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It's the kind of product that could only have come out of a country where wearing parfum is almost a requirement.

With this month's introduction of Le Petit Guerlain in France, Italy and Spain and next month in Japan, the venerable 165-year-old Guerlain becomes the first prestigious fragrance house to put its name on a children's product.

Products in the Le Petit Guerlain line include a baby fragrance, formulated without alcohol, which retails for $32 in the 100 ml size. Eau de toilettes for older children aged 8 to 10 sell for $35 in a 100 ml spray and bottle.

Popular in Japan but shunned in the U.S. and the U.K., fragrances for kids inspires a whiff of controversy even in highly-scented France. But a 20% a year growth rate in the estimated $20 million kids fragrance market in this country plus some export potential is motivating more French perfume marketers to think small.

In one of a stroller-load of new introductions, French perfume marketer Molinard this month included children's versions as part of 16 new toilet waters introduced under its own name. And Shao Ko, a Hong Kong-based perfume marketer and Walt Disney Co. licensee, encouraged by its 22% increase in sales of children's scents last year, is introducing top-of-the-line children's fragrances in France under the Babar et Celeste and Mickey et Minnie names.

Lucrative or not, some beauty industry players say the whole idea of children's fragrances has an unpleasant smell.

"It's not a priority with us," sniffed a spokeswoman for Christian Dior.

Christian Courtins-Clarins, VP-international of Clarins, the French beauty giant, said he was a little bit reluctant to accept the idea.

"There's something that bothers me about it. Perhaps it's because I have children of my own. I prefer the smell of the skin of a kid to the smell of a fragrance," he said.

But Guerlain has no such reservations and working with J. Walter Thompson, Paris, has created a small print ad campaign that broke this month in baby and family-oriented magazines in France. One copy-free ad features a striking photo of a small blue-clad child in a blue room balancing precariously on a toy drum to reach a bottle of Le Petit Guerlain on top of a bureau.

"You have to seduce not just the children but women who will be buying it for gifts," said Beatrice DeLorme, head of marketing at Guerlain, who declined to disclose the ad budget.

While Guerlain will have company in the marketplace, it may be the only marketer to advertise. Givenchy is committed to the category but said it plans only some cosmetic counter displays, handled in-house.

Givenchy was the first to take the children's fragrance category international. In a joint-venture with upmarket French children's clothing marketer Tartine et Chocolat, Givenchy created the market-leading French children's fragrance Tartine et Chocolat in 1987.

The fragrance's quaint name refers to two popular snacks favored by French children, buttered bread and hot chocolate.

Givenchy introduced the children's fragrance in Japan in 1991, and Tartine et Chocolat is already Givenchy's best-selling brand there, according to Pauline Dobbins, product manager. About half of Tartine et Chocolat's 1993 sales of $9 million were outside France, she said. To date, 900,000 Tartine et Chocolat units have been sold worldwide.

Not many were in the U.S., included in the Tartine et Chocolat expansion plan in 1987, or the U.K.

"In France it was an immediate success," Ms. Dobbins said. "It works well in Latin countries but not so well in Anglo-Saxon ones."

After a couple years of lackluster sales, the product was withdrawn in 1991 from both the American and British markets.

Learning from Givenchy's experience, Guerlain's Ms. DeLorme said Le Petit Guerlain will bypass America altogether.

In France, Givenchy is adding three Tartine et Chocolat line extensions, a vaporizer ($35 for 100 milliliters), a bath gel (50 milliliters for $14) and a lip balm (6 milliliters for $7), this month.

According to Ms. Dobbins, the scent is targeted at four-to-six-year old boys and girls, but it purchased primarily for girls.

Givenchy's next move to come next year is to add two new fragrances for children about 9 and 10 years old.

"My question is, who benefits, is it the child or the parent?" asked Maryanne Barone, executive creative director and CEO of The Chelsea Partnership, London, which handles Procter & Gamble's European fragrance business Eurocos.

"The child almost becomes like a scented pillow. It's something for the parents, not the children."

But not everyone agrees. Gloria Page, a young Parisian mother has kept her eight-year-old daughter Julia perfumed in Tartine et Chocolat since receiving a gift set the day of her birth.

Perfume is part of her daily routine, Ms. Page says, and of many of her classmates' as well.

Julia takes a Tartine et Chocolat bubble bath each evening and puts a dab of cologne behind her ears each morning. "It's the last thing she does before going off to school," her mother says. "It's a ritual."

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