NEW YORK — French company Nuxe is giving U.S. retail another go.

The hair and skin line, which made brief appearances in such stores as Fred Segal Essentials in Santa Monica and Sephora’s SoHo store in the late Nineties, is set to relaunch exclusively at eight Barneys locations, including Barneys New York, this March. According to Olivier Perret, export director of the brand, earlier U.S. distribution ceased while the company re-thought its strategy. “I wanted to find the right people,” said Aliza Jabes, president of Nuxe. “The U.S. is a gigantic market, you have to come on strong. Our goal is to be here for the long run.” Nuxe, however, never completely left the U.S. — select items have remained available through the Bliss catalog since 1999.

Laboratoire Nuxe was founded in 1957 by a French chemist and made a name for itself by using plant-based formulations and essential oils as main ingredients. When the founder died in the Seventies, the company fell apart and lay dormant until Jabes arrived on the scene.

Jabes, a former New York University business student and self-proclaimed beauty addict, purchased Nuxe — consisting solely of a laboratory and book of formulas — in 1989 from the founder’s granddaughter for an undisclosed “low price.”

“I always wanted my own business,” said Jabes. “And I quickly fell in love with it.” Her interest is not surprising since beauty seems to run in Jabes’s family — her sister is Terry de Gunzberg, former creative director for makeup at Yves Saint Laurent Parfums and creator of the By Terry line of cosmetics.

Jabes worked from 1990 to 1997 revamping the Nuxe line. This included tightly editing the product lineup — in its heyday, the brand included more than 120 stockkeeping units — and changing the packaging. “It was awful,” said Jabes.

“We only kept the skin care and reformulated everything,” she noted. The Nuxe collection currently consists of 27 sku’s.

Under Jabes’s direction, Nuxe, with a “focused yet comprehensive” range of natural products for the face, body and hair, is now sold in over 2,000 locations across France, the U.K., Germany, Portugal and Italy. The brand will soon make its debut in Spain, Sweden and Denmark.

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Bestsellers include Huile Prodigieuse and Huile Prodigieuse OR, Reve de Miel lip balm from the company’s honey line, Creme Fraiche de Beaute (a moisturizing emulsion) and Phytochoc Serum Liftant, a face and eye contour serum from the company’s chocolate-based anti-aging line. Prices range from $15 for a 7-oz. bottle of Reve de Miel shampoo to $49 for Phytochoc Creme Lift’ Jeunesse.

The small company — employing a little more than 50 people — is based in Paris and has its own in-house R&D department, a benefit that Jabes is well aware of. “Our products need to be efficient and of high quality,” she said. “We can afford to be bold. If you don’t follow your instincts, you become like everyone else.” The final result? A line that is “sophisticated, yet easy to understand and apply,” said Jabes.

Industry sources estimate the brand did about $22 million last year and project retail sales of $35 million for 2002.

Future plans for the company include the launch of a new body line and opening a spa in Paris this spring.

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