NEW YORK — L’Oréal USA bet $11 million this week on its future in multicultural beauty.

The occasion was the official opening of the L’Oréal Institute for Ethnic Hair and Skin Research on Chicago’s Near South Side. L’Oréal bills the 58,000-square-foot converted building as “the first and only” research facility of its kind. Dr. Victoria Holloway, director of the Institute and assistant vice president of research and development for L’Oréal USA, said, “The mission of the center is to conduct and support basic research to gain an understanding of the characteristics of hair and skin of people of African descent.”

She stressed that this has nothing to do with product development, which is handled by other departments within L’Oréal’s R&D network. However, she acknowledged that the prime beneficiary of the Institute’s research effort will clearly be its sister division, Soft Sheen/Carson, which also is based on Chicago’s South Side. But it won’t be the only beneficiary. Jean-Paul Agon, L’Oréal USA president and chief executive officer, has stressed in the past that the fruits of the research can be applied to various L’Oréal brands. He referred to the opening of the center as a milestone.

Holloway came to L’Oréal from Johns Hopkins University, where she received a masters degree in public health after graduating from Harvard University and Yale Medical School. L’Oréal’s $11 million investment was devoted mainly to buying the building, a former warehouse at 21st Street and Wabash Avenue, and renovating four of the six floors. The Institute shares the building with a product development operation and an applications lab.

Within a few years, Holloway envisions a staff of 30 or 40 working in the Institute.

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