Magical Couture Performers

mcpAccessible, pragmatic, youthful, profitable. These terms have never belonged to the vernacular of the haute couture, the 88-year-old practice that marries Paris’s top creative fashion talent with its most skillful seamstresses, craftsmen and furriers for a price tag that starts at $12,000 and climbs steeply once the embroiderers are called in.

But a gaggle of new names have joined the Paris couturiers’ ranks — seven in 18 months — and there’s a revolution afoot. While none of the newcomers are quite pushing beading while-u-wait, most are trying shortcuts to slash prices and trim the order-to-delivery waiting period from the standard six or eight weeks to something under a month.

“I’m very happy that there are new faces,” says Yves Saint Laurent. When pressed on whether it was a problem that not all of them meet the old standards for couture, he smiled. “That’s what young people are supposed to do, break the rules and do things in a new way. It’s normal.”

“I think exactly as he does,” says Pierre Berge, his business partner. Berge’s most memorable proclamation in recent years has been that couture would die after Saint Laurent, but he seems to be lightening up of late. “I am against the rules and I have nothing against these young people changing things. I am absolutely convinced that this couture that we have known will die and that other forms will grow up in its place.”

At Versace, Donatella Versace plans to select 15 looks from her first couture collection and produce two models of each to be sold at the company’s boutiques worldwide. “Delivery will be 20 days later,” she explains. “That’s the only way to do couture now. You have to give the service. We started this last season and it worked well.”

Mix those notions with a more relaxed approach to receiving clients, and some would say you’ve knocked everything that was ever “haute” out of the couture. Most of the houses, or at least the groups who back them, prize the publicity they receive from the money-losing business of couture more than the clients who buy it. In fact, the media’s growing interest in the once arcane event — ABC will air a two-hour special on this week’s shows on Thursday — has helped attract all the new blood. While the newcomers are certainly not shying away from the cameras, many do not yet have licenses for fragrances or sunglasses and for them, recruiting younger clients is important.

Victoria White O’Gara, a tall, slender, very attractive Californian is in her mid-30s and just the kind of woman they’re looking for. She was front row at Versace on Saturday, her first couture show ever, but she’s been a client for several years and the word is she spends a fortune on fashion.

“I’ve just always loved clothes,” says White O’Gara. She’s also interested in Jean Paul Gaultier and Dior this season, but agrees that when it comes to attaining couture client status, her peers still face a few obstacles. “Women need parties to wear these things to. In California, it looks out of place to be dressed like this,” she says, motioning to her blue-green beaded Atelier Versace gown from January. “The big problem is money. You’ve got to have a rich husband or boyfriend to buy.”

The new convenience couture, whether it be a couture jacket mixed with a machine-made skirt or dresses done in advance and fitted locally, would therefore seem to make sense, but it’s kicking up a controversy. Talk of cutting corners inevitably leads to worries about whether labor-intensive couture in any form can withstand the heavy government payroll taxes in France. If the couture dies, the thinking goes, centuries worth of French savoir-faire will be lost and so will France’s fashion hegemony. After weathering an unsuccessful attempt by Hitler to pack all the couturiers off to Berlin in 1940 and the explosion of designer ready-to-wear in 1967 — when the number of houses shriveled overnight from 37 to 19 — can couture accommodate convenience? Surprisingly, it’s not a predictable old guard versus new guard debate.

“There is nothing convenient about couture,” says Givenchy’s 29-year-old Alexander McQueen, whose provocative designs have sent some of the house’s old clients running scared. McQueen has just been working on a bustier in sterling silver fabric which, like many of his imaginative creations, is best cleaned by hand with a Q-tip. “The princesses, the elite that buy couture, they don’t want convenience,” he says. “They know that couture is the most luxurious thing one can have in clothing.”

But if the client is queen, and the queen is in a hurry and doesn’t care if an inner seam was stitched by hand, shouldn’t a house do her bidding? McQueen looks annoyed. “That is just disrespectful to the people who do couture. Couture is about workmanship and the customers have got to have respect for the craftsmen,” he says. “You can’t just send things and say `do it’ as if they were shop assistants taking orders; they are the most fantastic artisans of their kind. In couture, it takes two to tango.”

No one speaks more reverently about French craftsmen than Christian Lacroix, whose name is synonymous with elaborate fashion. But he says he’s on the fence when it comes to convenience. “I’m not against Couture Lite — mentalities have to evolve,” he says.”Convenience couture, even if I don’t practice it, makes some sense. A pant is a pant. When the jacket is very elaborate, you need a simple skirt. It could be made elsewhere. We have to find new recipes if we want the couture to be alive for the next millennium.”

