PARIS — Shiseido has pulled the plug on its Stephane Marais beauty line, it was learned.

According to reports circulating in the market, most of the brand’s employees have been given a pink slip, and many retailers carrying the celebrity makeup artist’s collection have already been contacted with news that the line is to be discontinued by November.

However, the Japanese beauty giant that owns the three-year-old brand maintains it’s business as usual.

Said a Shiseido spokesman: “As a usual business process, we are reviewing the performance of the SMB brand [referring to Surprising My Beauty, Shiseido’s Paris-based subsidiary that launched the Stephane Marais line in 2002] and taking necessary management steps, which we always do in every business. All we can say at this stage is that business of the SMB brand keeps going for the moment, and business considerations prevent us from commenting in any more detail.”

Meanwhile, numerous retailers have confirmed that they have received official word of the brand’s demise. “It’s a pity; they’re great products and very fun,” said Didier Pinier, owner of the Taizo perfumery in Cannes, France.

Another retailer, who requested anonymity, asserted the line had “great potential.”

Indeed, the 260-stockkeeping-unit Stephane Marais collection has built up a steady — albeit niche — following. Consumers are drawn to the brand’s highly graphic, funky packaging decorated with offbeat phrasing, drawings and photographs, as well as the products themselves. Even professional makeup artists frequently use the Stephane Marais-branded color cosmetics to paint faces of models backstage at fashion shows.

So what went wrong?

Industry sources say the brand — whose wholesale volume in 2003 was an estimated 6.5 million euros, or $7.9 million at current exchange rates — has been steadily losing money.

Retailers also lament it didn’t bring out any new products since the fall’s color collection. Such a move could easily put a brand in jeopardy in today’s fast-moving beauty market, which is increasingly driven by launches and newness.

Frank Schnitzler, owner of the two Schnitzler perfumeries in Dusseldorf, believes the Stephane Marais brand’s main downfall was lack of support.

“They thought they could just run the business out of Paris, that a visit to Germany once a year was sufficient. But it doesn’t work without customer support,” he said. “You need POS materials, training for the personnel, communication on a regular basis and press work to get the name known.”

This story first appeared in the June 2, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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He added Stephane Marais never really reached the right level of distribution, and that the brand’s prices were high, particularly in today’s price-conscious Germany.

Signs of trouble at Stephane Marais surfaced when its flagship on Paris’ Rue Saint-Honore was shuttered last March. At that time, industry sources said it was a money-losing venture not core to the brand’s expansion plans.

More recently, industry sources say Shiseido tried to sell the Stephane Marais brand, but there were no takers; then, a management buyout was considered, although that, too, failed.

Given the woes of the Stephane Marais line, executives question whether Iunx — a beauty collection and minimalist boutique by that name that Shiseido has been backing in Paris for two years — will carry on for the long term.

The makeup artist Stephane Marais could not be reached for comment Wednesday. He remains a mainstay at Shiseido, where he is also the color creator of its Cle de Peau brand.

— With contributions from Pete Born, New York, Brid Costello and Melissa Drier, Berlin

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