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Sniffing out profits in Chicago by marketing French perfume

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The lines of green and blue contrast boldly with the white background the shop displays. The effect is a pretty one, unassuming yet eye-catching. And unmistakably French.

It is, in essence, a family-run perfume shop that brightens a corridor in the blocky Illinois Center office complex. But the Boutique Dans un Jardin represents a challenge to the traditional perfume industry, not to mention the United States conglomerates busy buying French parfumiers.

For all its charm and simplicity, this small boutique is being applauded all the way back in Paris by economists who worry about the level of French exports.

''We have been trying to find outlets in Chicago for French perfumes - we promote French sales in the Midwest, but it is really difficult. The whole imported perfume industry is located in New York, unfortunately,'' says a representative of the French Trade Commission in Chicago. ''That is why it is so interesting to us to see the opening of a shop for Dans un Jardin.''

This particular Dans un Jardin (In a Garden) is the 15th to open in North America, according to Lucile de Baudry d'Asson, the energetic French countess who launched the firm in Paris in 1978. Since then, more than 100 boutiques and kiosks have been opened by franchisees in France, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, England, Canada, and the United States.

''Americans love boutiques, and one reason that our customers come here is because they like nice design,'' Mme. de Baudry d'Asson says. ''But the success of each shop depends first on our product. It is a complete line of plant-based fragrances, bath products, and accesssories for the home.

''There is a big gap between the popular or cheap fragrances you get across a drugstore counter and the fine, traditional perfumes of Christian Dior or Estee Lauder. Our skin-care line resembles the traditionals, but it is much less expensive, perhaps 40 percent less than Estee Lauder, depending on the product, '' she says.

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