NEW YORK — Capping off months of industry rumors, Starwood Hotels and Resorts announced Tuesday that it has purchased a majority stake in BlissWorld LLC from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.

This story first appeared in the January 21, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

This confirms a rumor that first appeared in December in these columns.

LVMH had acquired 70 percent of the trendy beauty firm in February 1999 from Marcia Kilgore, the thirtysomething beauty entrepreneur and former facialist, for an estimated $30 million. The company, which consisted of a SoHo spa and the Bliss and Laboratoire Remède product lines when LVMH acquired its stake in the business, has grown to include spas on 57th Street here and on Sloane Avenue in London, as well as fledgling QuickBliss counters offering mini-services in several department stores, including Macy’s West, Bloomingdale’s and Harvey Nichols. The Bliss brand’s retail doors include Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, Harvey Nichols and Harrods.

While the purchase price was not disclosed by any of the parties involved, industry sources estimated that Starwood snapped up the company for less than LVMH’s asking price of $30 million. Bliss’ revenues in 2003 were an estimated $40 million.

Starwood, which owns a number of hotels including the hip W chain, revealed plans to open Bliss spas in its hotels beginning later this year at the W New York on 49th Street, to be followed by the W New York-Times Square, W Los Angeles-Westwood, W San Francisco and W Chicago-Lakeshore and W Chicago- City Center locations, as well as future W properties. Starwood also plans to provide Bliss skin care, bath and body products as in-room amenities for their guests in all W hotels.

According to a statement released by Starwood, Bliss will be operated as a subsidiary of Starwood, with its own headquarters and management team, and that Bliss’ existing team of executives will stay on during the transition period. The statement further stated that Starwood plans to keep the Bliss SoHo, 57th Street and London spas open.

Bliss founder Kilgore will remain with Bliss under Starwood, with the title of chief creative consultant. “I’m not going anywhere,” she told WWD in an exclusive interview Tuesday, adding that she will continue to develop products and write the copy for the firm’s monthly catalogue, among other duties. She declined to say how big a stake she still owns in Bliss, although it is assumed that she still owns 30 percent of the business.

“We’ve had a great run with LVMH, and I learned a great deal from our time as partners,” continued Kilgore. “In particular, I learned a great deal from working with the company’s amazing research and development teams. These are skills that will serve me well going forward. I’m also looking forward to working with our new partners, Starwood. I’m excited to have a company that is so well thought of by such a hip hotel chain. In a brainstorming session last year, we said that if we were a hotel, we’d be the W — so it’s exciting to have our products and spas heading in there. There’s a great synergy between Bliss and Starwood that I am looking forward to exploring in the years to come. I also am excited at all of the new customers we’ll have a chance to reach this way. You’re always fighting for the consumer at the department store counter, but in hotels, you have a captive audience — of both men and women.”

Bliss isn’t Starwood’s first entry into the upscale spa market. The company currently operates more than 180 spas globally, including the Spa Gaucin at the St. Regis Monarch Beach Resort & Spa in Dana Point, Calif.; The Centre for Well- Being at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, Ariz.; The Carita Spa at The St. Regis New York, and The Spa at The Westin Turnberry Resort in Scotland.

Kilgore noted that Starwood executive Tyler Morse will join Bliss as expansion director, who will “help spread the Bliss,” she said, noting that he will head up future expansion efforts. “He’s a great fit for us — he wants to make things happen.”

The divestiture of Bliss is the latest in a series of moves by LVMH to shed its noncore beauty assets. Last May, it announced its intentions to sell its Michael Kors fragrance license to the Estée Lauder Cos. for roughly $20 million, as well as its intentions to sell its Marc Jacobs and Kenneth Cole fragrance licenses to Coty’s prestige arm, the Lancaster Group, for an estimated $45 million to $50 million. In December 2002, it sold Hard Candy and Urban Decay — purchased within 10 months of each other in 1999 and 2000 — for an estimated $10 million to the Falic Group.