STILA OPENS FIRST U.S. BOUTIQUE
Byline: Katherine Bowers
LOS ANGELES — The wide-eyed Stila girl is poised to strut her stuff.
The ultra-trendy cosmetics brand, which opened its first U.S. boutique Wednesday at the Beverly Center here, is taking a stab at retailing. The 600-square-foot store’s design is one part all-over shimmer, two parts Jeanine Lobell’s signature blend of whimsy and innovation.
The store here is the second signature store, but it is the first Lobell has taken an active role in creating. The Shiseido-designed first store, located in Tokyo, is left over from a distribution deal inked before the Estee Lauder Cos. purchased Stila in 1999.
Stila creator Lobell talked enthusiastically recently about the year-long creative process that lead to custom wall-mounted vending machines that will dispense Stila product at the touch of a button. With Lauder’s financial backing and her own offbeat thinking, Lobell may have created a retail concept that’s the next evolution of the open sell.
“Stila has always had innovative products, and now this is the next level — the concept of innovative selling,” said Phebe Farrow Port, Estee Lauder’s vice president and general manager for the Stila brand. “[The vending machines] are a totally different approach to the open sell that has not been done before in the industry. It came straight out of Jeanine Lobell’s mind.”
The multiple-product machines stand apart from the temporary promotional soda vending-style boxes Paco Rabanne offered in 1997 with the launch of the Paco scent.
A Lauder spokeswoman declined to give revenue projections for the Stila store or to comment on the brand’s growth as a whole. Industry sources, however, estimate that the store, though small, could do $1 million at retail the first year.
Sources have previously estimated that Stila pulled in $20 million in revenues in 1998. William Steele, a consumer products analyst with Banc of America, said the store opening is part of grooming the brand for more aggressive growth.
“When you’re talking about a $5 billion top-line company like Lauder, [the revenues from] this store wouldn’t even move the needle. But I think it’s indicative from an Estee Lauder perspective of an attempt to open additional channels of distribution,” Steele said. “Estee Lauder continues to grow through the acquisition of brands like Stila that seem to have a laser-like focus on their consumer. Then, [Estee Lauder] takes that focus and expands the opportunities. I think it’s a very good strategy, with not a whole lot of downside risk.”
A makeup artist who continues to spend nearly half of her time with editorial and celebrity clients, Lobell launched Stila in 1994. She scored instant points with consumers during the environmentally conscious decade by coupling wearable colors with eco-sound, innovative packaging: rolled paper lipstick cases, boxes illustrated with doodles and sayings, and glosses that squirted from aluminum tubes.
“It’s got the right look. It’s got a warm, Valley Girl, talk-to-me appeal,” said Allan Mottus, an industry consultant. “But it’s not so precious that you don’t want to touch it.”
Port said the Beverly Center location, which draws its fair share of Valley girl-types, is ideal because it’s the first mall distribution in the area and won’t cannibalize sales at nearby Barneys New York and Saks Fifth Avenue locations in Beverly Hills, both of which carry the line.
The store, designed by New York architects Lalire March, took its cues from the shimmers and sheens of the line. Frosted mirrors, pin-point ceiling lighting, silver-painted wood and opalescent acrylics represent Lobell’s vision, said architect Christopher March.
“We wanted to make it look like everything was floating. The counter floats, and the ceiling doesn’t touch the wall and there’s light up in the cove,” March noted.
Despite the silvery tones, the store is not “techy,” Lobell emphasized, pointing to the craft paper-colored ceiling warming the space and referencing the company’s signature paper packaging.
Lobell’s whimsy is evident, too, epitomized by the 30-foot-long vending machine run across the right, curved wall. The machine operates without money; customers push a button bearing the product’s color and name and the product shoots out into a marine-blue tray.
“It’s a tactile thing,” said Lobell. “Remember, your mom would be on the phone and you’d be pushing all the buttons in the cigarette vending machine?”
It’s also a funky visual. The vending machine’s front panels will have lenticular prints — iridescent images similar to holographs. A convertible color compact, for example, will shift from closed to open as the customer walks past.
The vending machine is Lobell’s baby, but a couple of other ideas also have her excited: testers built right into the frosted-mirror counter and makeup stations on rollers.
According to Lobell, the testers are designed for self-serve customers who like to putter on their own. The mobile stations and trained staff will cater to customers who want the “21-gun salute” of a full consultation and lessons.
Unused makeup stations can be stowed under the tester counter with fabric-paneled sides facing out, said March, to minimize a deserted look when traffic is slow.
Lobell believes the store will also serve as an invaluable testing ground. A skin care line is also in development, with a launch likely for 2002.
“There are a lot of things I’ve developed for this store that I’ll be breaking down and moving into other environments,” she said, referring both to point-of-sale displays for stateside retailers and to eventual retail expansion overseas.
Which leads to parent company plans for a bigger, better Stila.
Port said Estee Lauder plans to boost distribution abroad, particularly in Asia where Stila products routinely sell out.
“It’s amazing how much business is done by Asian women. They consider the brand hip and cool,” she said. “We haven’t even rolled out Sport [Stila’s active color and skin care line] over there because we have to catch up supply with demand.”
Although Estee Lauder does not separate Stila’s overseas performance from its aggregate, the company’s overall revenues in Asia swelled 15.6 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000, revealing that Asian women have a substantial appetite for Western prestige cosmetics. A company spokeswoman declined to project how much Stila could generate abroad.
Lobell said she envisions stores opening in New York, Tokyo and Paris in the next three years. “That’s why I have to get it right here,” she joked.
But, given a glut of retail development and a slowing economy, is the timing right for Stila stores?
“We asked Jeanine that very question about a month ago,” said Port. “And her reaction was that in tough times, one of the things people can update easily is their color look.”
Port said the company will review sales for the the first six months from the Los Angeles boutique before pursuing other locations.
Industry experts have generally extended kudos to Estee Lauder for strengthening its brands without overexposing or homogenizing them.
“Since Estee Lauder purchased [Stila], they haven’t missed a beat,” said Shashi Batra, Sephora’s senior vice president of merchandising. “They were doing unbelievable before, and now they have the strength of seasoned, senior management.” Stila is Sephora’s top-selling resource, carried in all doors, and the fastest-selling brand on Sephora.com, according to Batra.
Stila should also have its first cyber location in late spring, when Gloss.com, Estee Lauder’s e-commerce venture with Chanel and Clarins, launches.
Lobell said she plans to service the Hollywood makeup artist community in the boutique. To that end, she will be creating professional products exclusively for the location, such as artistry foundations, refillable palettes, brighter colors and a wider variety of brushes. “Stuff that I like and use, but can’t get to sell in Minnesota,” she said.
Other plans include expanding the Sport line, a line conceived when Lobell considered what cosmetics a scooter-riding hipster could tuck into her back pocket. Liquid bronzers and an SPF moisturizer are among the products in the works.