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You Can Look, but You Really Should Touch


Already a hit in New York, French cosmetics retailer Sephora has landed on the West Coast, opening a store in South Coast Plaza last week.

For the beauty product-obsessed, Sephora is a bonanza. The minimalist, 5,000-square-foot space is chock-full of cosmetics, perfume, skin care and bath products all ready for hands-on testing. And, with lines like Nars, Hard Candy, Vincent Longo, Shu Uemura and Stila conveniently located in one place, comparison shopping is a breeze.

Sephora also makes its own lipstick in 365 shades. Colors are displayed in a rainbow of hues, from lightest to darkest, so finding the perfect berry has never been easier. Each shade comes as a matte, satin or gloss for $9.

The other specialty of the house is fragrance: The store has hundreds. Men's and women's fragrances are arranged alphabetically, from CK Calvin Klein to Joy, from Herrera to Tiffany's Trueste. There's even a top-10 fragrance wall with the month's bestsellers. (November's winners are L'Eau d'Issey for women and Calvin Klein's Contradiction for men.)

For fun, a fragrance "organ" is stocked with 300 scents to try on tester sticks. Choices include finished fragrances (Clinique's Happy and Polo Sport, for example), notes that make up fragrances (such as jasmine and rose), and "life scents," like wet soil, Vicks Vapor Rub, saddle and beach. Scents at the fragrance organ are not for sale but, rather, for customers to discover their likes and dislikes.

Several skin-care lines are featured in a "treatment library," including Comfort Zone and Natureopathica, which are exclusive to Sephora. But instead of being grouped under the company name, products are showcased according to needs--dry skin, oily skin, age control, etc. Prices are prominently displayed, so you don't find out too late the moisturizer you want is $85 an ounce.

Sephora's own line of bath products, L'Art du Bain, rounds out the selection of goodies. Shower and bath gels, bath beads, salts, soaps and room sprays are offered in tasty flavors like Marine Pacific and Clementine (24 in all). Potpourri comes in unusual varieties such as scented minerals and passion flowers, and the brilliantly colored transparent candles are fabulous.

Sephora is currently the leading chain of perfume and cosmetics stores in France, and one of the largest in Europe. The company arrived in the U.S. in the summer, opening its first stores in New York. Stores will continue to open across the U.S., with a goal of 200 outlets in the U.S. by 2000, said Sherry Baker, vice president of marketing.

The company sets itself apart from other bath and body shops by emphasizing its hands-on, unpressured, self-service shopping environment.

"We aren't about product with purchase," Baker said. "We want people to feel that this is their beauty laboratory."

Sephora, South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., First Level, Carousel Court, Costa Mesa. (714) 429-9130.

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