Lacroix recalls a recent fitting for his friend, the French singer Mireille Mathieu. “She, like everyone, pays, because I’ve always said we were too young to give anything away. I can’t remember the price of the simple skirt, but we did it by hand to go with the embroidered jacket. With the same money I would have preferred that she had a skirt made by machine and two embroidered dresses.”

Purists don’t share his view. “Even a simple skirt should be beautifully done. If it’s a suit, it has to be the same hand doing the whole thing,” insists Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld. “Couture should be one piece. Otherwise it’s expensive ready-to-wear and it already exists.” In fact, Lagerfeld says that couture-like elements have existed for years at rtw’s most rarefied levels. “I don’t see the difference between what they’re doing and what Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons are doing. For me, what they [Yamamoto and Comme designer Rei Kawakubo] do is real couture. And I know because I have photographed Yohji’s work.” And the gray area between couture and rtw is expanding fast. There are rumblings among even the high volume rtw companies about doing made-to-measure. Miuccia Prada has designed dresses for Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore and Winona Ryder for special events. Although a spokeswoman for the house denied that Prada has actually made any made-to-measure dresses for its less famous clients, some customers reportedly have been told it might be possible in the future. Prada declined to comment.

“Let’s not talk about couture, let’s talk about fashion,” urges Lagerfeld. “Some of the prestigious names were couture but they were about hideous dresses that had nothing to do with fashion and this was bad publicity for French fashion. You tell me Prada is doing semi-couture or whatever they will call it, and it’s interesting because it is fashion and people will want it,” he says.

At Valentino, Giancarlo Giammetti says he’s unsure what to do when the designer retires. “I don’t have the answer yet. I’m not so blind and egocentric as to say the couture will die when Valentino is gone,” he says thoughtfully. “I can imagine that a good group of designers could carry on with a new couture — six of the same dress made only for you. Of course they would be made by hand, but they would gain speed by getting rid of all the fittings. It’s all about the planning.”

At Dior, John Galliano’s extravagant presentations have been essential to reviving couture. “My team at Dior, we’ve made couture very fashionable to women,” Galliano says. “I think the whole idea of service — the opposite of those faceless stores — is the way to go for the 21st century.” He says the new interest in couture and all its derivatives simply indicates that women are finally catching up with the services available to men for decades. “Men like having a shirt made and it really doesn’t cost that much more. Women should have more possibilities.”

Dior is controlled by Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, which includes Lacroix and Givenchy as well as Louis Vuitton, Celine, Kenzo and Galliano, all of which do rtw but not couture. Asked about whether some of those brands might one day offer made-to-measure, Arnault says: “Why not? What’s important is creativity, not whether it’s couture or rtw or something in-between.” Adds Daniel Piette, the president of the LVMH fashion division: “The question of made-to-measure is one that is under debate in our houses. One could imagine that one day some of these brands might offer such a service.”

Made-to-measure by Prada would probably be more streamlined than the traditional couture fittings, but Lagerfeld thinks the women who can pay might miss the ordering process that can fill an afternoon and the follow-up fittings — usually there are at least two. “Couture is for women who come for the package deal — having the fittings, being pampered, receiving their dress in a special packaging that is more beautiful than the ready-to-wear.

“OK, maybe the whole thing is a little chichi, a little demode, but they adore it,” Lagerfeld continues. “For them it’s an achievement that they can buy couture. Couture is not for women who have to get a dress.”

Ocimar Versolato, a Brazilian who recently got backing from a Brazilian industrial group Pessoa de Queiroz, launched his couture business with a show on the Place Vendome on Saturday. His cocktail dresses start at $3,000 and evening can run to $20,000 and though Versolato is a believer in handmade, he says what’s archaic is the traditional process of working up toiles, the cotton canvas versions of each couture garment that are fitted and tinkered with before the real fabric is cut. “In the past, the fabric was expensive and the labor was relatively inexpensive,” he says, sitting in his sleek marble salon. “Today it’s just the opposite. For many pieces — but never the mousseline which must be worked out on a stiff fabric — I prefer to cut directly on the fabric, even if we waste some.”

Jean Paul Gaultier president Donald Potard says his house, which presented its fourth couture collection on Sunday, tried shortcuts, but they didn’t work out. “In the beginning we thought some of it could be done by machine, but from the first season we realized that the result was not the same, the hand was not the same and we abandoned that approach and we went to something that was more traditional, more qualitative.” He’s says he’s delighted with how it’s going: The house is spending $2 million to produce and show couture each year, but he figures that, press and TV combined, the house has raked in $40 million in publicity. Plus, he says the couture has raised Gaultier’s profile and even boosted his growing company’s credit line at the banks. Still, the house wants to keep its prices lower than those at the more established houses — Gaultier couture suits start at $10,000 compared to $18,000 for those at Lacroix, so Potard moved to Plan B and focused on controlling costs. “We think about the price as we go,” he says, suggesting that at Chanel and Dior there are no price constraints.

