PARIS — When his fragrance makes its debut in the U.S. Sunday at Saks Fifth Avenue, Jean Paul Gaultier will thumb his nose at an industry maxim: Spending equals success.

The fall sales projection for the Gaultier scent is plenty ambitious — industry sources say Saks is planning for $3 million at retail for its 45 stores, making it possibly the store’s biggest launch this year. Saks executives declined to comment on the projections.

However, the manufacturer, Beauté Prestige International of Paris, has reportedly earmarked less than $1 million for media advertising, in an era when $10 million is the norm. “The American market is just as difficult for Europeans as the French market is for Americans,” observed Chantal Roos, BPI’s president. The Gaultier scent and BPI’s Issey Miyake fragrance brands are being distributed in the U.S. by Mode et Parfums.

While entering the market may be tough, the sales target for Gaultier could land the fragrance in the number-one or the number-two ranking at Saks for the entire year, according to industry estimates, even with only five months of selling. That would mean vying with heavyweights like Casmir by Chopard, Yves Saint Laurent’s Champagne and L’Eau d’Issey by Issey Miyake.

Casmir captured the top-volume spot this spring with estimated sales of $1.9 million for the season.

L’Eau d’Issey, last year’s sleeper hit in the U.S., was launched at Saks in October with a sales projection of $800,000 and rocketed to first place in the chain’s volume rankings with fall sales of $1.5 million.

But it wasn’t easy. The main obstacle in the U.S. market, according to Roos, is the dominance of department stores because they assign real estate based on sales volume, a handicap for small brands. The size and decentralization of the U.S. present further problems.

“France or Germany offers a homogeneous market. You adopt a single marketing strategy for the whole country. In the U.S., you must approach Marshall Field’s differently from Bloomingdale’s; that’s daunting for a small French company,” she said. What she lacks in money and clout, Roos plans to make up for with the Gaultier fragrance’s prize-winning packaging, plenty of in-store visuals and lively window displays, a store appearance by the designer — one of fashion’s surefire crowd pleasers — and a deal that gives the launch exclusively to the Saks chain through Christmas.

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After that, the scent — a sweet fragrance that Roos labels “classic” and Gaultier has likened to nail polish remover — will begin to be rolled out, reaching a total of some 250 doors by next September.

The promotional package will also include outposts on every floor of the Fifth Avenue flagship store and in every branch of the 45-unit chain, a TV advertising campaign beginning next week and print ads in national magazines and newspapers in major markets.

The exclusivity with Saks could ensure the visibility BPI needs to make it in the American market. “The fear for a smaller company always is that one day the department store launches you with elephants and the next week you find yourself in a dark corner of the floor,” Roos said.

“Saks became the distributor for us with Miyake and they kept their word,” she continued. “This deal is very attractive for us with all the store windows and a good location. At the same time, Saks got [Gaultier’s new] JPG collection, which will be good for their fashion image.”

In France, where Gaultier was introduced in May 1993 and is distributed in 770 doors, BPI expects to have sales of $13 million to $14 million (70 million to 75 million francs) for 1994, making it the scent’s biggest European market.

French retailers have credited the provocative packaging — which, they note, is consistent with Gaultier’s fashion image — and a wacky TV ad by Jean-Baptiste Mondino for the fragrance’s success. The commercial features a tableful of women of various sizes and ages eating and chattering inanely about love and safe sex. Even Gaultier appears at the end of the spot.

For Saks, BPI has designed a window display featuring dozens of TV screens aligned in the torso shape of the bottle, which will be showing the Mondino ad and clips from Gaultier runway shows.

BPI did not reveal its ad budget, but according to industry sources, the total 1994 ad budget is $900,000, with $400,000 for television and $500,000 for print.

As in Europe, BPI and Mode et Parfums in New York are aiming the fragrance at hip 16-to-25-year-olds. Time will be bought on MTV’s House of Style and Alternative Nation shows, VH1’s Comedy Central, CNN during its Style programming, E! Entertainment Television’s Fashion File and during David Letterman’s Late Show on CBS.

Single page ads showing the product will appear in fourth-quarter editions of Elle, Vogue, Marie Claire and Harper’s Bazaar, as well as in some cooperative newspaper advertising with Saks.

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