By  on January 26, 2007

PARIS — Giorgio Armani has designs on skin care and he's employing fashion's favorite color to make his mark.

In September, L'Oréal-run Giorgio Armani Parfums and Cosmetics will introduce Crema Nera (Black Cream in English), the designer's debut treatment product. Its launch will be followed by a men's line called Skin Minerals for Men in 2008.

While Crema Nera's cream is white, it takes its name from a mineral complex found in black volcanic rocks on the Sicilian island of Pantelleria, which is known as the black jewel of the Mediterranean.

"It's a place where nature is strong and visible and beautiful," Giorgio Armani told journalists at a press conference here Wednesday, adding he has a home there. "L'Oréal has captured the energy and life within this black stone. Lots of creams look like each other, but some are worth more than others."

With a price tag of 250 euros, or $325 at current exchange, per 1.76-oz. jar, the cream fittingly made its debut during Paris' Haute Couture shows, where Armani showed his Privé collection Wednesday.

"With this kind of price positioning, we are targeting the prestige customer," said Renaud de Lesquen, president of Giorgio Armani Parfums and Cosmetics. He added that the introduction rounded out the designer's beauty offer, which comprises a successful fragrance portfolio including perennial best-seller Acqua di Gio and a makeup line introduced in 2001.

"It was always the intention to be a global beauty brand," said de Lesquen, adding Armani is the first of L'Oréal's fleet of fashion labels, which includes Ralph Lauren, Cacharel and Viktor & Rolf, to make a foray into treatment.

De Lesquen said introducing a designer brand to treatment counters offered multiple challenges, chief among them, creating credibility in the segment.

"I think it's difficult, but it's not impossible," he said. "We need to be unique in positioning, concept, story and laboratory research, even the name itself."

For Armani, Crema Nera's story began on the island of Pantelleria, where the designer saw firsthand the effects of local mud baths on skin.

L'Oréal laboratories worked with volcanic experts to extract obsidian, a natural mineral compound and the cream's key ingredient, from petrified lava on the island. It's made of silicium, sodium, iron and potassium, and researchers found that skin cells pick and chose elements from obsidian's makeup, depending on what they need, through a process called biomineralization.The antiaging cream, which is meant to boost skin regeneration by promoting cell turnover, was concocted to be suitable for all ages. De Lesquen suggested, however, it would likely appeal to the core Armani cosmetics customer, namely women 30 to 35 years old. Future additions to the line will include sun care and spa items.

Designed to imitate how lava solidifies when cooled, Crema Nera comes in solid form. The product takes on a balm-like consistency and is quickly absorbed by the skin, explained Veronique Guillou, international director of Armani Skin Care Development Laboratories.

The designer is also preparing to enter the men's treatment market with Skin Minerals for Men. It will feature five products containing obsidian, but have a lighter texture than Crema Nera's, according to Guillou. It will comprise a bronzer, moisturizer, cleanser, shaving balm and an antiaging cream.

"Up until a few decades ago, men didn't use creams," Armani said. "People said, 'You're a boy. You're not going to put cream on your face.' Creams were a women's world. Now, young men are brushing their teeth and putting cream on their faces."

Crema Nera, which will be available alone or in a box set alongside an obsidian facial massage stone for 300 euros, or $390, will make its debut globally in September in the 150 doors currently selling Giorgio Armani makeup.

Executives declined to discuss sales forecasts, but industry sources estimated that despite the limited distribution, it could generate 10 million euros, or $13 million, in first-year retail sales.

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