One of the complaints that the established houses make against the newcomers is that they reap the publicity of their couturier status but dodge the rules laid out in a 1945 Ministry of Industry decree controlling the number of full-time hands a house must have on staff and the minimum number of models that must be presented each season. Asked about the “rules,” new Chambre Syndicale president Didier Grumbach takes a deep breath to explain and then stops: “They’re inoperative so why even bother. If a new house started with those rules today they would be dead immediately.”

Lacroix’s business partner Jean-Jacques Picart has been dining out on a tale of a wedding dress for a bride from the provincial city of Nancy that’s hanging in the atelier. “It’s shiny, it’s got metallic pieces and they said she was going for something `futurist.”‘ Picart recounts. Wondering aloud why the bride hadn’t gone to Mugler, he was told that in fact she started there. “They didn’t want to do it because it was a girl from Nancy and it cost too much money to hire the hands, so they sent her here,” Picart says. His point is that Lacroix and LVMH are subsidizing couture.

“That’s ridiculous,” says Grumbach, who recently stepped down as president of Mugler to take the Chambre post. “These houses have a few dozen women buying regularly. There are thousands of women who can buy a couture dress for one occasion and a young house can’t serve the mall. When Mr. Ungaro started out they were four in the workroom and he did the deliveries himself and he was forced to send clients away too.”

The new couturiers may be skimping on workers, but they’re exploring innovative ways to tackle the couture. Thierry Mugler, for example, has been working with computer graphics companies to simulate not only a woman’s body, but the movement of different kinds of fabric on-screen.

And any discussion of cost issues inevitably turns to embroidery. “Mr. Lessage does fantastic work but his bills are enough to give you a heart attack,” says Potard. He speaks from experience: Lessage’s studio was behind the show-stopping beaded tartan skirts and also microbeaded tapestry patchwork jackets at Gaultier’s show on Sunday and Francois Lessage was front-row. Lessage is the best-known of a group of French embroiderers and his handiwork this season also will turn up at Dior and at Chanel, but don’t look for his work in Oscar de La Renta’s collection for Balmain. De la Renta, the only American among the 24 couturiers showing in Paris, sold enough dresses last season, according to Balmain executives, to place him, along with YSL and Chanel, among the bestselling couturiers. In addition to his designs and his insight into exactly what kind of clothes his wealthy clientele needs — he and his wife Annette spend time with many of them — part of his formula was to knock down the price by sending out to India for embroidery. “If I do an embroidered dress I would love to be able to sell it.” de la Renta says. “If the embroidery alone costs $40,000, I will not,” he explains in the vast, white salon at Balmain. “I do work a lot with India, but let me tell you, the Paris embroidery houses do too.”

Nothing illustrates the way the couture is changing better then to linger in the salons of one of the established houses then stop by Josephus Thimister’s cramped two-room workroom-salon-cabine in the Marais. At Lacroix there’s a spacious reception room with thick carpets and specially commissioned sofas and chairs. There are armfuls of fresh flowers and assistants offer coffee in the service Lacroix designed for Christofle. But at Thimister’s, some 15 pattern cutters and seamstresses jockey for space on makeshift work tables and a noisy Singer whirs in the background. The model changes behind a closet door and then sidesteps litter on the floor — discarded patterns, plastic wrapping — to begin the fitting.

Almost all the assistants appear to be under 40 and the scene is reminiscent of the night before the school play. “Some of them volunteer at night. They want to have a couture experience,” says Thimister. The former Balenciaga designer consults for a large Belgium clothing manufacturer to help scrape together the more than $300,000 needed to put on the couture show. “Some people have a nice car, we have a couture collection,” Thimister says.

His poetic presentation on Monday had the the audience rifling the program notes to decipher the fabrics — black paper leather, wax-colored latex and sometimes the canvas the other couturiers use as their toile. Many pieces are priced around $6,000. At a fitting, he tugged at an unfinished black silk crepe skirt on a hanger. “Often we think this is more beautiful than the final dress,” he says. “It’s all about the inside work, putting little strips of organza in. Honestly, I think it is more beautiful like this than if it is finished on the outside.”

