Cosmetics queen Estee Lauder opened the doors Thursday of a chic boutique filled with her pricey line of makeup and perfumes, but there was some question about whether Soviet women had enough dollars for her scents.
Company officials said they would sell ordinary Soviet women American-style cosmetics at American-sized prices, a tall challenge in a nation where the average Soviet salary rarely tops $245 a month.
A tube of lipstick can go for $15 in New York. A quarter ounce of the company's White Linen perfume can sell for $55.
Still, there was no shortage of curious customers on opening day.
The ceremony at No. 6 Gorky Street in the center of Moscow, two blocks from the Kremlin, attracted dozens of passers-by who were kept behind police barricades as Mrs. Lauder and Nanuli Shevardnadze, the wife of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, cut the ribbon.
Well-dressed Soviet women later packed the shop, the latest curiosity in a country that prides itself on its egalitarian principles.
Mrs. Lauder told the crowd gathered outside the store that the women of Moscow are already beautiful and "we are going to keep every woman beautiful."
As an afterthought, she added, "we are going to keep the men beautiful, too," with sales of men's after shaves and colognes.
Company President Leonard Lauder, Mrs. Lauder's son, said the company is selling its products for dollars to the Moscow City Council and the Soviet Ministry of Trade, which in turn are selling the cosmetics to Soviets for rubles.
The shop itself is owned and operated by the City Council and the ministry. The Soviet staff was trained by Estee Lauder personnel, he said.
He said Estee Lauder products have been available in Moscow for about 10 years, but only in special shops for foreigners and joint ventures accepting only hard currency.
"We want to sell to ordinary Soviet people," Leonard Lauder said. "We will charge about what you would pay in New York."
Mrs. Lauder also said the prices would be about the same.
For tourists, shopping at Estee Lauder will be a better deal. At the official rate, the ruble is worth $1.62, but under new regulations for tourists and other foreigners, the value of a ruble is only 16 cents, which will make the Estee Lauder shop a bargain for foreigners.
Thus, for an American tourist, eye liner that could be purchased for six rubles would be the equivalent of 96 cents. Of course, that's if the foreigner wanted to brave the long line.
Mrs. Lauder said: "Every woman and every man can come to my shop. It doesn't cost much; cosmetics go a long way," she said.
The idea to open a shop for Soviet people came during a visit by Raisa Gorbachev, the wife of the Soviet president, to Mrs. Lauder in New York during a trip in 1988, Lauder officials said.