Bloomingdale’s Francine Klein, EVP/GMM of Fashion Accessories, Intimate Apparel, Cosmetics and Fine Jewelry, oversees much of the store’s most desirable categories, including shoes, handbags, intimate apparel and fine jewelry. But when she talks about beauty, another category under her domain, her face lights up. Walking with her through the vast Bway department at the New York flagship, her zeal about the store’s brands and its airy, sleek beauty floor (modernized in October 2009) is simply palpable.

Of course, the fact that the retailer’s beauty business is very healthy doesn’t hurt when it comes to building enthusiasm. “We’re really seeing a great balance in the business, in terms of the fragrance business being strong, the treatment business being strong and the color business being strong. It’s really a unique moment in time, at least since I’ve been doing this, where all of the categories are very healthy.”

While the three big categories are doing well (fragrance, skin care and color cosmetics) fragrance is particularly thriving, Francine said. “A lot of it is newness, but for the first time in a long time, in conjunction with the newness is a very strong return to classics within the brands,” Francine explained. “Some customers are coming back to the classic fragrances because they just resonate with them.” Fragrance
“wardrobing” could also be contributing to sales, Francine surmised. “There’s a whole combination of scents and layerings—and it’s beyond a single brand that’s expanding to different lifestyles. For some customers, it’s not just one fragrance that they stick with. They’re much more experimental.”

Fragrances that are doing particularly well include Tom Ford’s line, as well as classics such as Flower Bomb and Angel. Also strong are Chanel fragrances, which at the New York City flagship are sold in a unique “Espace” area—opened three months ago, and Chanel’s only mini-boutique along those lines in the U.S.—where customers are invited to sit down and have an in-depth consultation with a fragrance specialist. Not surprisingly, Francine has high hopes for this fall’s launch from Chanel, Coco Noir. Other fragrances she’s excited for in the back half of the year include Marc Jacobs’ Dot, DK Woman and Cartier’s Declaration Un Soir for men.

Bloomingdale’s flagship recently introduced another U.S.-exclusive selling space: a unique, interactive Clinique “experience bar”—a test for potential expansion into other stores—that’s a high-tech station for customers to try products and get personalized, computer-generated recommendations. “It’s sort of a play bar,” she said. “You smell it, you feel it, you even hear it, where you can test products, in conjunction with navigation through a computer that can help figure out what the right product is for you.”

On the skincare side, BB creams and gadgets, such as Clarisonic, are selling very well. “The whole technology and high-end skincare treatment businesses will continue to be good for us for fall,” Francine said, adding that she’s particularly excited about offerings from brands such as La Mer, SK II, Chanel and Sisley. “Tools and gadgets are going to be strong—we’re establishing a space dedicated to this area of the business to really pull it all together.”

Makeup is also popular. “Color is doing very well in every aspect, whether it be lip, eye, or nail,” Francine said. “In lip, corals and oranges are very strong from brands such as Trish McEvoy, Laura Mercier and Lancôme. In nail, its lots of different colors, from brands such as Deborah Lippmann, as well as classics from Chanel, Nars, Dior and YSL.”

To ensure sales success, Bloomingdale’s continues to reach out to customers (both existing and new) in a variety of ways. Each season, it offers three or four beauty catalogues, along with newspaper advertising. It’s also been developing a robust clientele program, B Connected, that’s creating detailed customer profiles to enable targeted outreach via phone and/or email. In addition, a busy calendar of in-store beauty events gives customers a reason to keep coming in. “There’s a major event happening on a very frequent basis, whether it’s a master class or a makeup artistry class,” she said. “Having constant energy in the department, education and excitement is something our customer at all ages is reacting to. And when you have an experience in combination with some great technology and/or advice, that really seems to work.”

Alongside healthy brick and mortar sales, Bloomingdale’s has seen major growth in its internet beauty business for the last couple of years. “Online is one of our fastest growing components of our business,” Francine said. “The growth is amazing.” Why?
“Cosmetics is a category of the business that’s a replensihment business so that once you’ve tried something, it’s the convenience you can have. Because it’s replenishment, it enables you to be comfortable to buy on the Internet. And often there’s free shipping, so that takes away the hesitancy for the customer.”

Still, there’s something to be said about the bustle of the retailer’s physical beauty department, in New York and beyond. “The way it looks continues to make it feel very updated, because your impression is that it’s very new,” she observed. “The energy that you feel at 59th Street is something that we’re replicating in a lot of our other stores: the format of it, the way it’s laid out, the brands we’ve pulled together—that’s very Bloomingdale’s—the energy and excitement that we’re trying to communicate to the customers.”