NEW YORK -- When Aramis launched Lift Off in January, the company hoped to carry the momentum of alpha-hydroxy acid skin care, still the rage in the women's treatment market, into the men's business.
According to preliminary reports, the new product, an exfoliating moisturizer with a sunscreen, seems to have caught on.
Allen Burke, divisional merchandise manager at Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's, called the item "revolutionary."
"Men haven't really taken treatment seriously before," Burke said. "In order to make the move into treatment, men need a reason and [Lift Off] is it."
While early sales have been strong, Aramis will have to work hard to keep up its momentum, as men's skin care historically has been the toughest area of the cosmetics business.
WWD sent reporters to Aramis department store counters across the country to see what tactics the company's sales force is using to convince men that they can benefit from using an AHA product.
According to what I learned during a short detour to the Aramis counter at Macy's on 34th Street, Lift Off is a new all-in-one skin care product for men -- exfoliator, moisturizer and sunscreen.
The salesman who talked with me briefly made sure I knew the item possessed these properties, although he could have been a bit more passionate in doing so.
My adventure began during my lunch hour as I made my way toward the Aramis station -- or, should I say, "mission control." I say this because apparently the company is using images of the NASA space program as a hook to sell the product. They actually show a video at the counter of a space shuttle taking off.
I'll admit that my first impression was that the setup was rather corny. I couldn't help but compare Lift Off's supposed exfoliating power to the thermal tiles being peeled from the space shuttle, which occasionally happens upon reentry into the earth's atmosphere.
While the video was eye-catching, I must say I had expected a bigger promotional extravaganza overall. But I discovered that the in-store display was surprisingly understated, as is the simple black-and-white Lift Off packaging.While the situation was unintimidating and pleasant enough, the salesman at the counter, though informative and polite, just didn't have the right stuff overall.
"Hello. Can I help you with anything?" he asked as soon as I stepped up to inspect the Aramis offerings.
"I'm interested in learning whatever I can about Lift Off," I said. "I don't know anything about this product, but I've heard about it, and I'd like to know more."
He went on to deliver a well-rehearsed spiel about the three properties the item contains.
"It's a moisturizer, exfoliator and sunblock," he said, as if he was reading off a cue card.
"Wow, it does all that?" I thought, perhaps being a bit sarcastic. "It will reduce your shaving time by a third," he continued.
I didn't bother asking for more of an explanation on that one. I just figured the razor would whisk across my smoothed skin that much faster.
After he had finished his bit, he asked for my hand and proceeded to plant a "nickel-sized dab" in my palm.
I thanked him and rubbed the sample into my face. I then wondered why they give those little samples. Are you supposed to feel something immediately? But at least they aren't afraid to let you feel the product right away. That made me feel comfortable.
The salesman, done with his pitch, then moved right along to the next customer.
Actually, the next guy was a much easier sell. He was pretty serious about buying and made a purchase immediately before going on his way.
Although I personally found the salesman unexciting, the basic nature of the presentation ended up changing my skepticism into bemused acceptance.
Perhaps a very simple, soft-sell approach is the right one to sell a men's product like this one, because I ended up thinking the concept of Lift Off is a great one.
I like the manufacturer's claim that "looking good has never been this easy."
The company also says that Lift Off is a man's second chance at saving his skin, which I thought was a catchy slogan.Lift Off has another thing going for it, because I personally love products that are all in one, and the all-in-one selling point was the only one the salesman seemed intent on giving.
In addition, my face is starting to need a little help at this point in my life.
Still, whether Lift Off fulfills all the claims it makes remains to be seen, because for now I'd rather hold off on a purchase. I guess I'm just a traditional male who still hasn't worked up an overwhelming interest in buying skin care.
I thought washing my face every night was the best way to maintain nice and clear skin.
But the saleswoman tending the Nordstrom's men's fragrance counter at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa tried to teach me otherwise.
Apparently, my face could have been even fresher all these years, according to what she had to say.
A noticeably large display announcing the arrival of Aramis Lab Series For Men Lift Off first caught my eye as I approached the glass case, where the woman saw me reading the ad.
"It goes on like a lotion," she offered as a way of introduction. "You put it on like you would a moisturizing lotion, and it exfoliates your skin to get off the dead skin cells.
"It's the fruity acid that does that; it's not the chemicals," she added. "It's also a moisturizer and has a sunscreen of seven."
