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Jami Morse Heidegger, who built Kiehl’s Since 1851 into one of the brightest marquee names of the Nineties’ indie boom, is stepping back into the ring.
Seven years after she sold Kiehl’s to L’Oréal, Heidegger is developing a collection of five facial skin care products aimed at women with mature skin and designed with high-octane ingredients and matching lofty price points — perhaps in the neighborhood of $500 a jar.
For an overall corporate identity, she has settled on Morse Laboratories, the original name of the business of her late father, Aaron Morse. “My team felt it was needed to incorporate the Morse heritage,” she said in a recent interview in New York. The fledgling squad will operate out of offices on a 25-acre spread in Malibu, Calif., near her home in Chatsworth, where she lives with her husband, Klaus, and their three children.
The launch date has been targeted for this spring, probably April, and Heidegger said her inclination is to launch the line with an exclusive at Apothia at Fred Segal Melrose in Los Angeles. That decision was made as a gesture of thanks, Heidegger said, as an acknowledgement that Apothia founder Ron Robinson was an early supporter of Kiehl’s.
While her distribution planning has not taken shape, Heidegger said a logical step beyond Fred Segal would be specialty stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus or Barneys New York.
The impetus for the new line grew out of her semiretirement lifestyle combined with her lingering ties to old days in downtown New York. After selling Kiehl’s in April 2000, Heidegger at first felt the loss of the daily rush, but as her five-year non-compete took hold, she learned to appreciate “the joys of manicures and personal trainers,” she admitted, while acknowledging that she still had the urge to dabble in product formulation. She found herself scanning trade journals for ingredient news. Moreover, Heidegger kept in touch with her colleague from Kiehl’s, the former chief chemist Stephen Musumeci.
He formulated products for her own personal use on her 47-year-old skin. “I wanted the best ingredients,” she said, “the highest concentration possible for my skin. And I didn’t care what it cost.”
This was in sharp contrast from her middle-of-the-road marketing at Kiehl’s, where “I didn’t want anyone to have redness and experience irritation.” Moreover, in building Kiehl’s, “we were moderately priced so the products would be accessible.”
Obviously, some urges never died. “What I loved about the industry was creating, doing our own products.”
She clearly stated, “I’m not looking to recapture what Kiehl’s did.” In fact, Heidegger has words of praise for what L’Oréal did with her offspring. For one, the French beauty giant managed to “marry the past and future to the present by bringing innovation.”
But now she is looking to launch a line that fits her present needs, “my mature, dryer, older skin.” Heidegger understands that marketing the private concoctions that Musumeci whipped up for her will land her in a much pricier neighborhood. “I’ve been using it for years and I didn’t know what it costs. I had no idea. It didn’t matter. I wanted the best,” she said, estimating that a 2-oz. jar of cream might retail for $550 to $600. “It’s not for everyone,” she added.
Heidegger had hesitated to reenter the cosmetics business, even as Klaus grew restless with retirement, first dabbling in an energy drink business, then acquiring an athletic shoe company, MBT, based on Masai physiology and walking habits. She admits she worried that a new venture would be perceived as an attempt to duplicate the success of Kiehl’s, or perhaps, worse yet, not succeeding as well. But as her children grew up, she began thinking in terms of being able to “make a contribution to help people feel better,” particularly those in her maturing age group.
Heidegger honed a holistic routine of exercise, nutrition and beauty. The first beauty products, whose packaging is still being finished, are an antiaging face gel and an eye cream, with a body product and sunscreen in the works. Musumeci explained that the formulation is aimed at creating a highly efficient vehicle to deliver the active ingredients deeply into the skin. The face gel is aimed at activating and nourishing skin-cell-producing fibroblasts. It contains white tea and pomegranate, and the base of the formula contains a blend of fatty acid-based moisturizing oils of shea butter, squalane, cholesterol esters and humectants that can hold 50 percent of their weight in moisture, according to the company. Vitamin E was added to boost the skin’s natural SPF to protect against photo aging. A delivery system using water-soluble silicon gel was designed to allow aqueous vitamin C to be released during the day, with the goal of reducing wrinkles and fine lines and preventing further damage. Vitamin A is included for conversion into retinoic acid, and superoxide dismutase enzyme is also used to reduce wrinkles, scar tissue and lighten dark or hyperpigmentation. Proline and safflower oil round out the formula.
“The thing that differentiates these products is the concentration,” said Musumeci, noting that he “doubled, tripled or quadrupled” the usual dosages.