NEW YORK — The pungent elephants performing outside the entrance of Saks Fifth Avenue Monday night could have used a dab of Casmir behind their ears, but to the retailers and Lancaster executives inside, everything smelled like roses.

By the time the crowd had finished filing inside for the launch party for Lancaster’s new women’s fragrance from its Parfums Chopard division, Casmir had broken a prelaunch record at Saks and had pushed its way into the store’s number one ranking.

“Clearly we have broken some incredible records with this fragrance,” said Steve Bock, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Saks.

Casmir was launched officially Sunday. Through Wednesday, when the scent had been on counter for 11 days, sales had reached $262,000, according to Richard Hartigan, president and chief executive officer of Lancaster USA. Hartigan said Casmir should hit $325,000 Saturday and $1 million through the spring season.

“The best part of all is the fragrance is great and the cash register is ringing,” Hartigan said.

Bock said he expects Casmir to end the year among the store’s top five women’s fragrances.

Casmir has, at least for the moment, supplanted Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey, which in the final four months of 1993 approached $1.5 million in sales at Saks.

Both L’Eau d’Issey and Casmir were launched exclusively at Saks, which executives say has been a major factor in their strong showings. Saks will have an exclusive on Casmir in its 47 doors until mid-August, when Lancaster will begin to roll it out to between 1,000 and 1,300 doors.

Industry sources have projected that Casmir will do $35 million at retail the first year.

Peter Harf, chief executive officer of Lancaster and its German parent, Benckiser Group, said the company anticipated Casmir’s splashy launch and does not intend to revise its sales plans.

“We were planning a megalaunch,” Harf said. “Hopefully it will be one of the biggest launches this year.”

Partygoers and hosts said Casmir’s distinctive juice with fruity Oriental notes of mango, coconut, peach and vanilla also has made an impact.

“They brought the magic of the East with them,” said moviemaker Ismail Merchant, who co-hosted the party.

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The party was a benefit for film restoration, a pet project of both Merchant and Martin Scorsese. Merchant said Lancaster’s contribution to the Merchant and Ivory Foundation will provide for the restoration of four films by the late Satyajit Ray. Lancaster also made a gift to Scorsese’s Film Foundation.

Close to 1,200 people at Saks feasted on Merchant’s Indian cuisine, as interpreted by Glorious Food. Following the party, a small contingent adjourned to Le Colonial, an East Side restaurant, for more Asian fare.

Among the group at Le Colonial was Madonna, herself a potential competitor of Lancaster. Wearing a nose ring, Madonna said she is still in talks with Elizabeth Arden about doing a fragrance. “I’m close to close” to signing a deal, she said, adding that she has a few names in mind for the scent.

Asked whether the oft-rumored Holy Water was among them, she exclaimed, “Hell, no.”

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