As I was still trying to register a mental image of my skin exfoliating, I perused the back of a product information card I picked up under the display.
"Oh, yeah, SPF 7," I said. "So what exactly is this alpha-hydroxy I see on this card?"
"It's the fruity acid that picks up the dead skin cells," she said, in a matter-of-fact manner.
"Fruity acid," I echoed.
To me, the words "fruity acid" conjure up the orange glaze I find all over my dress shirt after I peel a tangerine at my desk."Yes," she smiled back. "Fruity acid."
I asked her if there were any samples I could try.
"Sorry, there are no samples," she said. "But it keeps your pores unclogged and makes your skin look really great."
"Really," I said. "How does it compare to Retin-A?"
She had to sense she was dealing with an amateur.
"Retin-A is a chemical peel, whereas this is an acid that's taken from plants and fruits," she said. "That's what's taking off the dead skin cells, instead of using a chemical on your skin. So it's safer for you."
"So it's like rubbing orange rinds all over my face?"
"Right," she laughed, most likely at my ignorance. "It's better for you than using a chemical peel."
"Will my skin be all red afterwards?"
"No," she assured me. "It won't turn your skin red."
"So there's no way I can try a little before I decide to buy it," I ventured one more time.
"Nope," she said with a genuine pout. "Unfortunately, they didn't send us any sample sizes of it. But they run $27.50, and I think that gives you about a three-month supply. You use it morning and night for two to three months."
"Do I rub it in?" I asked.
"Just put a little on your hands and rub it almost as if you were putting a lotion on," she said. "Cover everything, but you don't want to get it in your eye area. It is fragrance free, too, so it won't interfere with whatever you're wearing."
I assumed she meant cologne or after shave.
"Thanks a lot," I said. "I appreciate your help."
"No problem," she replied.
And I walked away. The Nordstrom experience left me feeling that the saleswoman was well versed in the product. However, she didn't really convince me, as a skeptical and uneducated consumer, why I should also be so well informed.CHICAGO
I recently succumbed to all the hype and began using a fruit-acid moisturizer. As I was pleased with the results, I was curious to see whether Aramis's new alpha-hydroxy product, Lift Off, would be appropriate for the man in my life.
Although most men would have us believe otherwise, I think they care deeply about their appearance. But their innate reluctance to admit to vanity must require a more low-key approach to selling skin care than we women are used to.
At Carson Pirie Scott, I certainly got the low-key treatment.
Ducking in from the cold on State Street, I quickly located the Aramis counter, which was to one side of the main cosmetics area.
This makes far more sense to me than the setup at nearby Marshall Field's, where you have to walk almost a block from the main cosmetics area to find men's toiletries stuck out near the ties, baseball caps and sunglasses.
Before I even reached the counter I was accosted by a man brandishing the Aramis fragrance and asking me if I'd like to try it.
I managed to escape and reached the counter. There was no opportunity to miss Lift Off -- it was everywhere.
Even a small TV on the countertop was running a video extolling the product's virtues. A ragged magazine next to it was open at an article entitled "Skincare for Men."
Part of the display included a small microscope, but its relevance to the product wasn't clear -- a subliminal attempt at masculine imagery, perhaps. I squinted through the lens but couldn't see anything.
I sniffed hopefully at the empty tester tube on display and a pleasant and eager salesman came up offering help.
I said, "I started using an alpha-hydroxy myself a few weeks ago and was wondering if I should get some..."
"...for him," he finished my sentence for me. "So you already know the benefits of fruit acids?"
I asked him to refresh my memory.
He explained how fruit acids are close in character to the acids of the skin and speed the renewal of new cells, making the skin smoother and younger looking."Lift Off contains acids derived from banana, apples, lemon and lime," he said. I thought it sounded delicious.
I asked him if men really needed to use such a product, since their skin is presumably less sensitive than women's.
"Actually, men need it more, because their skin is thicker," he said, launching into an explanation of shaving and hairs getting trapped under the skin that I couldn't quite follow.
"It also cuts your shaving time by a third," he said.
Now that's impressive -- I've always been glad I don't have to undergo that particular morning ritual myself. Just think of all those minutes accumulated over a lifetime. I was, however, a little disbelieving. He elaborated: "Because your skin is smoother the razor goes over it faster."
