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At the Counter

NEW YORK -- When Elizabeth Arden launched Alpha-Ceramide last month, it took alpha-hydroxy acid skin care to a new level: The company claims the item has the highest AHA concentration of any product in department stores.<BR><BR>While Arden hopes...

NEW YORK — When Elizabeth Arden launched Alpha-Ceramide last month, it took alpha-hydroxy acid skin care to a new level: The company claims the item has the highest AHA concentration of any product in department stores.

While Arden hopes Alpha-Ceramide will attract consumers looking for strong product efficacy, one possible drawback is the fear that discomfort might be increased by the heavy dosage.

“What [Arden] has to do is ease the fear of irritation by being very clear in the information they give to the customer,” said Jane Scott, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Bloomingdale’s.

WWD sent reporters to stores across the country, as well as in Paris and London, to see how Arden’s beauty advisers were presenting Alpha-Ceramide in its initial days on the market.

LONDON

On a fine, crisp day I sauntered along London’s Oxford Street to the Debenhams department store flagship.

The medium-sized beauty hall takes up the front half of the ground floor. The Elizabeth Arden area is not one of the biggest counters, but the space seemed to have been used very well, though it was a little sparse.

The only items on the countertop were the Arden color cosmetics display and a collection of Arden’s Millenium treatments. Products were clearly visible on shelves behind the counter, however, and in the glass display counters at the front.

One sales assistant was in the process of closing a sale. The other, who seemed more senior, let me browse for about 30 seconds before coming to help me. I explained I was having problems with my skin drying out in the cold, polluted atmosphere of London, and I asked for her advice.

She immediately started to tell me all about the benefits of the Ceramide range. “The creams contain ceramides, like your skin,” she said. “They help to lift the skin so that the moisturizer can get in.”

She said that the Ceramide Time Complex Capsules are good for the face and neck. “They also contain an exfoliator,” she said.

Concerned about irritation, I queried if the regimen is safe for everyday use.

“Oh yes,” she said. “Morning and night, except for the eye capsules. It only takes about two minutes to apply the Ceramide Time Complex Capsules and then about three minutes for the Moisture Cream.”

She said the treatments were good for any type of skin, dry or oily. I asked her about the possibility of having an allergic reaction to the creams.

“All our treatments are clinically and dermatologically tested,” she replied. “I have never known anybody to have an allergic reaction to the creams. Sometimes to foundations or lipsticks, but not to the creams.”

I asked for the prices, which she was quite happy to give me: 34.50 pounds ($50.72) for the Ceramide Time Moisture Cream; 39.50 pounds ($58.07) for the Ceramide Time Complex Capsules and 30 pounds ($44.10) for the Ceramide Eye Capsules.

As she was giving me this information, she excused herself to go help with the cash register.

When she returned, I asked about the Millenium range of treatments. The assistant looked at me quizzically. “Those are really for women over 40,” she said politely. I am 27.

As I was about to leave, she told me to cleanse and tone before applying the Time Complex Capsules, Eye Capsules and Moisture Cream.

“Are there Elizabeth Arden products for this?” I asked and received just a “yes” in reply.

Although she was polite, the sales assistant would have been more persuasive had she invited me to try out the creams at the counter. But the Ceramide products never left the security of the glass cabinet.

The assistant didn’t offer me any samples of the creams or capsules either, so I wasn’t even able to test the treatments at home.

Her demeanor reflected the Arden counter as a whole — a little passionless.

PARIS

I headed for the Elizabeth Arden counter at the Galeries Lafayette department store under the pretense of looking for the new product Alpha-Ceramide, which I had heard about from my closest girlfriend.

I was glad to see that I had picked the right time; the cosmetics department was not very crowded and the Elizabeth Arden counter was completely empty.

I spotted the miracle treatment right away, as it was nicely displayed at the center of the counter. The beauty consultant immediately interrupted her conversation with her colleague as soon as she saw my inquiring look.

She smiled and asked if she could be of any assistance, and I explained that I was interested in the Alpha-Ceramide treatment product.

“Extraordinary! Ten years younger — look at me! It’s fantastic! Really!” said her colleague, who was on her way out. Talk about an engaging first approach.

The first saleswoman began to present the product. She explained that it was a gentle and progressive treatment, starting with bottle No. 1 for two weeks. She promised that my skin would take on an “exquisite glow” by the time I started with Step 2, again for two weeks.

