Byline: Jennifer Weil / with contributions from Anne Rein

PARIS — In the heart of the Marais, a new store sells its produce by the slice or gram.
No, it’s not a greengrocer, nor a butcher, nor a fromager. Rather, the retailer causing a buzz here is Lora Lune, a nine-month-old beauty boutique.
The 780-square-foot store is nestled on the Rue Bourg-Tibourg. Walk in and it’s like entering a country kitchen — with a twist. The streamlined store is replete with wooden fittings, slate floors, cutting boards and scales. But the latter aren’t for measuring out flour or butter, they are to help apportion the 100 percent natural Lora Lune soaps, color cosmetics and skin treatments.
A brainchild of former art director Silvia Esteban, Lora Lune’s concept was tweaked for two years in Aix-en-Provence before migrating northward to the City of Light.
First on the agenda was to produce purely natural products. Esteban likened herself to an alchemist, mixing and matching different ingredients with her husband, a scientist.
She pounded the pavements looking for little-used or “forgotten” ingredients and recipes for her products. During her searches she found plankton called fucus, for instance, in a Brittany-based algae laboratory.
“I wanted to create a new mode de vie,” Esteban explained, adding that it also included selling beauty products by weight. “It’s a different way to buy.”
While many of France’s beauty retailers have recently moved toward an open-sell format, Lora Lune tops the list with its hands-on approach. Its customers are free to touch and sniff the products in testers lining most of the store’s walls.
“People like to feel someone is taking care of them,” explained Servane de Saint-Laurent, director of development for the company. “[It’s like] they feel a pot of cream was designed especially for them” when it is sold by weight.
And this concept is paying off. While the company refused to disclose sales, industry sources say Lora Lune posted a pretax volume of $141,900 last year, and of that, the Paris store accounted for more than half — even though it was only open for three months of 1999. The Aix store, which is smaller and not as eye-catching as the Paris location, rings up a less significant volume. (Dollar figures are translated from the franc at latest exchange.)
Meantime, Lora Lune is growing in various directions at once.
It is busily expanding its 238-stockkeeping-unit treatment and color line. Makeup — which was introduced in February — is the latest addition. “The makeup was inspired by pigments,” Esteban said. It includes solid, colored foundation beads and liquid foundation, both of which are sold by weight. There is also a professional makeup artist on hand five days a week to explain how the products can be used.
The Lora Lune line is playful: There is a soap that looks like a French terrine with a generous slab of loofah sandwiched in the middle; there are solid shampoos. Men who are purportedly lured into the store by its no-frills design can choose from a 12-unit treatment line developed for them, including moisturiser and aftershave.
Prices for the Lora Lune line range from $3 for a 100-g. soap to $44 for a 100-g. face cream. All product packaging has color-coded tags to denote type. Pink, for instance, signifies aromatherapy, while green represents biotechnology.
Of the products, best-selling items include treatments for the face at 20 percent of sales, makeup at 15 percent, soap 10 percent and fragrance 8 percent, Saint-Laurent said.
And more is planned for the lineup, including possible products for babies and sun care.
A launch into cyberspace is also on the horizon: A Lora Lune e-tail site is expected to go live in early June, in tandem with the launch of the store’s revamped catalog.
Lora Lune is also expanding its distribution in France and abroad. It opened its first counter in a Paris department store, Printemps, in April. The 222-square-foot space carries about 70 percent of the company’s line and resembles the Marais location in terms of merchandising.
“Our concept can be expressed in a smaller format,” Esteban explained.
It’s also generating a lot of talk.
The company is currently negotiating for possible locations in the U.S. and U.K., Saint-Laurent said, hinting there might be an upcoming change in the group’s structure, which currently includes six individual backers.
“At the moment, everything is in flux,” Saint-Laurent said.