"I've been using it myself," he said, smoothing his face. I had to admit he had very smooth, clean-shaven skin, but he looked like he was fresh out of college. Maybe he was really 50 years old and had Aramis to thank for his youthful looks.
I asked if there were any other similar products for men on the market and he gave me the surprising answer of Estee Lauder's Fruition. When I pointed out that was for women, he said a lot of men buy it too.
He then pointed out the superiority of his brand -- it contains moisturizers and sun screen besides being an exfoliator, and it is cheaper, at only $27.50 for two ounces. (Fruition was $42 in Carson's.)
The salesman was delivering a good account of the product's properties, but so far he had shown no interest in its intended consumer. I was surprised not to be asked about his lifestyle or skin type.
In an attempt to prod his interest, I asked the salesman how the product could fit in with an existing regime of shaving and after shave.
"He can use it after applying after shave. In fact, it should be the last thing he does before he leaves the house, and again before he goes to bed," the salesman said.
He then gestured toward all the other men's skin care products in the Aramis range, and offered me a leaflet explaining them, apologizing that Lift Off wasn't in it.I thanked him, said I'd think about it, and left. While he was pleasant and well-informed, the salesman didn't attempt to convince me this product was just what the person I was buying it for needed.
But maybe that's the low-key-approach men like.
Aramis's new Lift Off is getting an enthusiastic kickoff at Neiman Marcus's Prestonwood Town Center unit here.
In fact, the sales associate I encountered on a recent visit had even started using the alpha-hydroxy acid-based product himself and was more than eager to share the results.
"I've been using Lift Off a little less than two weeks," said the young man as he gently rubbed the back of his hand across his cheek.
"My skin is already much smoother. I'm not that old, but I wanted to head off any early signs of aging. Shaving every day, even though it exfoliates, just isn't enough."
The men's market, he asserted, really needed a product backed up by a name men could recognize.
"There aren't too many men who haven't heard of Aramis," he reasoned. "And men, although they could cross over and buy from the women's counter, will probably feel more comfortable shopping here."
"So how does one use Lift Off?" I asked.
"Ideally, use it morning and night, if you're skin isn't naturally real sensitive," he explained. "Otherwise, you be the judge.
"Hopefully you'd be able to use it at least daily, but there may be some initial redness," he added. "Otherwise, apply once every other day."
He picked up the two-ounce tube, squirted a dab of the cream on his forefingers and rubbed it on the palm of his other hand.
"It's not at all greasy and will be invisible when applied, so you don't have to worry about anyone knowing what you're up to," he said with a smile.
"After you shave in the morning, use Lift-Off like a moisturizer and rub it on your forehead, cheeks and chin, but avoid the areas around the eyes and spread a bit more thinly on the shaved areas," he cautioned."Lift Off basically works by peeling off dead layers of skin, giving you a fresher appearance," he continued. "You'll start to see some peeling in about a week."
Should the peeling and possible redness be excessive, he explained, I could skip a week and then resume treatment.
"If you're like me, you'll see a difference in your skin's glow and texture within three days. In 10 days, the difference should be dramatic -- your face should be smoother and healthier looking," he noted.
Lift Off is priced at $27.50 and typically will last about two months, depending on frequency of application, according to the sales associate.
"Would you care to charge your purchase?" he asked, assuming that I was as excited about Lift Off as he was.
To his dismay, I told him I needed to consider my options but that I would give him my business should I decide to return.
"If there's anything else I can tell you about the product, please come back and see me," he said as I departed the counter.
Is Aramis Lift Off enough to elevate men off the couch and propel them into the malls?
I set out to find the hot commodity at Lenox Square Mall. Salespeople at Macy's, Saks and Neiman Marcus said they were still awaiting delivery, but Rich's turned out to be the place.
I walked into the men's section and within seconds a salesperson was at my beck and call, ready to answer any questions.
I said that I needed the Aramis skin treatment for my boyfriend.
"He's so into keeping his skin up," I said, "but he's got this ego thing and won't go buy it himself."
She laughed and said, "Aren't they all. Lots of girls come in here and buy this for their boyfriends and husbands. But you'd be surprised at how many men come in asking about the product. It's the best product there is. It's selling like hot cakes."
She explained the properties of the fruit acid-based cream, making sure to let me know that it won't irritate "even very sensitive skin."Giving me the rundown on how to use it, she said for best results a man should rub it into his skin above the eyebrows and below the eyes twice a day. But never use it directly in the eye vicinity.
