Byline: Wendy Hessen

NEW YORK — French women have been held up as style icons for generations of American women and Compagnie Financiere de Richemont hopes to exploit that sentiment through the U.S. launch of its Lancel brand of leather goods.
Acquired in 1997, Richemont has a mind to make the 125-year-old Lancel name a major player in the American leather goods market. Lancel, which began as a smoking accessories shop, has its largest presence in France, where it is sold through a network of 56 stores. The label ranks third in consumer awareness in the country behind two venerable and much more expensive names — Hermes and Louis Vuitton — and it holds the top spot in small leather goods, according to Simon Critchell, president and chief executive officer of Richemont NA.
Worldwide, there are 105 Lancel stores and nearly 1,000 doors in 75 countries, although 80 percent of the business is done in France. With the exception of a Madison Avenue store that was closed in 1994, Lancel has had little presence in the U.S.
Asked to compare it to brands already available in the U.S., Critchell described Lancel as “the French Coach, in that it offers a certain affordably luxurious lifestyle and has a wide variety of products.”
“Lancel will appeal to a wide section of the population,” added Pierre Keyser, who has been named the U.S. president of Lancel.
A Richemont veteran, Keyser previously ran L.E.A.D. Ameriques, which distributes eyewear for Cartier, Montblanc and Alfred Dunhill.
Lancel will be available beginning in mid-April in 35 to 40 Nordstrom doors, which Keyser described as a perfect fit.
“The service and price points at Nordstrom are all similar to the way Lancel is sold in France,” he said, adding that another benefit was that since Nordstrom has stores across the country, Lancel will gain a nationwide presence in one season.
The handbag line, which retails from about $200 to $500, has also been picked up by Holt Renfrew in Canada.
Luggage, a product category that both Critchell and Keyser described as representing a significant portion of the brand’s volume, will be wholesaled primarily through El Portal, the 40-unit upscale travel and accessories retailer that was acquired by Wilsons Leather last September and is in the process of a major retail expansion. Luggage retails from $350 to $600, although Keyser pointed out that a high-end line and specially crafted pieces reaching up to $1,600 will be sold exclusively in Lancel stores.
Depending on the material, the Lancel line is made primarily in France of calf leather, although there are seasonal variations using other leathers and materials.
The first Lancel store will open in New York in mid-April in the Richemont block of stores at 846 Madison Avenue, near East 69th Street. That shop will replace a Dunhill unit and will be quickly followed by an early July opening in SoHo, although Critchell would not confirm the exact location.
Critchell declined to provide a volume projection for Lancel or tag additional cities for Lancel stores, except to say that the retail rollout would be similar to that of other Richemont brands. He pointedly stressed however, that “This is something people will know about.”
Keyser said, “We have a keen understanding of where we want to go and the support of a large company enables us to go slowly.”
A nationwide advertising campaign, with the tag line “What French women have always known,” will bow in May editions of a range of fashion and lifestyle magazines, including three consecutive, full-page ads in W, Vogue and Elle and single pages in House & Garden and In-Style.

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