vBeauté Heads to Look Boutiques

Julie Macklowe's indie brand is also launching a sunscreen option in July.

Products from the vBeauté line.

Luxury indie brand vBeauté is shifting gears from the high-end bridge channel to masstige via a new partnership beginning Saturday with Walgreen Co.

This story first appeared in the May 31, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Under the agreement, vBeauté will initially expand into 11 Look Boutiques either in a Duane Reade or Walgreens: eight Duane Reade boutiques in New York City, one Walgreens boutique in Los Angeles and two Walgreens boutiques in Miami. The line will be expanded to other Look boutiques as more are opened.

Specific terms of the partnership agreement are not being disclosed, other than that it’s nonexclusive and for an indefinite period of time. The vBeauté line will also be available later in the summer at the 12 Soft Surroundings retail doors now in operation, and products will be offered in the chain’s catalogue.

The brand will continue to feature its proprietary Swiss Alpine Rose Botanical Technology. The next product launch for early July is Day Job, an antiage physical, mineral sun protection cream. With SPF 30, the sunscreen features 20 percent micronized zinc, a sun blocker that sits on top of the skin so it doesn’t clog pores and complies with new FDA regulations. Available in a 30-ml. tube, it has a suggested price of $38.

What’s really a game changer at Look is the price tag, which is higher than typical brands in drugstores but lower than high-end specialty chains or luxury retailers. In the case of vBeauté, prices are being cut dramatically. The It Kit, travel-size tubes of skin-care essentials in its signature case, is now $99 from $165; a 30-ml. bottle of antiwrinkle serum is now $45 from $145, while the 50-ml. jar of the daily moisturizer is now $53 from $145. The range of antiage lip gloss options, each in 10-ml. tubes, are now $19 from $28. The travel-size tubes to replenish the It Kit are now $18, down from the initial range of $18 to $42.

Julie Macklowe, founder and chief executive officer, said the self-service retail model allows the company to maintain the high-quality ingredients while passing the savings to consumers. That’s in comparison with selling in luxury retailers, where higher price points are required to pay for staffing costs, advertising and marketing campaigns.

According to Macklowe, the new strategy was really her initial vision for the brand: accessible skin-care featuring the best and newest technology.

So why not just go that route to start?

“I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve never run a beauty company,” said Macklowe, a former hedge fund manager focused on retail and apparel.

The line was first launched in 2010 exclusively for a year at Bergdorf Goodman, although that partnership has since ended. The line is also available in 30 specialty stores and boutiques, and will continue to be sold in that channel as well as at the vBeauté site.

What Macklowe learned from that experience was that the brand was in the equivalent of no man’s land: “We were not high enough for the Bergdorf customer who walks in looking to spend $300 on face cream.”

And as for what is the sweet spot, Macklowe said, “What I’ve learned is that when the price is $100, the consumer needs someone in the store to convince her that [the product] is worth it. That takes some effort. Our feedback is that there’s price resistance above $100.”

Still, Macklowe has no regrets about the Bergdorf partnership. “It did position us as a luxury brand, and now the brand is more accessible from having been there….I also learned about who our customer is.”

Macklowe initially targeted women between ages 20 and 30, then found out consumers who purchased — and who had the discretionary income to spend — are between ages 40 and 65.