"It's a protector, an exfoliator and a moisturizer all in one, and it has an SPF of 7," she said. "It takes a few weeks to see the results, but believe me, your boyfriend will see a difference."
She encouraged me to buy, but while she was well informed and psyched to make a sale, she wasn't the overbearing, I-need-commission type. She gave me the space to breathe and come to my own decision.
Although she couldn't say enough about Aramis, the advertising surrounding the product seemed somewhat dim.
A small cardboard display with a handful of empty tubes occupied a corner of the cluttered glass counter top. That was all. There were no oversize posters.
The small display in the midst of colognes and creams was forced to do all the selling by itself. For $27.50, it said, the cream is yours, and there's also a money-back guarantee.
I guess the lack of splashy advertising didn't matter, because three 30-something, model-esque men materialized by my side in the otherwise empty mall, eavesdropping over my shoulder and talking about the new product.
Meanwhile, our salesperson elaborated on the benefits of Lift Off.
"It will remove the dead skin cells from the outer layer and bring out the clear, fresh skin beneath. It's all natural, and see," she said, opening the tube and wafting it under my nose; "it has no perfume odor."
She rubbed a small drop on the back of my hand, demonstrating how smoothly it absorbs into the skin.
"No grease, no oil," she said.
Although I was not yet convinced, the approach was working elsewhere.
Seemingly impressed with the product and the sales pitch, one of the men beside me reached for one of the display tubes and began reading the back of it intently.
"Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age," wrote Victor Hugo, who lived to be 83.Temporarily occupying the consumer niche between youth and old age, I ventured to the Southcenter Mall in suburban Seattle to see if there was hope for my maturing skin in the form of Aramis's new Lift Off.
My first stop was Nordstrom, where I explained my quest to a friendly sales associate.
"Lift-Off is really great," she said. "It's a brand new product. The women's lines have all kinds of products with alpha-hydroxy acid, which is a natural fruit acid."
"It's a moisturizer. That's all you need to think about," she continued, intending to simplify things. "You can use it all over your face and neck; even on the bone of your eye area. It will also help your shaving because it helps to get rid of in-grown hairs by constantly sloughing off the dead surface skin.
"You know how your skin gets dry and scaly and comes off?" she added. "This speeds up that process, so your skin will have a smoother texture. It just speeds up the whole process."
I told her I've used the Origins moisturizer, which is carried at Nordstrom, and wondered whether it was comparable.
"They are totally different, but the same idea," she explained. "Except that this is the first men's line with alpha-hydroxy. No other men's line has it. We've been getting a great response from it."
"How much does it cost?" I asked, coming quickly to the point.
"$27.50," she said. "There is a small, one-ounce introductory size for $15, but you get a lot more for your money in the two-ounce size."
"Doesn't that seem expensive?" I asked in my most naive voice.
"No," she said gently. "I know if you're not used to it, it will seem expensive to you. But, it's right in there with other lines. It's much lower than women's lines." I thanked her for the information.
Like the stereotypical Nordstrom sales associate, she told me her name, gave me her business card, and asked me to call her "if you have any questions."At The Bon Marche, I was greeted by another congenial sales associate and I asked her about Lift Off.
"Yes. It's a wonderful product," she said with a smile. "It has fruit acid in it, which helps slough the skin off. My husband has been using it and it's about the first moisturizer that he's used that he likes. He uses it day and night-time.
"You can apply it to the areas that are dry on the skin or all over the whole face," she added. "Don't use it on the eye area; just on the eye bone. It makes the skin look younger."
"I can use all the help I can get," I quipped.
"Your skin looks great," she said.
I'll take a compliment, even if I have to fish for it.
"This will help give it a nice natural glow," she continued. "It also provides SPF-7 sun protection."
I asked her if I needed it when I shave, and she replied that "a lot of men like to use it as an after shave balm. Would you like to try a little on the back of your hand?"
She applied a small amount and said, "That should be enough for your entire face. The most important time to use it would be at night."
I told her I would think about it. As I left, she urged me to enjoy the near-70-degree weather outside the mall.
-- EDWARD LEIDA / SCOTT KRAMER / SOPHY FEARNLEY-WHITTINGSTALL / RUSTY WILLIAMSON / KAREN ROBINOVITZ / ROBERT SPECTOR
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