Prestige skin-care brands making their way into mass-market retailers

The Borba Collection of skin-care products will debut at Walgreens on Jan. 1.
The Borba Collection of skin-care products will debut at Walgreens on Jan. 1.
Special to the Los Angeles Times

Not so long ago, perusing Lanvin at H&M, Zac Posen and Jean Paul Gaultier at Target and C. Ronson at JCPenney would have seemed like the first indicator of a fashion apocalypse, the stuff of Anna Wintour’s nightmares. Yet since H&M’s 2004 Karl Lagerfeld limited-edition capsule collection launched and sold out within an hour at several locations, a big-name designer’s survival is practically contingent on one such street cred collaboration or lower-priced diffusion line. Presumably, mass-market stores such as Kmart, Kohl’s and the rest need the designers just as much.

It was only a matter of time before the beauty world caught on.

“It’s an oxymoron,” says Scott-Vincent Borba, founder of an eponymous skin-care company. “Ten years ago, a high-end fashion line would be killed dead in the luxury market for even considering a capsule collection. Now that’s totally changed. In beauty, the same thing has to be true.”

Thus, prestige skin-care brands such as Kinerase, Rodial and Borba — formerly found only in top-tier boutiques, in exclusive department stores and on celebrity’s vanities — are taking the plunge into a mass-market pool, swimming alongside plebeians like Nivea, Neutrogena and Olay.


Based in Southern California, Kinerase is certainly top-tier. Browsing the shelves at Sephora, one might notice (and lust after) a “Lotion” moisturizer, formulated with the brand’s signature plant-based anti-aging ingredient that promotes cell health, Kinetin, for $119 a pop.

“Anti-aging is still the No. 1 growing market in skin care, but we realized that we weren’t reaching all consumers,” says Jen Smoot, marketing director for parent company Valeant Pharmaceuticals’ U.S. cosmeceutical branch. “We talked about a diffusion line like Marc by Marc Jacobs or Simply Vera by Vera Wang, which drew off the style and expertise of these brands, but for the consumer who may aspire to specialty products but isn’t willing or able to pay thousands of dollars.”

Under the Kinerase umbrella, Valeant first launched dermatology-professional grade products, then its consumer line. Their new mass market collection, dubbed Dr. LeWinn by Kinerase, is scheduled to launch in mid-January at Walgreens and Walmart. (Dr. LeWinn is an Australian celebrity plastic surgeon with a line that’s No. 1 Down Under.) “Think of BMW,” Smoot says. “They have a 7 Series, 5 Series and 3 Series. The 3 Series still has the prestige and German engineering, but it doesn’t have the seat warmers in the back and speaks to a different consumer. We’re reaching a new consumer.”

Borba is also launching a limited-exclusive, lower-priced capsule called Borba Collection at Walgreens, rolling out Jan. 1. This offshoot will reflect his philosophy that skin care should be approached both topically and internally — Borba is known largely for beauty-enhancing drinks and candy.

“This is a great financial opportunity because I believe that consumers shop everywhere,” Borba says. “It’s not to take away from the strong equity of Borba. It’s to strengthen the core base just like Marc Jacobs or Karl Lagerfeld.” The innovator also sees potential for more dedicated consumers: “People can buy the entire Borba Collection armada, instead of saying, ‘I can only afford this product this month.’”

In London, luxury beauty guru Maria Hatzistefanis of Rodial — a Victoria Beckham favorite that focuses on natural alternatives to plastic surgery — is also creating a capsule collection called NIP+FAB. This one is slated to debut at Target in fall 2011.

“I was inspired by designer collaborations such as Stella McCartney for Gap and Jimmy Choo for H&M and wanted to bring this type of glamour to skin care” on main street, Hatzistefanis says, proving how distinctly the definition of glamour has changed. “I saw a gap in the market for a serious, mass-market range to achieve results quickly without the expense.”

Hatzistefanis refers to Target as a “visionary retailer.” She’s quite right about that. In 1999, years before H&M and Lagerfeld teamed up to create luxury disposable clothing, Target collaborated on collections with Mossimo and architect Michael Graves.

In fashion or home décor, rich textiles and artisan construction can be sacrificed in order to achieve lower prices. But the same kinds of adjustments can’t be made with beauty products, as good ingredients are essential. A subpar potion equals a subpar result.

Hatzistefanis and the Kinerase team adopted a similar strategy: Use high-quality ingredients, but less of them.

NIP+FAB’s 11 products, which include cellulite reduction and bust enhancement treatments and retail from $9.95 to $17.95, each focus on one key firming or boosting ingredient instead of the usual three to five. Dr. LeWinn by Kinerase’s 10 cleansers, moisturizers and daily treatments each combine two cosmeceuticals — for instance, clinical strength Kinetin and wrinkle-fighting SNAP-8 Peptide — instead of eight as in each prestige product. The collection’s diffusion moisturizer is priced between $20 and $30, more than $90 less than the high-end version.

Borba says he avoids sacrificing quality by increasing volume and buying ingredients in bulk for his 14 products, which include Skin Balancing Gummi Bears and PMS Skin Rescue ($9.99 to $24.99).

Borba believes that a capsule collection of some sort is a must: “They provide new revolutionary products that complement an existing portfolio. You have to be able to jump, otherwise you can’t succeed. You have to adapt. This is the future, and that’s why I’m doing it.”