Byline: Alev Aktar and Sarah Raper– With contributions from Amy B. Barone, Milan; Melissa Drier, Berlin, and James Fallon, London

PARIS — Pere Noel is stuck in traffic.
Since the beginning of a debilitating public sector strike 22 days ago, alarmed French prestige fragrance and cosmetics retailers here have watched their sales in Paris nosedive, leading to thoughts of a Christmas devoid of cheer.
“We’ve stopped calculating end-of-the-year targets at the [Paris] flagship,” said Karine Sanouillet, perfumery buyer for the Printemps department store chain, noting that sales since the beginning of the strike have been down 40 to 50 percent from last year. “Anything can happen.”
Meanwhile, at Galeries Lafayette, beauty sales are down between 30 and 40 percent at the flagship, though business has been brisk at a new fragrance and cosmetics department at the Rosny store outside Paris. In France, Paris represents 25 percent of total beauty sales.
Since Nov. 24, there have been no trains in France, and no metros or buses in most major cities — causing cacophonous traffic jams. Mail has slowed to a trickle, with 13 percent of sorting center employees on strike throughout the week. The schools have improved — 5 percent of teachers participated in walkouts Thursday, down from a high of 41 percent. However, air traffic controllers and some airline personnel halted flights last week, and the controllers have called for new actions today.
Even if small companies manage to get all their employees to the office, many have been caught in a cash-flow squeeze while their checks sit in postal sorting centers around France.
On Thursday there were signs of movement: Several local branches of railworker unions voted to return to work, and in Paris, two metro lines operated briefly while the head of the transit authority reported progress.
Outside the capital, where shoppers are less dependent on local transport systems, merchants reported that business is down as much as 10 percent compared with the same period last year, due to demonstrations that discourage shoppers from coming into town and uncertainty tied to the social upheaval. Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse have been particularly affected.
For example, at the Marie-Jeanne Godard chain, whose 54 doors are outside Paris, sales are down 7 percent in December on a same-store basis.
Everywhere, downtown perfumeries and department stores are hardest hit, while shopping center units are managing to maintain sales in line with last year.
The situation has been labeled “extremely worrying” at mail-order companies like Yves Rocher and Club Createurs de Beaute, the joint venture between L’Oreal and French catalog giant 3 Suisses.
Since the strike began, Rocher — where mail-order accounts for 50 percent of the company’s French business — has been receiving only a small fraction of the orders it expected.
The company is fighting back with a radio campaign throughout the country that encourages customers to go into its 600 stores instead of ordering by mail.
A spokeswoman for Club Createurs said that the company expected lost business to total 12 million francs ($2.4 million) even if the strike is resolved this weekend.
Although the French strike is the story dominating the European retail scene this Christmas, it is by no means the only news. In terms of fragrance launches, the fall season has been the busiest in years, with 10 major women’s introductions and seven men’s, including three blockbuster entries — Christian Dior’s Dolce Vita, Lancome’s Poeme and Calvin Klein’s CK One — and, in the UK only, Estee Lauder’s Pleasures.
With one full shopping week left before Christmas, here is where the launches stand:
* CK One is on its way to repeating its U.S. success, topping all other entries in Italy and Germany. In the UK, it shares double billing with Pleasures at the top of the charts, while in France — where the scent was launched only in Paris — retailers praised its performance.
“It’s the launch of the second half,” raved Janet Saunders, perfumery buyer at the 52-door House of Fraser chain in the UK, where CK One accounts for half of the Klein brands’ turnover.
* In the heated prestige faceoff that pits Dior against Lancome, Dolce Vita is the early victor over Poeme in France, Italy and Germany, according to most retailers. In the UK, buyers said both have been selling, but not nearly as well as CK One and Pleasures.
* At the men’s counter, Jean Paul Gaultier’s Le Male and Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium Pour Homme are the winners, except in Germany, where Hugo by Hugo Boss is off to the strongest start.
In France, most retailers ranked Le Male ahead of Opium, although several large chains said they were tied. In Italy, Le Male was ahead at the Coin department stores and the 70-door Ethos chain, but trailed Opium at the high-volume Mazzolari perfumery in Milan. In the UK, Gaultier’s scent is booming at Harrods, where it’s being sold exclusively through Christmas. Discounting is still a factor in most countries, and this Christmas seems to be on par with last year, except in Germany, where some retailers claimed price slashing was still on the rise.
The situation is “becoming more alarming. It’s extreme in the south of Germany and in Austria,” said Loy Hammerich-Pagels, marketing director of the Aurel Group.
Italian retailers said that the big brands were spending more on promotion this season and supplying more wrapping paper, gift boxes and giveaways.
In Germany, Douglas said it was spending 50 percent more on media advertising this Christmas season. The company splashed out on new TV and radio campaigns and newspaper inserts. The 100-door German chain Yaska also increased its newspaper advertising.
Outside of France — where no retailer is willing to hazard a guess until it becomes clear when the strike will end — the yearend outlook in Europe is mixed. Cheeriest is the UK, where British merchants expect the latest round of launch activity to boost business by 10 to 15 percent this Christmas.
At the Rinascente flagship in Milan, perfumery sales are up a whopping 25 percent this year over 1994.
In Germany, Werner Hariegel, director of the German Parfumeries Association, said that the German public’s willingness to buy had picked up, but the “Christmas season so far has not exceeded our expectations.” He predicted fragrance and cosmetics sales will be down 1 to 2 percent compared with last year.