Then the results would be even more noticeable, she promised, with my skin becoming softer every day and taking on a healthy look. Next, onto Step 3.

“It can be used on the hands, the forearms and the chest. But it is important to avoid using it around the eye and neck,” she said.

After waiting for eight weeks — she acknowledged that the treatment sometimes seemed long — I would finally open bottle No. 4, Alpha-Ceramide Soin Intensif, which can be then used continuously.

The consultant was very professional in explaining the use and the effects of the product, as well as the concentration of each step. When I told her I was skeptical about the product because it was so new, she assured me that there was no risk, if I used it as recommended.

She pointed out, in fact, that bottle No. 4 would not even be available in stores until mid-March, nearly a month after the starter kit went on sale, because Arden wanted to be sure that women used it as indicated, starting with phases 1, 2 and 3.

The clerk was able to answer all of my questions about whether the product was right for me. And, what’s more important, she said that if a user stopped for more than a month then it was important to start all over again from Step 1 in order to build up to the higher concentration.

I felt very satisfied with her explanations and told her that I would “wait to see the results on my girlfriend’s skin before investing myself.”

She responded by telling me about a special two-week promotion in which a purchase worth $68 (400 francs) would win me a gift certificate of 100 francs.

I told her I would think about it, and she repeated the deadline for the special offer. Still, I left…without buying anything.

CHICAGO

While I’ve always been assiduous with my cleansing and moisturizing regimen, I’d never given much thought to those pricy specialty treatment products, thinking they were all aimed at older, richer ladies.

Call it paranoia, but since I turned 30 a couple of months ago, more lines and wrinkles seem to have appeared on my face. Besides the milestone birthday, I don’t think Chicago’s record-breaking cold winter did my skin much good either.

Having heard good things generally about alpha-hydroxy products, I set out to Marshall Field’s to check the latest and most potent formula, Elizabeth Arden’s Alpha-Ceramide,

It wasn’t hard to find — three oversized aquamarine display bottles of the product dominated the Arden counter. I didn’t have to wait long before a pleasant-mannered saleswoman scooted up and asked if I needed any help.

“That’s our newest product,” she said, launching into her sales pitch on how to use the product, each bottle for two weeks at a time until you are ready for the hard stuff.

“It goes up to 7.5, which is the strongest you can get,” she said. (What, on the Richter scale?)

“That’s why you need to go through the first three stages, or it could damage your skin.”

If I had been examining her on the technical aspects of Alpha-Ceramide, she probably wouldn’t have scored more than about 4 out of 10. But she was very good on explaining the benefits, and rated 9 out of 10 for enthusiasm.

Isn’t the product designed more for older skins, I asked, hoping my relative youthfulness was still apparent. No, she said, since besides combating wrinkles it evens out skin tone and reduces breakouts.

“It’s an exfoliator, so you don’t need to use a regular mask or scrub any more,” she added. Good, I forget to do that most weeks.

She leaned forward with an air of conspiracy. “One of the other consultants who had terrible skin, open pores, had to wear really heavy makeup, started using it a few weeks ago. You wouldn’t believe the improvement.”

“What exactly is alpha-ceramide?” I asked. A shadow of doubt flickered across the saleswoman’s face before she gestured toward another Arden treatment product, Ceramides. “It’s the same as in that. It’s Elizabeth Arden’s exclusive formula.”

Although there were tester bottles right in front of us, the saleswoman didn’t encourage me to test the product, so I had to take the initiative myself.

She squeezed two drops from the dropper on to the back of my hand and suggested the best way to use it was to smooth it in my palms and apply as much as I need to my face and neck.

Having run out of questions, I asked for prices. Bottles 1 to 3 are $45 and bottle 4 is $55, she said, but because it’s new, the first three come free with the strongest concentration, she said.

“It seems rather expensive,” I ventured.

“It’s a hundred-dollar value for only fifty-five,” she countered.

I asked how long the big bottle would last. Another shadow of doubt, then, “several weeks, probably.”

I said I’d think about it, and she wrote her name down on the card and said she’d be happy to put a set aside for me if I call her. But it all seemed a bit too complicated for me. After all, don’t wrinkles add character?

–KATY STANLAKE, CHANTAL GOUPIL and SOPHY FEARNLEY-WHITTINGSTALL