Byline: Janet Ozzard

PARIS — Ten years after the launch of his first scent, C’est La Vie, Christian Lacroix is finally ready to introduce a sequel.
His new signature scent, Christian Lacroix, has been hanging fire for at least two years while the designer’s parent company, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, tried to figure out what to do. That cast a bit of a pall over the project, particularly since LVMH, which owns the Guerlain, Givenchy, Dior and Kenzo beauty businesses, would seem to have the resources to launch a scent.
Lacroix’s first scent, which was developed by Parfums Christian Dior executives and introduced in Europe in 1990, was a famous flop. LVMH put the sequel on ice, although over the years, Dior and Givenchy were reportedly assigned the project.
In March, LVMH signed a 10-year license with Inter Parfums SA for Lacroix’s distribution and sales. Inter Parfums is also the licensee for the Burberry, S.T. Dupont, Molyneux and Paul Smith beauty businesses.
After signing the Lacroix agreement, LVMH pulled Inter Parfums even closer by buying 6 percent, or 467,400 shares, of Inter Parfums Inc., the U.S. parent, for $4.2 million last month. Inter Parfums is traded on Nasdaq.
According to Philippe Benacin, president of Inter Parfums here, the rationale behind signing over the Lacroix business was that the LVMH beauty businesses already have their hands full.
At the time the deal was signed, LVMH’s fragrance and beauty chief Patrick Choel commented, “Very simply, we have four houses that have quite enough to do on their own. We’re very pragmatic here, and Inter Parfums is the best partner. We’re not the right people to handle a startup.”
“The Lacroix launch is also a bit of a test for us, since LVMH can see how we work and how we fit together,” added Benacin. And if it succeeds, he said, he’d be happy to be considered for any other LVMH-related fragrance projects.
“Designers like Marc Jacobs, Alexander McQueen and Michael Kors don’t yet have fragrance affiliations,” he said, naming the creative directors of Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Celine, respectively.
But first, Lacroix. The designer has been working on the scent on and off for four years with consultant Frederic Malle. The two had a juice and a concept ready to go, but after testing the scent at the company and with retailers, it was decided that the original juice was “a bit difficult,” said Benacin. So Sophia Grojsman of International Flavors & Fragrances came in to polish it a bit. The result is a floral with hyacinth, living magnolia, seringa, mandarin, coriander and neroli in the top notes; jasmine, living Casablanca lily, nasturtium, heliotrope, narcissus and spices in the heart, and moss, vetiver, sandalwood, musk and incense in the dry-down.
There were stops and starts and frustrations during the development, but as with his fashion, there were constants that kept Lacroix going, like his love of southern France and Spain.
“I really do love the fragrance,” said the designer earlier this week. “I wanted to be sure I loved it before launching it. It’s not easy, but you can’t please everyone.”
The bottle is hand-blown glass in the shape of a conch shell, with a twirled plastic stopper. Of the nautilus shape, he added, “It’s a beautiful object, not just a bottle in the bathroom.” In France, eau de parfum prices are $40 for 35 ml., $58 for 75 ml., $76 for 125 ml. and $88 for a 35-ml. perfume.
The scent will be introduced in major European markets except Spain in October. The U.S. introduction is planned for 2000. Benacin said that the wholesale sales projection for the first three months is $3.2 million to $4 million for the first three months.
Dollar figures are calculated at current exchange rates.
Inter Parfums also released its six-month sales results here Thursday. Sales were up 2 percent over the same period last year, to $28.7 million. Benacin credited much of the increase to good performances of the Burberry and S.T. Dupont fragrances. Gross margins were $14 million, due to slight growth in the prestige market, and tight control over costs took operating profits up 7 percent to $4 million. Net profits hit 8.2 percent of total sales, or $2.3 million, up from 7.8 percent over a year ago.
Benacin told French journalists that he anticipates LVMH will up its stake to around 12 to 15 percent, to become “a significant minority shareholder.”
And if LVMH launches a hostile takeover, as has been known to happen? Benacin said it won’t happen, since he and partner Jean Madar own 64 percent of the company now.