Regarding this fall’s introductions, the Lancome and Dior launches have garnered the most attention from fragrance retailers thus far. Dolce Vita topped Poeme at four German chains: the 400-store Douglas group, the 400-store Aurel chain, Yaska and the 160-door Intercos chain. At Douglas, Poeme ranked fourth after Dolce Vita, Tresor and CK One in November. In Italy, Dolce Vita outpaced Poeme at most stores surveyed, including the 50-store Douglas chain and Coin department stores. At the Mazzolari perfumery in Milan, however, the two were neck and neck.
In the home market of France, six perfumery chains representing 220 doors ranked Dolce Vita ahead of Poeme, and one Paris department store said that Dior’s new fragrance is selling twice as fast as Lancome’s.
While Dolce Vita’s name, fragrance, bottle, advertising and window displays were unanimously praised, retailers here were divided when it came to Poeme’s marketing mix. Some said that the heavy topnote of the fragrance turns customers off, while others criticized the unaspirational advertising campaign. Specifically, they mentioned one image featuring Juliette Binoche with her eyes closed, a pose that they claimed customers have trouble identifying with. Others pointed to Poeme’s late introduction — by the time it arrived on Oct. 10, consumers had already been exposed to Dolce Vita for a full month.
Lancome executives contest the accepted wisdom that Dolce Vita is the winner, and they have figures that show otherwise: Unit sales of the two fragrances were equal in November, according to Secodip’s weekly sell-through panel of 120 French perfumeries.
However, one industry observer attributed the stronger performance in unit sales to the fact that Poeme has a less expensive 30-ml. size, while Dolce Vita’s opening item is a 50-ml. eau de toilette. Tally up the francs, and Dior is ahead, the consultant argued.
Meanwhile, CK One is stealing the show in many countries. In Italy, every major retailer polled listed the scent as its bestseller.
“CK One was the most requested fragrance and sold out on several occasions,” said Armando Peressoni, president of the 70-door Ethos perfumery group based in Northeast Italy.
Gerd Schmielus, director of central buying for Douglas in Germany, said CK One was “quieter now” than just after its debut, but called it “possibly the year’s top launch” in unit sales.
While the French perfumery chains also report strong CK One sales at their Paris doors, buyers were angry that the brand forced them to buy a freestanding merchandising unit priced upward of $400 (2,000 francs). “We don’t have room for it,” grumbled one retailer.
Another unisex scent, Gianfranco Ferre’s Gieffeffe, got off to a slow start in Italy because it was introduced after Le Male and Opium and was initially sold shrink-wrapped, without a box. However, manufacturer Diana de Silva shipped boxes after retailers complained. Sales of Cartier’s So Pretty have been unexpectedly strong. British buyers were particularly surprised by the demand; the brand performed well nationally as well as at such London stores as Harrods and Harvey Nichols.
“It’s been phenomenal and beyond all expectations,” said Angela Creasey, perfumery buyer at Harrods.
In France, the Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores agreed that its strong results had relaunched the other Cartier brands. It also ranked ninth in November among women’s fragrances and seventh in October at Douglas in Germany.
Other smaller launches like Escada’s Acte 2 and Lalique’s Nilang elicited little reaction from European retailers — although Acte 2 is on plan at Galeries Lafayette.
Hanae Mori’s signature scent, distributed in traditional French perfumeries, also had mixed reviews; some said it appeals to teenagers, while others said it was a difficult sell.
In Italy, several major retailers reported that Moschino’s Cheap & Chic and Versace’s Blonde were among the top-selling women’s scents.
In England, exclusive launches are proving to be big draws in many stores. Harvey Nichols took in more than $158,000 (100,000 pounds) with Rifat Ozbek in the first month of its launch. Said Daniella Rinaldi, the store’s perfumery buyer: “Rifat Ozbek is a hot designer, and he relates well to the store.” In the men’s market, creativity scored big this year. Gaultier’s Le Male, with its atomizer bulb and offbeat paint tube bath products, sold the most units of any new fragrance at the French Marie-Jeanne Godard chain in October.
“It sold 3,200 units,” said Godard. “It moved better than any of the women’s fragrances!” She attributed this in part to the price points — the opening tag of 240 francs ($48) lower than those of most women’s fragrances. In November, Godard sold only 2,000 units, partly because the stores ran out of the popular 75- and 125-ml. eaux de toilette.
Both Hugo and Nikos’s Sculpture Pour Homme were selling well in Germany, where they ranked first and fourth, respectively, in Douglas’s men’s ranking in November.
Results were mixed in the UK, where Hugo is on plan at London stores, but slumbering at the House of Fraser.
Once Hugo got past initial delivery problems in France, retailers reported strong sales. Both Beatrice Rollet from Galeries Lafayette and Marcel Frydman of the 47-door La Parfumerie perfumery chain praised its performance. A few major retailers said that Givenchy’s Xeryus Rouge was on plan, but most were unenthusiastic. The French buyers, in particular, said that customers don’t realize it’s a new product and that the juice is too strong.
Jean Patou’s Voyageur also had mixed reviews in France, where it’s on plan at Galeries Lafayette, but behind its target at several perfumery chains. Retailers did praise the line’s miniature item, shaped like an oceanliner.

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