Byline: Jennifer Weil

PARIS — Groupe Clarins may spearhead the Europeans’ foray into U.S. beauty e-tailing. Olivier Courtin, vice president of research and development and member of the management board, told analysts at the beauty and fashion company’s annual financial meeting here April 7 that Clarins was mulling a portal that would group European prestige names and provide a platform for e-tail in the U.S.
Courtin would not reveal other possible partners in the venture, but he said, “We are talking about an investment of several hundreds of millions of French francs to set up this project.”
Establishing brick-and-click shops in the U.S. is particularly alluring to European high-end beauty manufacturers, which can’t sell electronically in their home markets due to selective distribution contracts. At present, Clarins has a Web site giving product information and beauty advice. According to Serge Rosinoer, the outgoing president of the board, that site could be swiftly changed into an e-tailer.
Also at the meeting, executives revealed Clarins’s two-pronged approach for 2000. “We would like to balance our activities within two areas — geographically, by reinforcing our presence in the U.S. and Japan, and product-wise,” by giving more weight to fragrances and color cosmetics while still gaining market share in skin care, said Christian Courtin, soon to be president of the board.
Last year, Europe represented 67.5 percent of the group’s sales of $660.4 million, while North America rang up 18 percent and Asia 8.9 percent. Statistics for Japan were not broken out. All figures are converted at current exchange rates.
The breakdown of beauty volume for 1999 was skin care, 57 percent; makeup, 11.8 percent, and fragrance, 31.2 percent, the company reported. Implementing this new strategy, could entail “acquisitions or alliance,” Courtin said.
First-quarter cosmetics net sales were up 21 percent in the period to $181.1 million. Of that, skin care was up 14.4 percent, makeup rose 16.4 percent and fragrance had a 38.5 percent gain.
The couture division posted net volume of $13.59 million, down by 10.1 percent from the first quarter of 1999. In fashion, the couture division, which includes Thierry Mugler, is expected to stop losing money in 2001. It posted a 25.9 percent decrease in operating losses and sales of $40.73 million in 1999.