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HONG KONG – With more than 35,000 visitors, attendance at Cosmoprof Asia was up 13 percent over the previous year. The region’s growing appetite for beauty products and the increased awareness of traditional Asian techniques and ingredients in the West, led organizers to conclude that “Asia is in.” The November show featured some 750 exhibitors.

This story first appeared in the December 27, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The region’s trendiness was obvious throughout the fair. CMP Asia, which organized the event, arranged two seminars with business-in-Asia themes. Both were sold out. On hand were products boasting Asian ingredients, techniques based on Eastern traditions, Chinese medicines, bamboo packaging and jade massage tools.

One sure sign that this fair is dedicated more than ever to regional consumers was the large spa sector where high tech machinery vied with all-natural products for attention. The spa hall is growing each year and, for this edition, it was designed with computers logged onto spa Web sites, two stages for live demonstrations, and a water bar. As Dr. Laura Zaccagnini, International Marketing Director for Cosmoprof Asia, noted, beauty retailing “is no longer about the department store or the beauty salon. Spas are now full service.”

This was indicated everywhere as products began to blur sector lines. For example, John Kressaty, technical director of Peter Thomas Roth, brought the June Jacob Spa Collection for the first time — although he showed it in the products hall. “This is not a retail line — it’s specifically for spas,” he said, adding that the range will head to both Taiwan and Korea in the coming months.

Sociologist Francesco Morace, who presented his research on global beauty consumption, noted that Asians are comfortable with technology, but even he wasn’t prepared for the spa pavilion. “I was shocked, it seemed more like a technology fair than a beauty fair,” he said.

True, there was a futuristic look to most offerings, but not many machines were new. One exception was E-Life’s Sub Zero, which uses a combination of ice-cold temperature and pulsating current to help products achieve deeper penetration of the skin. The computer-enhanced machines drew a crowd, much to the delight of Paul Marshall, director of E-Life. He said: “Between 40 and 50 percent of the company’s business is in Asia. This is a very important market.”

Also generating interest were East-meets-West products like Thai Spa’s herbal compresses. Each pouch contains a blend of Chinese traditional medicine and French herbs. The compress is heated with steam, then used for massage or bath. “This is a new product for us, but we are already seeing interest from Singapore, Malaysia, Japan and China,” enthused Hilda Lau, administration manager of DPC Limited, Thai Spa’s Hong Kong distributor.

Similarly, Thailand’s I Plus Q showed soaps containing Chinese tea, white sticky rice, jasmine rice and black sticky rice. Each was wrapped in a banana leaf and placed in a bamboo box.

Another significant trend was breast treatment as evidenced by size-enhancement products, lifting treatments, a cream to make nipples pink and even a glove for lump detection. While some products were gimmicky at best, they were further signs of the growing importance of the Asian market, where breast augmentation is second only to eyelid folds in plastic surgery popularity.

Such products dovetailed with the first-ever Natural Health Fair, which was held alongside the spa pavilion. From health supplements to hair loss remedies, the natural health sector was truly integrated with Cosmoprof Asia — just as organizers had hoped. “It’s about beauty from within as well as on the outside,” said Zaccagnini. To emphasize her point, she noted that next year’s fair will be known as “the most important fair for body and soul.”

Swiss Treasure Health Supplement Ltd. has exhibited at Cosmoprof Asia previously, but Keith Tan, sales representative at the company, was happy to switch to the Natural Health sector. “We’re very happy about the fair,” he commented. Swiss Treasure sells traditional Chinese remedies in pill and capsule form. It’s a business that is booming in Asia, but one difficult to export outside the region. “It’s hard to go into the U.S. and Europe because of regulations,” he conceded. “But we’re really here to teach people about Chinese medicine.”

Elsewhere, the China market was on everyone’s mind. In the hair sector, which seems to be shrinking each year, the bulk of exhibitors showed salon equipment. Most noteworthy was a large contingent from mainland China. For product buyers, however, the pickings were slim. Said Michael Chon, who distributes KMS products in Asia, “None of the big players are here.” Indeed, Wella, which organized hair shows at previous events, was a significant no-show this year.

Those product manufacturers that did attend had a successful fair. Australian brand Fudge, for instance, decided not to show its cosmetics range and instead concentrated on hair products. “Ninety percent of our products are sold in professional salons and we’re hoping for an increase,” commented Glen Dean, export manager of the company. He says that Fudge has an annual turnover of $45.6 million, at current exchange rates. Fudge products, which draw a largely male following, are popular in Asia. During the fair, the Blue Unleaded range was particularly successful. “Half of our business is in Asia so we attend every fair in the region. China is next.”

Men’s products also proved popular at the Jerome Russell booth, which was the only U.S. offering in the hair sector. “We don’t mind being the lone Americans here,” said Dinah Beveridge, marketing manager of Jerome Russell. “Besides, if there are fewer products, it’s OK — there’s more business for me.” Her Punky hair gel in Day-Glo colors was a hit.

Apart from men’s grooming products, the other significant trend in hair was color — whether sprayed-on, gelled-in or dyed.

Color was the story, too, in packaging, where the offerings divided into two main categories: sophistication and teen appeal. For higher-end packaging, last year’s trend toward anything metallic yielded to the dominance of one: burnished gold. The finish was used for jar lids, perfume flacons, and lip pencils alike. More ubiquitous plastics came in a veritable cornucopia of fruity colors, including the most popular – orange, lemon, strawberry and grape.

These packaging trends mirrored what was happening in the products hall. In a tribute to teen-spending power, bright colors, stacked lip glosses, fluorescent bath lines, denim carry cases and neon nail lacquers were the norm.

In fact, all signs indicated a continuing boom in nail care as everything from fruit-printed nail buffs to nail-printing machines, nail stickers, nail gems, and nail accessories was on hand. Janel Faraci, vice president of Toma Industries, was showing “mood-changing” nail polish. “The color changes according to body temperature, outside temperature and light,” she said. Faraci, who is based in North Hollywood, Calif., brought three ranges of nail lacquers for three different markets: retail, salon and teen. For her, the only problem was the location of the products sector — in the smallest hall on the top floor. “It’s a little hard for people to find us here,” she said.

Even those buyers who did find their way to the products hall didn’t necessarily find what they sought. John Aexel, chief executive officer of Shanghai Tang, hinted that the brand is thinking of adding more fragrance to its collection. “We’re looking at aromatherapy and thinking of creating another fragrance,” he intimated. The company’s Ginger Flower scent is one of the top-selling products in its Hong Kong flagship, but it may be awhile before it has company. “It’s my first time at Cosmoprof and I really haven’t seen anything, yet,” Aexel said.

Still, the shopping presence of an internationally known brand added fuel to the Asia-trend fire. As sociologist Morace put it: “The future in Asia is female. This is the most important trend to watch.”

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