MILAN — “What Moncler is for the down jacket, we want to be for sun care,” said Alberto Giacobazzi about the ultimate goal for the beauty label Darling, which he cofounded with Ilenia Gebennini in 2018.
Launched with the mission to make SPF products cooler to raise awareness of the importance of skin protection, especially among younger consumers, Darling is part of a new wave of Italian indie brands that rose to popularity thanks to a focused assortment; pastel-toned, recyclable packaging winking to Millennials and Gen Zers, and an engaging digital communication.
The brand’s main point of difference compared to the plethora of beauty labels launched in the past few years in Italy resides in targeting a specific category, often seen as complementary to skin care rather than as a separate entity. It is also among the emerging players that has bet big on brick-and-mortar distribution in addition to its e-commerce and that has already expanded beyond national borders, planning to decisively step up its game Stateside in 2023.
If so far the brand has only a limited presence in the U.S. — partially due to the registration procedures for its SPF products — the distribution expansion is seen key not only for the potential of the market but for personal reasons, too.
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“This brand was born during a trip we took in California, and even in the choice of the name, we already wanted to telegraph our international ambition,” recalled Giacobazzi. The founders are planning to launch in more than 300 premium doors in the first half of next year, as well as partner with online retailers.
Both passionate about beauty and “spending time at Sephora finding out new products,” Giacobazzi and Gebennini realized in 2017 that there was a gap in the sun care market.
“We love life at the beach, but when it came to sunscreens available, the choice was between drugstore labels or brands such as Sisley,” recalled Giacobazzi. Influenced by American brands, the duo decided to fill that price positioning and launched Darling after establishing its parent company AG Cosmetics.
The brand’s assortment hinges on five products, including medium and high-protection lotions, a face cream, an after-sun and a tan activator, all priced between 31 euros and 45 euros and based on formulations rich in vitamin E, aloe vera and jojoba oil.
This month, the company expanded its portfolio by launching its first spray product, the most expensive item yet at 49 euros for the 150-ml size.
Giacobazzi underscored the launch will be strategic in attracting new customers looking for a different method of application while respecting the lightweight texture and fast absorption qualities the company has been promoting since its inception. Available in two SPF values — SPF 30 and SPF 50+ — the Darling Screen-Me Spray formula includes ingredients such as Moringa seed oil, hyaluronic acid, squalene and niacinamide, and is scented with the Monoi de Tahiti fragrance that identifies all the brand’s products.
“In countries like Italy and Spain, where the olfactory experience is still important, this is appreciated, while we see that markets such as the U.K. or the U.S. prefer fragrance-free options,” noted Giacobazzi, eyeing future tweaks in formulations to adapt to local demands.
“There’s a huge potential in this category, with new necessities and many product facets to explore, also based on the different markets,” he added.
The goal is to reach an assortment of roughly 15 skus “and then close the range and start moving it around the world,” said the cofounder, ensuring that the brand’s core focus will always remain sun care. Potential additions might target SPF products specific to sensitive body areas as well as complementary after-sun care, among others.
At the moment, the top markets for the brand are Italy and Spain — which Darling entered in 2020 through a distributor. The company aims to surpass the 100 doors in Spain — where it recently launched in the new WOW concept store in Madrid — as well as to cover all of Europe in terms of distribution by the end of 2022.
Darling launched last year in Liberty in London with a six-month exclusive for the brick-and-mortar channel, which followed an 18-month exclusive for online inked with Cultbeauty.com in 2019. The same year, the brand signed an exclusive with Niche Beauty for the German market, where it recently launched at KaDeWe. Last month, the company debuted at de Bijenkorf units across all main cities of the Netherlands, while in France it is present exclusively at Galeries Lafayette.
While the company is in talks to expand its physical footprint in the French market as well as in Switzerland — where it aims to be distributed through 80 doors by 2023 — in the second half of this year, Darling will debut in Israel and Thailand, Giacobazzi said.
Meanwhile, the company will implement a roving pop-up format across Italy this summer, touching base in popular local seaside destinations. These will add to the strong distribution in the domestic market, which includes premium niche retailers such as the Zhor perfumery in Milan’s Golden Triangle or the city’s Fragrans in Fabula, 50 ml and Ylang Ylang stores, as well as at the legendary Le Sirenuse hotel in Positano and on the LuisaViaRoma online platform.
Although the company considers physical distribution its priority — investing in securing premium placement and visibility in-stores — its e-commerce and social media are key channels, too, especially in enhancing brand awareness. To this end, influencer marketing activities, which have grown organically so far, will be boosted with the help of dedicated budgets in the future, Giacobazzi said.
“So far, all the financial resources have been purely ours,” the Millennial entrepreneur said. “We launched the company with our capital and got contacted by funds already after two months, but the truth is that we have always had a good relationship with banks and shied away from getting investors because we want to be more agile in our choices and don’t diminish the value of the brand.”
He also highlighted that the company has been approached by financial players rather than beauty ones and “if I have to open the capital, I would like to have an added value like real know-how in this industry and not just money.”
His determination and resolute approach toward financing might adapt to enable the brand to not only make the investment needed to expand significantly in the U.S. next year but also long-term plans. To this end, Giacobazzi revealed there are already other beauty label founders registered under the AG Cosmetics umbrella.
“Darling was born with a precise target, but it’s also a seasonal offering. The idea is to compensate this aspect through other ‘sister’ brands with different identities in the future,” he teased.