For many in the establishment, the biggest threat is not the newcomers, but the so-called couturieres de dimanche, the skilled French seamstresses who knock off name designers. “We have to find clues to be competitive with these couturieres,” says Lacroix. “I hate bourgeois weddings, these horse races with all the little hats. And I’d prefer to see the magazines filled with things from Monsieur Sirop and Mr. Thimester, who have some ideas, than these little couturieres.”

No wonder the houses, established and new couture alike, are doing their best to recruit new customers. Several have taken on young people to do public relations. Versace is even thinking of inviting a young group in New York to come to the boutique for a special couture show. And Valentino invites “young friends” in post-season to buy up the leftover couture pieces at rock-bottom prices. But it won’t be easy, says Valentino’s Giammetti. “If you are used to the Gap, then it will be hard to adjust to couture prices.”

Couture Hits Home In Paris

chhipVALENTINO: Serenity? At the couture? It’s almost become an oxymoron. But it has found an imposing, if unlikely, champion in Valentino and, in the collection he showed on Sunday night, he made an alluring case for it.

Having forsaken the ways of overstated glitz — at least for the moment — Valentino preached a gospel of artistic discretion, one that still left plenty of room for the well-placed flight of fancy. And for the most part, it looked great.

This collection marked the completion of a significant shift in Valentino’s approach to couture. A year ago, he flaunted the glitz, the fur and the feathers to a near-camp degree, while last spring, he transmuted his embellishment enzymes into a more graceful bohemian juice. Now, he is asking his Ladies to embrace — mon Dieu — an even greater sense of discretion. Would Valentino lead them astray? You can bet your hand-jeweled stilettos not. He might want them to tone down the voltage, but that doesn’t mean they’ll surrender an ounce of the glam they covet.

Valentino made his point from the start, opening the show with a statement of drop-dead chic: Subtle or not, these clothes pack quite a punch, coming at you in head-to-toe winter white. The coats, suits and dresses were detailed with embroidered or perforated geometric motifs. Such geometry, from triangular seaming to the square jeweled handbags, was one of the collection’s key themes. In lieu of the more expected sparkling flora and fauna, this cleaner approach fused the right touch of artsiness with a smart modernity.

Valentino showed a softer side in gentle dresses and skirts, often with patchwork patterns. And even when he did something that sounds over-the-top — a gold lace coat, for example — he made it seem as effortless as a breeze. If along the way one could sense the occasional faint reference, no matter; Valentino’s savvy perspective is nothing if not worldly, distilled from all sorts of influences.

The weakness came at night, perhaps the result of the same restraint that made the rest of the collection work: except for a slinky velvet cowl dress, the killer evening pieces everyone expects from Valentino weren’t there. And they were missed — even though the collection was a hit.

CHRISTIAN DIOR: One of the great things about being in Paris for couture is that political correctness goes out the floor-to-ceiling window. And nobody gives it the old heave-ho like John Galliano. Take, for example, his latest extravaganza — a ride on the “Diorient Express,” which shuttled that great heroine of Native American lore, Princess Pocahontas, across Europe.

When Princess Pokey (by the way, many of the non-Americans in the audience didn’t have a clue) arrived by train, a pair of protectors preceded her onto the platform — young, virile braves, done up in major feathers and warpaint, who whooped it up with their war hoots like nobody’s been able to do on the States side of the Atlantic in years.

A great opening act for the high theater that was to follow. But while it may be a little dicey to seek metaphor in the goings-on at a Galliano show, there is one to be found: John Galliano simply refuses to buckle under pressure. He won’t go p.c. Season after season, he faces a singular criticism: Where are the clothes? You know, John, the real clothes, the buy ‘em, hang ‘em, wear ‘em clothes? And season after season, he sticks to his guns — or bows and arrows, depending upon his mood of the moment. He does what his gut and his wildly wandering imagination tell him to do.

This season, the disassociation from reality was epic, even by Galliano standards, and it disturbed and even angered many in the audience. In place of clothes for the here-and-now, Galliano offered a stunningly gorgeous production that saw Pocahontas wrapped in one intricately patterned embroidered blanket after another, and then cast her in all sorts of Shakespearean roles clad in the stuff of paintings and those early BBC miniseries.

Ridiculous or not? The debate rages on. But even from among the waistcoats, the doublets, the balloon dresses and coats, there was real news. First, Galliano dreamt up a reverie of color — strong, joyous and daring. And he introduced some new shapes. The balloons, while utterly theatrical, point to a new, substantial A-line silhouette. Galliano also made a significant pitch for the return of the micro-mini in sexy, skinny suits, and he showed a really retro evening shape — an Elizabethan silhouette with a natural waist and gentle skirt, cut from sturdy fabrics. A hard sell, perhaps, but then, let’s not forget all those naysayers who pooh-poohed Galliano’s bias binge: That look has become the Levis of the party circuit.

