Reentering the Fray: Revlon Plans Return To Prestige Fragrances
By Molly Prior

NEW YORK — After a decade's absence, Revlon will step back into the hotly contested department store fragrance market.

Revlon, one of the pillars of the mass channel, is expected to announce today that it will launch a prestige fragrance in department stores this summer. More fragrance brands are being planned, the company added. Revlon's point of entry into the prestige realm puts it in the center of one of beauty's most competitive and launch-riddled categories. Only time will tell whether the company is stepping into a rose garden or a lion's den.

"It could have a very large impact," said Rochelle Bloom, president of the Fragrance Foundation. Referring to Revlon's historic successes with fragrances like Charlie and the company's subsequent retreat from the prestige market in the mid-Nineties, Bloom said, "They've waited a long time to return, so they will be able to do it by drawing on all the past achievements."

Revlon is also expected to make a large competitive splash in a category that is already overcrowded by giants seeking to gobble up market share with swarms of new product launches.

The beauty company has entered a multiyear deal with Gemini Cosmetics Inc. to act as Revlon's domestic sales representative and to provided related services for the prestige channel.

"We are pleased to be launching our prestige fragrance business with Gemini Cosmetics," Revlon president and chief executive officer Jack Stahl said in a statement. "Gemini's strong track record of success within the prestige landscape will be a tremendous asset to Revlon as we continue to develop and position our fragrance portfolio for future growth."

Gemini ceo Neil Katz added: "With its visionary leadership, universal awareness and strong brand imagery, Revlon is well positioned to be an influential player in the prestige fragrance marketplace."

The company would not comment on its upcoming plans, but industry sources have said the first fragrance will be called Flair.

The effort marks Revlon's return to an arena that it has been credited with helping to found with the 1973 launch of Charlie, a liberated scent for women that kicked off lifestyle marketing. Revlon also launched the first American designer fragrance in the form of Norell in 1969. Charlie's advertisements, like the scent, caused a sensation. They were the first in the industry to feature a woman wearing pants rather than a skirt or dress.

Industry sources estimated that at its peak, Charlie had a wholesale volume of around $85 million.

When Revlon began to lose ground in department stores, it moved its cosmetics and fragrance business to the mass channel.

Sales of Charlie began to erode by late Eighties, falling to $45 million by 1995.

During this time its fragrance business included 10 brands, including Charlie, Ciara, Jean Naté, Jontue and Ajee.

Throughout the mid-Nineties, Revlon attempted to revive the Charlie brand with flanker scents, like Charlie Red. It also was the first to launch a Nautica fragrance.

Revlon's prestige strategy comes after three years of meticulous house cleaning and brand repositioning by Stahl, who has been promising to crank up the company's sputtering innovation machine. Perhaps the first major move was the launch of Almay Intense I-Color in 2005. This year the company is gearing up for an even more ambitious mass market statement with a new brand called Vital Radiance that is reaching out to women over 50, a new marketing frontier for the mass market. It is also revamping the entire Almay brand. The effort includes expanded skin care offerings, including an antiaging and sun care line.

Industry sources expect the two mass market initiatives to have a retail sales impact of $180 million in 2006.

The beauty firm's agreement with Gemini excludes Revlon's current mass fragrances, namely Jean Nate and Charlie.