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Arcona Thrives Under New Thumbprint

Arcona Devan gained a celebrity following despite herself.

Arcona Devan gained a celebrity following despite herself.

She planted her studio in Valley Village, a freeway ride from most starlets’ stomping grounds; treated all customers equally, and argued passionately against cosmetic surgery. Still, Devan’s holistic approach to skin care attracted the likes of Anjelica Huston, Diane Lane and Julia Roberts, who flocked to Devan, known by her first name, until she died in 2004, at age 60, from a long illness.

Taking over the skin care company from its namesake put Chanel Jenae, vice president and product developer, and Kevin Anderson, chief executive officer, in a delicate position: They wanted to stay true to Devan’s mission, but also put their mark on the growing business. This year, they’ve started to do the latter with a new studio, revamped packaging and a push to expand Arcona’s product distribution.

“I don’t think Arcona fully realized how amazing the things she developed and her philosophy [were],” said Jenae, an aesthetician and former employee of distributor Caleel + Hayden, who began to work with Devan in 1999 after being introduced to the Scandinavian facialist as a client. “She was very much a visionary and an artist. I came with more of a business background and was like, ‘Arcona, do you realize how incredible all this is?'”

To expose Arcona to a wider audience, Jenae and Anderson relocated the Arcona studio last month from Valley Village to a 2,600-square-foot space in Santa Monica, Calif., across the street from the famed retailer Fred Segal. About a year ago, Anderson conducted a survey to determine if a move would hurt business and found that about 67 percent of Arcona’s clients lived in Westside locales, including Santa Monica.

“A lot of people would say, ‘I would come a lot more often if you just were closer.’ Being in L.A., traffic is an issue,” he said. “We are happy to be here. We think it is a great community that is very open and receptive to what we were doing.”

Created by Jenae, architect David Kellen and interior designer Cynthia Marks, the Santa Monica studio is rimmed with windows and doused in creamy white, from the limestone floors to the walls tinted with nontoxic milk paints. Visitors entering the studio encounter a combo reception-retail space where products are displayed at even intervals on shelves lining the room, then walk into a waiting room with fake suede chairs and finally enter one of the seven treatment rooms. Throughout, flowers from a local flower shop owned by an Arcona regular add pops of color.

This story first appeared in the June 1, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We wanted a place that was really clean and warm and inviting, not overwhelming with so many products everywhere that you don’t know where to focus,” said Jenae. “I also like the feeling of something being kind of residential and pretty, not just racks and racks of products.”

At the studio, treatment prices start at $85 for a signature contouring facial and top out at $225 for a rejuvenation package with the signature facial, an enzyme peel and a mask. Arcona products range from $35 to $150, but a set of five foundation products — a Golden Grain Gommage Exfoliator, Magic White Ice Hydrator, Desert Mist Protector, Toner Tea Bar Cleanser and Treatment Solution are recommended for normal skin — runs for about $200. Arcona’s “basic five” products constitute about 80 percent of the company’s sales. Products on the docket for fall are a $68 Kiwi Clarifying Peel, an $85 Peptide Hydrating Complex and a $42 White Tea Purifying Cleanser.

Because packaging “didn’t matter too much” to her, Devan placed Jenae in charge of the products’ look. Timed with the launch of the Santa Monica studio, Jenae has retooled the packaging to fit her minimalist sensibilities. Textured cream boxes are made from natural fibers and printed with vegetable inks, while product casing spans several light shades such as butter and silver, with the darkest hues signaling the night products. Instructions, like whether products are for night or day use, are explicit on the packaging to remedy their exclusion from previous packaging incarnations.

“It is a cleaner approach. It is a little bit more modern,” said Tracy Brennan, founder of Southern California skin care retailer Kalologie, of the packaging upgrade. Speaking more generally about Arcona, she added: “It has been kind of one of these cult brands that are under the radar. More and more people are becoming aware of it.”

As awareness of Arcona spreads, Anderson said the company is finding more prestige retailers and spas willing to stock the products, which are currently sold at 80 doors, with Planet Blue in Malibu and Four Seasons properties in Palm Beach, Atlanta and Beverly Hills among them. Arcona items are hitting Japanese retailer Isetan and a Northwest spa chain that Anderson declined to name this year, although he estimated first-year sales at each outlet to be about $1 million.

Overall, Anderson expects Arcona to grow about 50 percent this year over last, the same rate the company has experienced since 2001. “We want to grow the business, but at the same time maintain exclusivity,” he said. “Really how it works is we build demand and control distribution, so we pick and choose our partners, and don’t saturate the market.”

Developed nearly 30 years ago, Devan’s blend of Eastern and Western treatment techniques and her emphasis on natural ingredients remain relevant.

“They said that everyone was into surgery and glamour, and that I would never make it in this town,” Devan told WWD in 1999. “But beauty has become more natural, and my clients don’t want to wear makeup anymore, so I guess it has worked.”