If only John would throw us a few crumbs — a few more realistic jackets, skirts and pants — the results could be not only amazing but more approachable, as well. And he could do it without surrendering a bit of the showmanship so instrinisic to his nature. Otherwise, all his glorious indulgence might do for him what it did for Marie Antoinette — and that would be a tragedy, not only for Galliano himself, but for Paris and all of fashion.

EMANUEL UNGARO: Showmanship isn’t for everyone. Certainly not Emanuel Ungaro — even if he is dressing Sharon Stone for an upcoming film. In fact, these days Ungaro is in a particularly mellow mood. In the couture collection he showed on Monday, that mood translated into an au courant chic, one that balanced sophistication with a newfound ease.

“The collection is very pure in a way,” Ungaro said before the show.”Nothing is overdone.” He then instructed a model to relax her runway walk. “Be fatigue. You have to show your soul, not your body.” Fatigue? No, these clothes were anything but tired. Instead, they exuded a refreshing attitude of contentment, and what they may have lost in exoticism they more than made up for in their new, younger spirit.

Key to it all is Ungaro’s embrace of discretion, starting with the dearth of prints. Instead of piling pattern upon pattern, he now lets textures do the talking, mixing all sorts of lavish fabrics tone-on-tone, usually in shades of gray — tweeds, cashmeres, laces, embroideries. And, taking a page from his own archives, he focused on the unconstructed jacket, cut to perfection but devoid of internal structure and easy as a cardigan. These came long and short, shapely and linear, worn over easy dresses or Ungaro’s favorite pants, cut wide and cropped above the ankle — a sounder choice than the harem pants, the show’s only real faux pas.

At night, there were no major surprises. Nevertheless, Ungaro often managed to infuse the gowns — elaborate webs of laces, and tulle, flounces and feathers — with a subtle sense of mystery.

JEAN-LOUIS SCHERRER: With new designer Stephane Rolland creating both the couture and ready-to-wear, the house of Jean-Louis Scherrer was back on the fall couture calendar after skipping the spring season. Rolland, who came to Scherrer at the beginning of this year, replacing Bernard Perris, didn’t stage a couture revolution. He did show, however, that he can cut an evening gown for the woman who wants to make an entrance. Strong points included a backless velvet sheath or the silver embroidered bronze lace dress worn under a hand-painted velvet coat. But Rolland got carried away with heavy-handed ballgowns in satin duchesse and zibeline, as well as with a black gazar bubble.

Fine Fragrances Change To Survive

ffctLeonard Lauder, chairman and chief executive officer of the market-leading Estee Lauder Cos., has no trouble pinpointing what’s ailing the crucial fine fragrance business. In fact, he needs only one word to describe most department store presentations: “Boring.”

“The fragrance bar has not shown the vitality that it has in the past,” he said, underscoring the need for “a more exciting presentation” as the industry heads into what some executives see as a pivotal year.

Lauder ticked off a number of experimental initiatives already under way, including the U.S. rollout of the French perfumery chain Sephora, which “is not big enough yet, but it’s out there enough to raise concerns of department stores.”

One of the most encouraging developments came from May Department Stores, which launched four prototype fragrance shops. Federated Department Stores is contemplating a pilot retail format to compete with Sephora on the West Coast. Another move has come from Lauder, with the rollout of 10 Tommy’s Shops, stocked with Tommy Hilfiger toiletries.

In addition, Bloomingdale’s began experimenting with open-sell self- service merchandising in its California branches and then showcased the approach with the renovation of its flagship here in late October. Macy’s West is also expected to make full use of open-sell with the redo of its San Francisco flagship in the fall.

But while these developments may seem encouraging, Lauder’s patience apparently is wearing thin. “I am not waiting for the market to straighten itself out,” he said, and without offering details, vowed to take a strong hand in finding a solution.

Arie Kopelman, president and chief operating officer of Chanel Inc., saw 1998 as a year in which the business-as-usual approach got swept away by “a sea change of emotional thought process.”

Consumers have become choosier and less impulsive. “It’s a tighter filtration,” Kopelman. “People have started to think not about what they want, but what they need.”

This shift in mind-set was triggered by a confluence of developments – – the overseas financial meltdown, the “yo-yo” fluctuations of the domestic stock market and the whole casualization of American lifestyle, where dress-down Friday has extended to an entire week and consumers are more concerned with quality, rather than quantity, of living.

