AGNES B.’S STEALTH LAUNCH
Byline: Soren Larson
NEW YORK — The Agnes B. beauty line, a mainstay in its native France, has made a quiet arrival in the U.S.
The collection of makeup, skin care and fragrances was introduced in Agnes B.’s seven fashion boutiques in January and will soon be on the shelves in the eighth, slated to open in Chicago next Wednesday, and the ninth, scheduled for an opening in Honolulu in March.
The strategy calls for a very slow advance. As with its ready-to-wear, the company has no plans for an outside retail distribution and won’t be doing any advertising; instead, it plans to rely on word of mouth and what Yves Seban, the U.S. subsidiary’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, termed the “cult status” of the fashion.
The makeup “is a good vehicle for the name and the image of Agnes B.,” Seban said, noting that the firm’s approach to marketing the beauty line is a long-term strategy.
“We’re relying on the sheer strength of the products,” he said.
The beauty brand was introduced in 1987 in France, where it is manufactured and distributed by Le Club des Createurs de Beaute, a large purveyor of mail-order beauty products. It is now also sold in Belgium, Germany, the U.K. and Japan, where Agnes B.’s chic, minimalist fashion is strong, according to the company.
Apart from the boutiques, the line is sold on the Continent via an Agnes B. catalog distributed by Le Club des Createurs, with around 1 million of the catalogs distributed annually in France alone. The line is also featured in Le Club des Createurs’ own catalog, which includes the other beauty brands it manufactures, such as the Michel Klein fragrances.
Jean Noel Rivoire, president of Le Club des Createurs, said the catalog will eventually make its way to America, but not until 1998 or 1999.
“We will see how things go in the stores,” he said
In Europe, the Agnes B. beauty line has now reached an annual volume of $40 million (200 million francs), Rivoire said.
In the U.S., the company is expected to have overall sales in the neighborhood of $17 million this year, with makeup accounting for perhaps 3 percent, according to Seban. That would translate to around $500,000.
“The customer is very young and fashion-oriented,” Rivoire noted, adding that the makeup follows the Agnes B. apparel collections closely, with the aim of pleasing its very trend-conscious consumers.
“The makeup always reflects trends in the fashion,” Rivoire said.
The beauty line’s 150 stockkeeping units include a full makeup collection along with skin care and four fragrance brands: La Ligne a la Rose, Le B, Courant d’Air and Le Petit BB, a unisex children’s scent.
Makeup prices range from $9 for a lip pencil or nail color to $14 for Rouge Confort lipstick to $29 for a refillable compact with mirror and sponge. The three-item skin care line includes a lotion and cleansing milk for $15 apiece, along with an $18 eye makeup remover.
The fragrances range from $20 for a 150-ml. “huile rose” version of La Ligne a la Rose to $35 for 50-ml. eau de toilette versions of Le B and Courant d’Air.
While the brand has gradually developed a solid following in Europe, it might be years before an equivalent business in established in the U.S., the executives conceded.
“This was a soft launch,” said Seban. “But anything can happen in the future.”