Byline: Alev Aktar

PARIS — France’s largest-volume perfumery chain, Sephora, is about to open what will be the country’s largest — and some say most ambitious — freestanding perfumery.
The store design features an unprecedented degree of merchandising innovation, promising to add a new dimension to European cosmetics retailing.
On Dec. 11, the company will inaugurate the 16,200-square-foot superstore at 70 Avenue des Champs-Elysees — one of the biggest tourist thoroughfares in the world. Moreover, Sephora president Dominique Mandonnaud is determined to bring his new retail vision to New York with a store tentatively planned for 1998.
Mandonnaud is targeting retail sales of $33 million (165 million francs) for the first 12 months — at least twice the volume generated at the chain’s La Defense store, currently the biggest Sephora unit. As for traffic, he estimates that 5,000 to 10,000 people will visit the store per day. More than 100 people will work there.
Paris retailers and department stores have been nervously watching the development of the store, worried that it will take away from their volume, which is already flat in many cases.
The store, the 53rd in the Sephora chain, has cost more than $185 per square foot to build, not counting the cost of computers, according to executive director Georges Gausseran. It is located between the Guerlain flagship and the Galerie du Claridge shopping center and will be open for unusually long hours, from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.
Mandonnaud, who is recognized by the industry as a pioneer in the high-end assisted self-service selling format, has taken his concept even further.
The Champs-Elysees unit will feature an enormous selection of products — more than 100 items exclusive to the store — merchandised according to category.
But the store doesn’t stop at products. Mandonnaud is striving to create a total beauty world featuring beauty-related advertising, on-line information, literature and exhibits.
“The concept is to offer all the images and all the sounds that are associated with beauty and fragrance in one place,” said Mandonnaud.
Lining the entrance will be an 80-foot wall of video monitors alternating with products displayed in niches. The monitors, which are activated when a customer approaches, will automatically play beauty commercials.
Customers who still haven’t had their media fix will be able to get it at the “sensorial auditorium,” a movie theater with mirrored walls where short films about beauty, such as retrospectives of ad campaigns, will be screened.
Customers can also download Sephora’s Web site in the Cybercosmetic area, or access beauty software and view CD-ROMs, or browse in an area carrying fragrance and cosmetics-related books, novels, postcards, photos, records, CDs, CD-ROMs, videos, cassette tapes and magazines, including all the international versions of Elle and Marie-Claire. The store will also provide information about museum exhibits with a beauty angle. The bookstore will be near the store’s exit.
There will also be space reserved for exhibits, which will change several times a year, and a fragrance wall displaying rare and beautiful bottles.
The architectural design was by Chafik, Philippe Kauffmann and the Barrau firm. The interior will be decorated in Sephora’s signature black and white with red carpet.
As in the other stores, fragrances will be stocked alphabetically by brand name, with their main ingredients and olfactive family listed on signs.
Here’s a look at other innovations at the store:
Customers will be able to smell and compare fragrance ingredients, accords and finished compositions at a perfume organ, near the entrance, staffed by a “nose” and equipped with blotters.
A display similar to the arrival/departure board in train stations will flash duty-free fragrance prices from the biggest outlets around the world, allowing customers to compare pricing.
The makeup area will have light stands that re-create daylight so that the customer can properly evaluate cosmetics shades.
The store will carry Sephora’s new private label lipstick line, which will be launched in the second quarter of next year. The lipstick will be the first installment of a full color cosmetics collection, and it will follow last year’s introduction of a color-coded private label bath line.
Finally, Sephora is throwing an all-night bash dedicated to perfume on Dec. 21, the longest night of the year. The party, christened “La Nuit du Parfum,” will be at the store, and guests will include manufacturers, designers, perfumers and others from the industry. Many will discuss their role in the perfume process.
The event will be transmitted live by satellite to all Sephora stores, which also will stay open all night. Meanwhile, home computer owners will be able to communicate via Internet with the party guests.
A special edition fragrance called “Un jour le Parfum…Il Atait une nuit” was created for the party. A total of 300 bottles of the fragrance, each packaged in a crystal bottle designed by Serge Mansau, will be distributed in the perfumeries the night of the party.
Retailers speculate that the store will be subject to the increasingly serious problem of theft — the Champs-Elysees attracts bands of thugs — a suggestion that Mandonnaud shrugged off, saying that the store will invest in the appropriate security.
He insists that even his La Defense store, which has the highest theft rate in the chain, is well below the 3 to 5 percent shrinkage rate that’s the norm in French hypermarkets.
As for manufacturers, they rave about Sephora and the new store.
Chantal Roos, president of Beaut Prestige International, which markets the Jean Paul Gaultier and Issey Miyake scents, said, “It’s much more than a store. It will be a place where people arrange to meet and spend time. It will be a bit magical. People are tired of buying just for the sake of buying.”
According to Christian Courtin, president of the international division of Clarins, “The worldwide beauty industry is lucky to have Dominique Mandonnaud. I admire his genius for merchandising. He innovated with the chain, and now the Champs-Elysees store is the apotheosis [of his ideas].”
Alain Lorenzo, president of Givenchy, emphasized that the location is outstanding. “It’s a tourist draw. It will also enhance and dramatize new products — the stores are designed for that.”
Lorenzo also noted that the chain has been especially successful on two counts: “A portion of the population wants to play with the products and enjoy them. Mandonnaud understood this. When you go to Sephora, you see young people playing with the products. Also, self-service associated with luxury is a tricky challenge, but he has succeeded.”
Mandonnaud intends to export the superstore concept. In addition to eyeing New York for a 1998 opening, he opened a store in Marseille the beginning of this month and plans to open another unit in Luxembourg within the next two weeks. Next year, there will be a total of five or six new stores, probably including units in Belgium and Spain.
As reported, the chain plans to go public next year. Mandonnaud did not reveal what percentage of the company would be offered. According to Gausseran, ownership of the group is divided pretty much evenly among three shareholders: Mandonnaud, who has majority voting rights; Astorg, a French investment house, and the American firm Apax.
Mandonnaud projects that sales for the chain will reach $300 million (1.5 billion francs) this year. Last year, sales exceeded $200 million (1 billion francs), with 51 stores by yearend.
Mandonnaud insists that he’s not interested in the financial aspect of the business, but rather the creative, and says his appreciation of the visual goes beyond merchandising. “I paint and sculpt in wood, marble, clay, anything. I realized that I look at merchandising and art in the same way,” he said. “It’s a question of having a certain eye.”