What this will mean for marketers, Kopelman continued, is that “inventive bold strokes” will be required — no more flying on automatic pilot. Companies will have to take a hard look at the advantages of pricing, merchandising will be an issue and competition will be fierce.

One executive who is looking forward to toasting the millennium is Robert Brady, president and chief executive officer of Christian Dior Perfumes Inc.

A year ago, he took over a Dior beset with problems involving distribution and promotion and began chipping away. Brady said he expected a difficult Christmas and that’s what materialized. Although it’s been a tough year for women’s fragrances, Brady has had the added burden of having to mop up merchandise seepage into the gray market.

“The fragrance business has not been good,” Brady said, “and mine is worse than the norm.”

He sees the entire department store fragrance business sinking into a downward spiral. The erosion of manufacturers’ margins, caused partly by chronic overpromotion, has led to diminished activity and hence slowing sales.

“You have to go back to the basics,” he said, noting that the industry must focus on developing widely acceptable fragrances and sampling them incessantly.

For next year, Brady is shooting for gains in his fragrance business as high as 5 percent. Color cosmetics and skin care, however, are a far rosier picture, where Dior is “outperforming the category” with strong double-digit gains. Brady is looking for more of the same next year in the 20 percent range for color and treatment.

Peter England, president and ceo of Elizabeth Arden, sees a low-growth year ahead, with retail gains held to 2 to 3 percent for the prestige beauty industry.

Arden has what England described as a “strong momentum” created by a double-digit growth of more than 10 percent at retail for the holiday season.

Part of the increase was generated by a revamped promotional format, typified by the “pick your own” gwp dividend and a new “Buy One Get One Free” program that will begin after Christmas.

Guy Peyrelongue, president and ceo of Cosmair, said the company’s plan for 1999 is a continuation of this year’s strategy: new products, more advertising and less promotion. The goal? Double-digit growth for all divisions, from Lancome to Redken.

“People say next year should be a little tougher than this year, but our destiny is in our hands,” he said. Launches next year will include the new fragrance duo from Emporio Armani and a new introduction from Ralph Lauren. Peyrelongue would not comment, but it has been reported that Cosmair is working on a color cosmetics line for Ralph Lauren. Peyrelongue predicted that tough times are ahead for the mass side of the business, as new brands make their debuts. “But if people spend more money in advertising,” he said, “it makes the market more active and grows the market.”

And Peyrelongue would like to see a lot less promotion in 1999. “Two of our latest launches, Acqua di Gio for men and Ralph Lauren Romance, we’ve done without gift-with-purchase and purchase-with-purchase, and they’ve been extremely successful,” he said.

Marjorie Wollan, president and ceo of Guerlain Inc., also is feeling optimistic. The fragrance house’s signature scent, Shalimar, is performing more strongly than ever, she noted, and the makeup side of the company has had “a fabulous year.”

Although the company’s advertising budget is not finalized yet, Wollan said Guerlain will spend 20 percent more on ads next year than it did this year.

As for the general health of the industry in 1999, the overproliferation of brands concerns Wollan. “I think the consumer is completely confused by the number of makeup artist lines,” she said.

She also said retailers are a bit too smitten with what’s new. “They are giving space and location to these new brands, but they really get saddled with a lot of inventory if the products don’t sell through.”

Camille McDonald, president and ceo at Parfums Givenchy Inc., also is looking forward to the new year, especially when it comes to changes at the fragrance bar.

“It’s healthy for the category,” said McDonald. “It’s been a long time since the fragrance bar was destination shopping on the main floor.”

McDonald contended that classic brands will thrive in open-sell. “With the open-sell alphabetical setups, you’re not as much a slave to corporate clout as you are to the alphabet,” she said. “When marketed correctly, you can take seven- and 10-year-old brands and achieve double-digit increases.”

However, she noted that service can’t slip as companies move toward open-sell. “If we are going to maintain our ability to do multiple transactions, then we’re going to have to have service that will educate the consumer,” she said. “Without that, our business will suffer.”

Coming off a robust year in which mass cosmetics sales climbed 13.8 percent to $2.9 billion at retail, beauty marketers are predicting another healthy year in 1999. Two major cosmetics launches — color cosmetics from Oil of Olay and Neutrogena — plus increased promotional activity by existing players is expected to further expand the category.

George Fellows, president and ceo of Revlon Inc., said, “Nineteen ninety-nine will bring significant global challenges, particularly in view of the widely varying economic conditions that exist throughout the world. The changing trade patterns, as well as the rapid expansion of the self-select marketplace, create enormously positive business opportunities for Revlon, however.”

