MISTRAL: A TOUCH OF FRANCE IN L.A.

Byline: Katherine Bowers

LOS ANGELES — It seems a new wind is blowing over the City of Angels.
Mistral, named for the famous Provencal wind, is a new 600 square-foot boutique that opened here today selling all things French — fragrances by Annick Goutal, Fragonard and Moulinard, Marius Sabre soaps and essential oils from Clos d’Aguzon, to name a few.
The Francophilic store is the second for Matthew Tilker, who opened the first Mistral in Solana Beach, Calif. in 1994. The tiny Solana Beach door, only 250 square feet, takes in $25,000 per month and Tilker projects that the Los Angeles store will match those numbers in its first year and grow from there.
The retail business is in addition to a two-year-old Mistral bath and body wholesale business, which will do more than $1 million this year, Tilker said. Retail distribution includes Fred Segal Essentials and Apothia, Jill Shear and Nordstrom.
With its sunny yellow walls, green wood counter and antiqued coral floor, the Mistral store seems like a page out of Peter Mayle’s best-seller. The store carries a mix of better-known brands, such as L’Occitane and Pre du Provence, with lesser known gems, such as La Maison du Lucille olive oil soaps and scented talcs, and Terra Provence’s men’s shaving creams blended with red clay.
For the Mistral line, Tilker said a certain amount of translating is required to get something right for American women.
“My suppliers love the traditional milk, lavender, almond. My attitude is let’s do something different. Let’s find a more engaging combination,” he said.
The result? A fusion cuisine of sorts that’s resulted in scented soaps such as lavender-amber, patchouli-chocolate and grapefruit-red currant. Many of the chunky soaps, which sell for $5.50, are textured with other items, such as oatmeal, mint or green tea.
And then there’s packaging, which Tilker said is crucial to American buyers.
“In [Provence], they are so close to [making and using the products] that they take it for granted. They’ll just take a pen and write ‘lavender’ on [a label],” he said.
Tilker wrapped Mistral soaps in illustrated labels with an antique feel. Gift sets are sold in sliding-top wooden boxes, including the popular Savons D’Invites, which features nine, pungent mini-bars for $19.
The line also includes bath salts, foams and body scrubs, shea butter hand creams in tins for $24 and travel-size tubes for $4. Scented body lotions, priced at $20, will be available in May.