DEMETER TO OPEN EAST VILLAGE DIGS

Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — When Demeter hit the scene in 1996 with its single-note cologne sprays, it was easy to write off the product as a fun fragrance fad.
After all, they came in frivolous flavors like Dirt, Woodsmoke, Mint Chocolate and Tomato and sold for $12.50 for a single ounce in a generic-looking bottle.
But three years later, the company is as irreverent as ever and still going strong with 140 fragrances with names bouncing from the serious to the silly, such as Sweet Pea and Sushi. To underscore its staying power, the company will open its first store Thursday in the East Village.
According to industry sources, Demeter had retail sales of $6.5 million in 1998 and is distributed in 400 doors. It also is retailed in the Gardener’s Eden catalog and on several web sites, like Fashionplanet.com and the soon-to-launch Gloss.com. It ranks among the 40 best-selling fragrance brands at the Bloomingdale’s flagship here and in the entire Sephora chain in the U.S.
“You could look at Demeter as a fad, but a lot of people are hooked on the fragrances and buy them again and again. They sort of collect them,” said Robin Coe-Hutshing, the owner of Fred Segal Essentials in Santa Monica, who carries a selection of Demeter products in her store. “The fragrances are really wearable and high quality.”
What customers see in stores, however, is only a small part of the Demeter product line. The company has 140 fragrances, several of which have line extensions like bath salts, body lotion, candles and shower gel, and no store carries the entire product line. The Bloomingdale’s flagship here and Harvey Nichols in London have the most extensive range of Demeter products, with about 100 scents for sale.
Because of this, the company is opening a 1,200-square-foot boutique on lower Manhattan’s Second Avenue to showcase the entire world of Demeter.
SoHo has been the place to open a beauty boutique over the past two years, but several companies are opting to move beyond the area. Creed opened its first U.S. boutique on Bond Street this summer, and Fresh will open a shop in nearby NoLIta this fall. For Demeter, the decision to snub SoHo was largely financial.
“We aren’t going to pay $10,000 a month rent for a closet in SoHo,” said Christopher Gable, who owns Demeter with Christopher Brosius. Gable is the company’s marketing mind, while Brosius is the founder and in-house nose. “This isn’t about making a statement. It’s about running a business.”
Industry sources said the store is expected to do $1.5 million in retail sales in 2000.
Customers will find the entire Demeter fragrance library and all the line extensions in the store. Later this month, some new additions like Holy Water, Dulce de Leche, Golden Delicious, Condensed Milk, Humidor and Crust of Bread will hit the shelves, as will a millennium fragrance called .
Brosius, who now seems a little embarrassed at having jumped on the 2000 bandwagon, said the idea might seem gimmicky, but the fragrance isn’t. He sees the millennium as “a clean slate, a fresh start,” so the fragrance contains notes of chalk, rainwater, cotton and linen.
The hundreds of fragrances that Demeter has developed but not put into the main line yet — like Modeling Clay, Chalkboard, Asphalt and Rhubarb — will be available for custom blending. The store will function as a laboratory of sorts, as scents that prove popular with customers will be moved into the retail line.
“It’s a great way to interact with customers and talk to them about what they’re interested in,” said Brosius.
In addition to the fragrance library collection, Demeter’s first fragrance efforts will be for sale, like 1994’s Fresh Water and 1995’s Persephone’s Flowers. Cielo, the Napa Valley scent from Susan Costner-Kenward, will also be for sale because Demeter helped her develop the fragrance.
A room on the lower level of the store will showcase the Demeter Deluxe line of clothing designed by Brosius. Ranging in price from $200 to $3,000, the line will feature luxurious, hand-dyed fabrics in shapes inspired by Fortuny, Balenciaga and Brancusi.
While the shop was still a work-in-progress at press time, the duo promised the decor will match the whimsical nature of the fragrances. “It’s going to be a destination, a fun place to shop,” promised Gable.
The main room will be sky blue with a periwinkle blue ceiling and a multi-colored checkerboard floor. Quotes from the disparate likes of Pat Nixon, Jane Bowles and Colette will decorate the walls.
Demeter fans will have a good chance of bumping into Brosius or Gable in the store, at 83 Second Avenue between East Fourth and Fifth Streets, as the two have apartments in the neighborhood and plan to be a frequent presence behind the counter.
It remains to be seen whether Demeter will have the staying power of, say, Kiehl’s, which has been in the East Village for decades and serves as an inspiration to Brosius and Gable for its product integrity and independent spirit. Brosius worked at Kiehl’s for years and discovered his gift for creating fragrances there by custom-blending scents for customers.
The company has its fans, but it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of Earl Grey, which happens to be another Demeter scent. The owner of an out-of-town beauty boutique dropped the line after a few months because it failed to find an audience.
“I brought it in because I thought the younger girls would like it, but they would rather save their money for Bloom or Fresh,” she said, asking that her name not be used. “Dirt was my best seller, but not because it was a great fragrance. People bought it for the novelty.”
Fragrance snobs no doubt turn their noses up at Demeter scents like Steam Room, Funeral Home, Sushi and Vinyl, but customers are expanding their definition of fragrance beyond fine French eaux de parfum to include things like body mists, shower gels and even Dirt, which is Demeter’s bestseller.
Because of this trend and the influence of companies like Demeter and Bath & Body Works, the industry is loosening up in regard to fragrance. Coty, known for traditional mass scents, brought aromatherapy to a large audience with its wildly successful Healing Garden line. Elizabeth Arden has taken the popular green tea ingredient and turned it into a fragrance line with fun products like bath sachets packaged in oversized tea bags. MAC will launch a trio of scented oils this fall for its first fragrance project, and Parfums Givenchy is even selling scented nail polish.
Because of all this, industry sources say Demeter has become a hot property, attracting interest from venture capitalists and even LVMH. Brosius and Gable don’t rule out selling the company, but they would prefer to take on a minority partner who can help them meet some of their goals.
“I would like a new product facility, and I want to hire a few more people so I don’t have to stay here until three in the morning,” said Brosius. “That’s where money would come in handy.”
“We would also like to expand the retail distribution, go international and have more of a brand presence in the stores,” Gable added.
But that said, the two Christophers are wary of getting too big, too fast, which they’ve seen happen to some colleagues in the indie scene.
“There are a lot of great smaller brands that will never be Revlon. Why should they?” said Gable. “They reach a market and they fill a niche. If they overreach, that’s a good way to go out of business.”