“I definitely expect to see some real, significant growth in the next 12 months,” said Marc Pritchard, general manager and vice president of cosmetics at Procter & Gamble, whose brands include Max Factor, Cover Girl and the new Oil of Olay line, which will roll out this spring.

“There is unprecedented activity,” he said. “Cosmetics are really becoming ubiquitous. It is everywhere a consumer shops.”

P&G is optimistic about its own brands. With the new Oil of Olay color cosmetics, P&G hopes to rank among the top five mass lines by yearend. For Max Factor, which was repositioned this year as a brand for movie lovers, and Cover Girl, which will emphasize color promotions and heavily support a mascara relaunch next year, Pritchard anticipates sales could grow “in the high single digits to low double digits.”

Joseph Campinell, president of L’Oreal Retail, believes the total mass cosmetics market could expand another eight to 10 percent in 1999. “The category is quite healthy, and it is a reflection of the number of new product initiatives and a continued interest in color at both the older end of the market as well as a strong middle group.”

Next year, “I think we will see strong performances out of the foundation and lip segments, perhaps a little less in nail,” said Campinell.

Meanwhile, the mass fragrance business is also looking up. Continued efforts to strengthen core brands, along with the further development of alternative fragrance and bath and body lines, are expected to perk up the category next year.

“In traditional fragrance in the mass market, I think we will see growth, said Eric Thoreux, president of Coty Inc. “Our sell-through data for Christmas has already trended slightly higher than last year.”

Coty intends to reinforce its core franchise through line extensions and strengthened media support, said Thoreux.

Also planned for next year is a new traditional fragrance brand, designed to target an untapped market for the company, said Thoreux.

Fragrance plans at Renaissance Cosmetics are following a similar course. Emphasis is on its core brands, with fewer promotions planned, which typically bring in narrower margins.

Hose On Sale!

hosKayser-Roth Corp., the world’s second-largest hosiery maker, is on the selling block.

The company is expected to be sold within six months, according to Alfredo Fernandez, an associate at Morgan Stanley Realty Corp., which is handling the sale.

“We’re in the process of selling the subsidiaries of Grupo Synkro, including Kayser-Roth,” he said.

Fernandez declined to name the interested parties or to outline their offers. Kevin Toomey, president and chief executive officer of Kayser-Roth, could not be reached for comment at press time.

Morgan Stanley is reportedly entertaining offers from five companies — two legwear makers and three nonapparel firms, industry sources said. The U.S. hosiery business, which includes No Nonsense and Burlington as well as Calvin Klein sheers and Hue socks and tights, is expected to be sold for about $140 million, sources said. Kayser-Roth is ranked second in the segment, behind Sara Lee Corp., which makes Hanes Hosiery and licensed Donna Karan legwear.

Ithaca Industries is one of the firms being considered, according to James Waller, chairman, president and ceo. He expects to receive a formal decision on the offer within a few weeks.

Ridgeview is also in the running, said Barry Tartarkin, executive vice president.

“We think the sale of Kayser-Roth is going to dramatically change the landscape of the hosiery business in the United States,” he said. “We want to be on the right side of that change.”

Great American Knitting Mills and Alba-Waldensian reportedly also offered bids. Executives at those companies could not be reached for comment.

In 1993, Kayser-Roth was acquired by Legwear Holdings Corp., a holding company controlled by Mexican hosiery producer Grupo Synkro SA de CA and a group of individual Mexican investors. The move nearly tripled the Mexican firm’s business to some $600 million based on the then-more-valuable peso.

At that time, Kayser-Roth’s volume was $350 million, including a retail outlet business that has since been disbanded. Sales today are estimated at between $250 million and $275 million, sources said.

After running into serious financial problems last year, Grupo Synkro was taken over by the Mexican government in an effort to save jobs and keep the company solvent, according to an executive close to the deal.

Grupo Synkro also owns two Argentine pantyhose makers, Revision and Modecraft. Grupo Synkro would prefer to sell its three hosiery businesses — the Argentine and Mexican units and the Kayser-Roth operation — as one entity, according to a bidder who has been eliminated and asked to remain anonymous.

Waller declined to give specifics about his company’s proposal, due to a confidentiality agreement with Morgan Stanley.

“They are adamant about not breaking it up,” he said.

Monday’s news came after months of speculation that Kayser-Roth was up for sale. During May market, Toomey told WWD, “Sometime in the future ownership will change.”

“It certainly doesn’t surprise me, but I’d be hard-pressed to give a reason why,” said Frank Oswald, a consultant for DuPont who has specialized in hosiery for more than 40 years.

