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NEW YORK — Lancôme is bringing its fledgling retail experience to the U.S. with the opening of its first concept store here.

The venerable cosmetics brand opened its first U.S. Lancôme concept boutique, its fourth worldwide, this week at the Short Hills Mall in northern New Jersey. The first of the stores opened in Hong Kong last November; a second Hong Kong location opened in March and a third store opened in Shanghai in June.

The New Jersey location is the first in a series of freestanding Lancôme stores planned for the U.S., said Edgar Huber, president of the Luxury Products Division of L’Oréal USA. But the brand isn’t intending to have a store on every corner. While a Manhattan outpost will open during the first half of 2005, said Huber, that’s it for a while. He declined to outline plans for additional stores, noting that where and when other boutiques will open will depend on the performances of the Short Hills and later the Manhattan doors.

Huber emphasized that the brand’s concept stores aren’t meant to compete with the department and specialty stores now carrying Lancôme. “We do not expect to cannibalize customers from existing outlets of the brand,” he said. Speaking specifically of the Short Hills door, he said, “We think we will attract new consumers, those who aren’t currently department store shoppers — which will increase our customer base.” The location’s proximity to Manhattan, he added, will allow Lancôme execs to make frequent visits.

While none of the executives would comment on projected first-year volume for the store, industry sources estimated that it would generate retail sales in excess of $1.5 million.

“The store will allow us to offer skin care services that it’s not possible to offer at a department store counter,” continued Huber. “And this store — and the others which will follow — allows us to delve into our customers’ shopping habits more deeply, which will help us as we continue to develop products.” It’s a strategy that several other L’Oréal brands also are exploring. L’Oréal opened a store, dubbed the Living Lab, at Los Angeles’ Beverly Center in late September, and Biotherm will open its first U.S. store at the beginning of November at the Glendale Galleria in California.

This story first appeared in the October 29, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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The 1,500-square-foot Lancôme store in Short Hills is broken down into three zones: one each for fragrance, skin care and color cosmetics, explained Dalia Chammas, senior vice president and general manager of Lancôme. Like its sister stores in Asia, its design was created by store designer Jean-Marie Massaud and architect Daniel Pouzet.

The skin care area is set in an alcove that allows for semiprivate consultations. Intended to resemble a comfortable living room, it includes a curved, plush sofa and a bar-like seating area, where consultants will perform brow shaping. A key feature in this zone is the brand’s high tech Skin Diagnos Expert, a computerized wand that analyzes skin type and provides in-depth recommendations. The tool measures wrinkle depth, sebum quantity, hydration levels and skin firmness, and provides details about each using a high tech camera. Consultants, using that data, then make product recommendations to clients.

As well, Lancôme and its consulting dermatologist, Tina Alster, have put together a slate of salon-style skin care services to be performed in the store, said Odile Roujol, deputy general manager and senior vice president of marketing for Lancôme. The menu includes a 45-minute microdermabrasion treatment for $125 and a $75 glycolic peel treatment, as well as two different types of facials and brow shaping. With every service, Lancôme will offer a complimentary makeup application. All services except brow shaping will be performed in a private room in the back area of the boutique.

The makeup area is delineated by large, stainless steel workstations with mirrors simulating day, evening and office lighting. In addition to supplies for the brand’s professional makeup artists, there are sets of brushes and colors at each station so that clients can try to re-create the looks themselves while in-store. Nearby, the brand’s brow design stations are set up; as with the makeup area, teaching brow maintenance is part of the package, so supplies are set up for clients to “follow along” with the pros. There are also “grab and go” spots — assisted self-service shopping areas where clients can quickly purchase popular Lancôme products.

The fragrance zone is a futuristic sphere, its area formed by a Lucite unit surrounded by netting that hangs from the ceiling. Clients “experience” the fragrance by sticking their nose into the sphere. Lancôme’s full complement of fragrances is showcased nearby, in a Lucite-covered shelving unit directly in front of the sphere.

The signature Lancôme rose and the brand’s pale gray signature color are incorporated in each aspect of the design, said Renee Viola, vice president of store design for Lancôme. Elegant glass tile floors mix with gray plexiglass counters, mother-of-pearl shaded walls and padded white cabinets, with the signature rose included in furniture upholstery and on cabinets and counters. “For the last 10 years or so, modern has meant minimal,” said Viola. “This design, while modern, has a great deal of detailing — it’s a modern interpretation of luxury.”

Lancôme also is instituting a customer loyalty program in the boutique. For every $500 spent, customers will receive a $50 credit toward services or products.

The counter design also is being adapted for the brand’s department store doors. As reported, the first department store interpretation of the look was unveiled at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street flagship on Oct. 12 and at Macy’s Herald Square flagship on Oct. 17. The brand’s department store counters at Short Hills — Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s — also opened renovated counters this week.

— Julie Naughton