NEW YORK — Revlon is feeling like rolling the dice. As if to underline the boldness of its planned reentry into the thorny thicket of department store fragrance, the mass-market beauty firm will introduce an equally bold scent.

The chypre scent, called Flair, is one of the most sophisticated olfactory categories, noted Firmenich’s master perfumer Annie Buzantian. “It is not for a shy woman,” said Buzantian, adding the fragrance has an “addictive” quality to it.

Flair will kick off Revlon’s robust effort to rebuild its fragrance business in department stores, a channel it departed more than a decade ago.

“If you want to be a major player in the fragrance market, you absolutely have to go where the market is,” said Robin Wood, senior vice president of beauty care for Revlon. The firm’s consumer research indicated that of the 20 million women who purchase Revlon cosmetics in the mass market each year, 60 percent — or 12 million — buy fragrance in department stores.

With that knowledge in mind, Revlon, a pillar of mass, sees an opportunity to move beyond the confines of its current distribution channel.

“We feel that we have key equities to leverage that are attractive to the department store shopper,” said Wood, emphasizing that the company is determined to become a big player.

Revlon’s strategy includes launching one major fragrance a year over the next three or four years.

The company would not comment on its financial plans, but industry sources estimate Revlon will spend as much as $25 million this year to support Flair, which is slated to hit counters in July.

Revlon executives noted that brand’s budget for reentry will place the company among the top three spenders in the category. After studying the top 10 launches of 2004, the company discovered that investment was a key driver of success, noted Wood.

“This [strategy] is not just about launching in year one. It’s about making a consistent investment year-over-year,” said Wood, adding that kind of marketing might is needed to break through the clutter.

He noted that 104 new women’s fragrances barreled into department stores in 2004. Of those, 22 percent achieved only $2 million in retail sales. A mere six reaped retail sales of $15 million or more. Revlon thinks it can do better.

This story first appeared in the March 31, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

But some industry experts warn that the overpopulated prestige fragrance market might be inhospitable to newcomers, particularly one from the mass market.

“A Revlon fragrance doesn’t fit into the ground rules that have been set,” noted industry analyst Allan Mottus. “Consumers want either a designer or a celebrity scent.” He added that Revlon might be better served by funneling the investment into its existing brands.

To help it navigate into the channel, Revlon has entered a multiyear deal with Gemini Cosmetics Inc. to serve as its distribution arm.

“Revlon brings the consumer perspective, and Gemini comes with the retail perspective,” said Wood.

Neil Katz, president and chief executive officer of Gemini, noted that through its advertising imagery, Revlon has gained recognition as a prestigious brand. While the company is still in discussions with retailers, it expects to roll out the Flair fragrance to 2,000 to 2,200 department stores. Katz said Flair is not slated to cycle into second-tier stores, such as Kohl’s, Sears or J.C. Penney.

Several drugstore buyers surveyed said they perceive that Revlon is following Elizabeth Arden’s strategy of launching in department stores then cycling the scents into the mass channel. Revlon executives maintain they are fully focused on selling the fragrance to department stores.

The concept for Flair is tailored to “fragrance lovers” with a “flair for life.”

“It’s about being who you are full out,” declared Rochelle Udell, executive vice president and chief creative officer for Revlon.

Flair, which was blended by Firmenich’s Buzantian, is described as a modern chypre. Its top notes are of passion fruit and black currant; its heart is of peony, lily of the valley and ylang, and its drydown is of patchouli, plum and praline.

The bottle, designed by Revlon, is made of Italian glass, and is intended to mirror the curves of a woman. Its gold, “wedding band” collar nods to Revlon’s cosmetics packaging.

Flair will be available in two versions, a 1.7-oz. eau de parfum spray for $45 and a 3.4-oz for $58. Ancillary items include a body lotion for $30 and body wash for $25, with gift sets planned for the fall.

Industry sources estimate Flair could reap $30 million in first-year retail sales, potentially placing it among the top three sellers in 2006.

Revlon signed Brazilian model Isabeli Fontana as the spokeswoman for Flair. Fontana will appear in television and print ads wearing a couture dress — made primarily of red silk — designed by Patricia Field.

“The dress, like the fragrance, has many layers,” commented Udell.

Fontana — clad in the Revlon red dress during an interview on the set of the photo shoot for the print campaign — said she’s always dreamed of fronting a beauty brand. Print ads, shot by Glen Luchford, will break in August books. Television ads will also begin airing in August. The spots, directed by Michael Haussman, feature Fontana dressed in the red gown, playfully dancing through her apartment. In addition to a barrage of TV and print ads, Revlon is considering cinema, which it used to introduce its Bellissimo campaign, and online efforts.

The company also will support the launch with 13 million scented strips, tucked in magazines and distributed on counter, and four million vials on cards.

Sales associates will don a red scarf inspired by the Flair dress.

“There is a core belief that the Revlon brand is able to be leveraged into tangential markets,” said Bill Chappell, an analyst with SunTrust Robinson Humphrey Capital Markets. He added that Elizabeth Arden’s power play with its Britney Spears scents likely caught Revlon’s attention. “The success of Britney Spears has made Arden more important to department stores.”

The effort comes on the heels of two major mass-market initiatives, the overhaul of Almay and the introduction of a cosmetics brand for mature women called Vital Radiance.

Last year, Revlon spent $62 million in start-up costs associated with Almay and Vital Radiance.

“Revlon is spending on all fronts,” said Chappell, referring to Flair and its mass-market efforts. “This is a transition year,” he noted, adding that Revlon likely expects to see the margin gains in 2007 and 2008.

But as the company pursues a more premium positioning in the mass market, with brands like Vital Radiance, the move into prestige could act as a bridge for more initiatives tailored to department stores, noted Mottus.

Wood said its focus at the moment is squarely on building a prestige fragrance business, but that the company keeps all opportunities on its radar screen. “We think Revlon can play in many different areas,” he said.

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