”

Howard Kreitzman, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Bloomingdale’s, said, “We continue to see a strong performance in YSL Beauté. It is out-trending the category significantly. We see an ongoing improvement in the penetration of the skin care piece of the business.”