Byline: Pete Born / Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Jo Malone, an English entrepreneur with an offbeat approach to beauty, is unfurling her flag in America today.
The fledgling firm, which was acquired by the Estee Lauder Cos. Inc. in 1999, will open its first freestanding store in the U.S. this morning. The 1,200-square-foot beauty boutique, showcasing Malone’s 100-plus stockkeeping unit fragrance, treatment, gift and home line, is located in lower Manhattan’s historic Flatiron building on Broadway at 23rd Street.
The Malone shop shares the ground floor with new stores of two other Lauder brands, Origins and MAC Cosmetics, giving the corporation a triple play. The Origins store started doing business Wednesday evening, with a private shopping night for preferred customers, and the MAC store is due to open Sunday.
Malone first entered the U.S. market in 1999 with a location in Bergdorf Goodman, and in-store distribution has since spread to 150 square-foot shops-within-shops at 13 specialty stores, principally in Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, with Holt Renfrew as the lone Canadian door.
Today is the soft opening for the Flatiron shop, with the official grand event — complete with a party hosted by Malone — set for April 26. The construction of the store, estimated by industry sources as costing $1 million, is a key development for the Malone brand. The first-year volume has been estimated by sources as possibly hitting $2.5 million at retail.
But there is even more at stake than volume. Leonard Lauder, chairman of the parent company, said: “The future of Jo Malone right now in the U.S. strategically is with the specialty stores, like Neiman Marcus and Saks. When it comes to international, particularly Europe, the only way we can see presenting the brand properly is with freestanding stores. We’re looking at this store as a pilot project to create a format that we can use to roll out the brand, particularly in Europe.”
Lauder stressed that “this store is not the announcement of a new distribution policy in the U.S.”
The New York store is viewed by Malone as an evolution of her main Sloane Street headquarters in London, as well as a branch in London’s financial district and in Edinburgh, Scotland. Interviewed by phone, she said her aim is “not to replicate each store. We try to learn from each one and evolve the design. Wherever we go, the customer will have a feeling of the London aesthetic.”
One point of evolution, she noted, is that the Flatiron store has generous display windows, which is an asset in a market where the brand will be built by word of mouth rather than advertising. Her approach to window decoration is no less unorthodox than her product conception and gift presentation.
She strongly believes that a window display should be more than a boring arrangement of products. “It’s like setting a picture,” she said, noting that her strategy is to show the unexpected. “What we want to do is entertain people.”
Her main London shop had a display of white hyacinths, dramatizing the ingredients in the products on display. The new Flatiron shop has two display windows filled with floral sculptures. One features towering curly willows bundled up and the other showcases a spreading wisteria with ribboned boxes of products dangling from the leafy arms.
The windows for the New York store are done by display artist Gurd Verschoor, and he will change the design every six weeks. One of the most notable aspects of the new shop is the fragrance sampling area, in which a customer can pick any two — of what will be 12 — fragrance offerings. With the push of a button, two scents meld into a combination that will be sprayed out of nozzles into the air. There are 121 possible fragrance combinations.
The mixing and matching and layering go to the heart of Malone’s product conception, not only for fragrance, but skin care. Treatment products can be applied in combination to suit the season or weather condition, said Pamela Baxter, senior vice president and general manager of Malone, La Mer, Aramis and Prescriptives.
The fragrances also are layered to fit a mood, perhaps to spice an evening. The formulas even comprise unusual combinations. The top seller is lime, basil and mandarin, which Baxter points out is the marriage of a citrus, an edible herb and a fruit. “I see fragrance as a lifestyle, giving never-ending opportunities,” Malone said.
And her restless mind does not stop at mixing components. She noted that the company had come up with Living Colognes, fragrances for which she had won awards, that can be worn on the body or sprayed in a room.
The New York store offers her another laboratory in a different culture. “I want to be able to push the boundaries and be able to experiment,” she said, noting that the U.S. offers an important playing field. She has so many American customers in her London shops, that coming to New York seemed natural. “I feel like it’s my second home,” she said.
And her sense of individuality does not end when the customer has picked out a product. Malone believes that selecting and presenting a gift to someone is a highly personal statement. For that reason, the products do not come pre-boxed, complete with outer cartons, as with every other cosmetics brand. Instead, each bottle, tube or jar is wrapped in tissue and placed in a Jo Malone box and shopping bag in a highly ritualistic way. Perhaps this is one reason why she does such a strong gift business.
About half the business is done in fragrance, but Malone’s home products, defined as candles and potpourri, do roughly 35 to 40 percent of the business.
She began her business with treatment, but that category does only 10 to 15 percent of the total. Baxter wants to push it to 25 percent and Malone is “in the thick” of creating skin care product in the Lauder labs. A major treatment launch is slated for November.
As a young, struggling entrepreneur, who much preferred to buy kilos of jasmine than spend the money to furnish her bare flat with pieces of furniture, like a bed, for instance, she’ll now be able to afford sumptuous furnishings. Judging from Lauder’s recent track record, building Creme de la Mer purely by word of mouth, some industry sources estimate that the Malone brand could be built to a retail volume of $40 million within three years. When the latest round of specialty store doors were opened in December, the first month’s volume reportedly hit figures like $45,000 and $100,000.
While the Flatiron location marks Malone’s first U.S. store, she has two Lauder neighbors to keep her company. John Demsey, president of MAC Cosmetics, noted that his 1,300-square-foot store will be a flagship for both makeup artists and makeup addicts. “We opened our MAC Pro shop in the Flatiron district in July 1998, but that store is only open to industry professionals,” noted Demsey. “Considering that the neighborhood is now the epicenter of the new media and design professionals, and the building is one of the most important structures of its kind in the world, it’s fantastic to expand our business in this area.”
MAC’s store design is a cross between the high-tech of its existing stores and the original structure of the turn-of-the-century Flatiron building, with theatrical, adjustable track lighting, moveable makeup stations, and Plexiglass shelving. The moveable makeup stations — steel structures suspended from the ceiling on sliding beams, allowing the artist to use the store as a flexible workspace — are installed only in select stores, noted Regis Pean, MAC’s store design executive director. New York will be the first U.S. city to get them; others exist now in Cologne, London and Toronto.
“Our presence in the Flatiron rounds out our New York store base,” said Lynne Greene, president of Origins. It’s Origins’ fifth New York store. “As a shopping area, we feel that the Flatiron district is new and incredibly dynamic.”