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Bendel Back in Scents

Taking a little known page from the book of its founder, Henri Bendel has gone back into the fragrance marketing business.

Taking a little known page from the book of its founder, Henri Bendel has gone back into the fragrance marketing business, with the launch last week of Bendelirious, the hip specialty store’s first private label scent in 28 years.

Bendel’s once had a thriving private label business, starting in 1915 with the launch of Un Peu d’Elle. Store executives contend that Bendel was the first U.S. retailer to blend his own perfume. He was a friend of Coco Chanel and apparently gave her a good-natured nudge by launching a fragrance called No. 7, which supposedly referred to the store’s 57th Street location. The store ended up introducing a total of 22 scents over the years, ending with New York New York, which was launched in 1980 by Bendel’s successor, Geraldine Stutz. The most popular fragrances were Checkmate, a 1940 entry, and the 1943 introduction 10 West, a reference to the store’s address. Customers sometimes still ask about those scents, saying they remembered their grandmothers using them.

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So when it came time to re-start the business, Bendel’s looked around for a partner to produce the scent and hit upon an iconoclastic French fragrance house, Etat Libre d’Orange, which is known for its irreverence. Producing avant-garde fragrances with names like Jasmin et Cigarette and Putain des Palaces (Whore of the Palaces), the company is named after the historic Free State of Orange, which subsequently became South Africa. Etienne de Swardt, who heads Etat Libre and spearheaded the development of Bendelirious, once described his cheeky upstart of a company as “an homage to olfactive freedom.”

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“He takes fragrance in a totally other direction,” said Claudia Lucas, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of beauty at Bendel’s. Ed Bucciarelli, the store’s chief executive officer and president, agreed: “Etat Libre is getting back to what perfumery is about — creating great fragrances.”

Lucas added, “It was important to make a partnership that gives credibility.”

The collaboration consisted of Bendel’s providing the brand and the positioning and Etat Libre producing the juice and product. The packaging is decorated with a combination of logo graphics — Etat Libre’s red, white and blue bull’s-eye combined with Bendel’s brown awning stripes. A promotional logo shows the mast of the Empire State Building poking at a pair of lips like a syringe needle. The executives said they are considering doing some print advertising during the holidays.

Bucciarelli described the fragrance’s position as being centered on the imaginary “our girl. Wherever she goes, there is a party,” he noted. Lucas added, “He keeps seeing her at parties and events, like going into delirium. Being New York-centric, wherever she is and wherever she goes, it is a party.” Bucciarelli noted that the fragrance is aimed at “the young, hipper, urban woman, age 22 to 35.”

The scent was created by perfumer Antoine Lie of Givaudan Paris. The fragrance, a floral oriental, sports cherry and sparkling accords on top with an iris heart. The drydown reveals a leather accord. “It is not a safe fragrance,” observed Lucas, who added, “we wanted something iconic as a marriage of the two brands.”

Bendelirious is available as a 50-ml. eau du parfum, priced at $72, and it is sold in the store and on its Web site. The scent went on sale Wednesday at three outposts in the Fifth Avenue store, with a window display.

Late Friday afternoon, Lucas reported that “the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It certainly has performed above expectations.”

The Bendel’s executives declined to discuss numbers, but industry sources estimate that sales of the scent could approach $1 million at retail in its first year on counter.