“I think it’s a good buy. Kayser-Roth has a strong management team. There is strong equity in the No Nonsense brand, which can be extended into other classifications. Their new products, such as Sheer Endurance, have been successful. Calvin Klein has consistently improved both product and performance in the department store channel. There is knowledge and experience around socks — the growth classification today. It’s a well-balanced and well-managed operation.”

Should a buyer invest in the brand and expand its offerings, the hosiery market as a whole would benefit, Oswald said.

Glamour Let Fuller Shine

glfsThe fashion and beauty pages are where Bonnie Fuller plans to make her mark at Glamour.

In the past, Glamour’s fashion coverage has been, by and large, very accessible. While there will still be that element in the new Glamour, “10 to 15 percent of what we show in the well will be top designer looks. There will be more of a reach,” said Fuller, who has made her debut as editor in chief with the January issue, which hit newsstands this week.

“We do have readers with money to buy it [designer], but it’s a change. Before, Glamour showed 100 percent bridge [sportswear] on down. There was not much room for fantasy before,” she said.

While the new issue has many elements of the magazine’s redesign, the full effects of the fashion and beauty changes won’t be evident until March, she said.

A white Richard Tyler Collection dress is featured on Fuller’s January cover, and a Donna Karan dress will be on February’s. In January’s pages, there’s a full-page Calvin Klein Collection yellow dress.

“It wouldn’t be in Glamour before,” said Fuller, who succeeded longtime editor Ruth Whitney. Other designer lines sprinkled throughout the pages are Chanel, Dries Van Noten and Dolce & Gabbana, as well as Moschino Jeans, Ralph by Ralph Lauren, DKNY Pure, CK Calvin Klein, Gap, Esprit, Diesel, Tommy Jeans and BCBG.

To bring up the level of photography, Fuller said she’s working with such fashion photographers as Robert Erdman, Myers Robertson, Wayne Maser, Walter Chin and Tiziano Magni.

Fuller, who was editor in chief of Cosmopolitan for 1 1/2 years and enhanced the fashion pages while freshening the magazine’s editorial, feels she now has an opportunity to present fashion her way.

“She [the Glamour reader] is much more fashion and beauty motivated than the Cosmo reader, because she’s buying the magazine for fashion and beauty. It’s not a secondary reason to pick up the magazine. At Cosmo, it [fashion and beauty] was a secondary reason. Sex and relationships were the primary reason.”

Fuller’s brief tenure at Cosmo as the much-heralded successor to Helen Gurley Brown was generally perceived as successful; newsstand sales gained 7 percent. So why would she jump ship, from Cosmo’s cash engine to Conde Nast’s cash engine, after only a year and a half?

It wasn’t about size. Cosmo, whose rate base is 2.4 million, generated an estimated $188.5 million in ad revenues in 1997, while Glamour, with a 2 million rate base, did an estimated $137.4 million, according to Publishers Information Bureau.

Word has it that Fuller simply got an offer she couldn’t refuse.

Fuller gulped, then laughed when told of rumors that she may have set a new standard for editorial salaries — $2 million — to make the move. “Fantastic. I wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be in Tahiti,” she joked.

“Money wasn’t really an issue. The motivating factor for me is I really missed doing fashion and beauty to the degree I wanted to do it. You have to accept what your reader wants from a magazine. This is a fashion and beauty magazine, and I wanted to get back into that and work with wonderful photographers and better paper.”

With the March edition, Fuller plans to add about 15 more pages of fashion and beauty, up one-third from a year ago. The magazine also underwent a graphic redesign under creative director Don Robertson and art director Henry Connell.

“We tried to make it look more readable and more accessible and more engaging,” said Fuller, who changed many of the department headings — “Fashion figure it out,” “Chat Room fashion,” “G Things,” “You! You! You! Private Time,” “Glamarazzi” — jazzed up the headlines, did more outdoor shooting for the front-of-the-book sections and tried to make the lighter aspects of the magazine more playful.

Fuller, who has a reputation as an incredibly hard-working and demanding boss who knows exactly what she wants, overhauled the masthead, changing about one-third of the 70-person staff. Several editors left for Redbook, New Woman and other places; others were fired. Fuller brought her fashion director from Cosmo — Enna Halie — with her, along with Robertson and Connell and a few top editors.

One area that was heretofore “a Glamour don’t” under Whitney was celebrity covers. Fuller plans to run several celebrity covers in 1999, but will continue to show models, too. “The magazine has strong newsstand sales without celebrities,” said Fuller, noting the magazine sells a million newsstand copies a month.