MILAN — It eventually happened.
After many years of purchases made while abroad and commissioning friends and relatives traveling on holiday or business trips to do the same, Italian beauty consumers can finally buy Bobbi Brown Cosmetics products in their homeland.
The Estée Lauder Cos. Inc.-owned brand made its debut in the market on Wednesday, when its renowned line of foundations and concealers hit the shelves of the historic Mazzolari perfumery in central Milan as well as launching on bobbibrown.it.
“We’ve always wanted to be here because the consumers are in love with the brand and we’ve had a lot of people expressing strong interest,” said Bobbi Brown global president Sandra Main during a press presentation held at the city’s Six Gallery venue. “But we really wanted to make sure it was the right timing in terms of our distribution model and that we had the appropriate channels.”
As for the timing, the launch in the market is in sync with today’s consumers’ more receptive attitudes toward qualitative products and the overall trend focusing on skin care and having the perfect complexion.
For distribution, Main acknowledged Italy as “quite fragmented in terms of its size and its population, so we wanted to make sure we actually had a multichannel distribution, not only in the off-line business in the perfumeries.”
The brand identified some key independent perfumeries across the country, opting to keep the rollout selective. In the first 10 months, Bobbi Brown products will be available in 20 stores, but the company is aiming to double the network in 18 months.
“It was very important to choose some independent perfumeries because our experience in the past working with them is that there’s a lot of commitment from their owners and they become very dedicated into the brands they represent,” explained Main, underscoring the relevance of finding the right partners to convey the message and know-how behind the label.
The e-commerce platform will support the brick-and-mortar distribution as well as enable the company to track local customers’ preferences, which according to Main will vary from city to city. “We will use this information to really and truly understand and make sure that we’re providing the right assortment for these consumers based on the regions or areas they reside in.”
She recognized the rapid growth of e-commerce channels in the country, which has historically shown skepticism toward online sales. “We’re experiencing that the online business is growing three times faster than off-line, and I think in Italy it will be very much the same,” said Main.
Implementing pop-up stores in Italy might be a future step in the rollout strategy outlined by the executive, especially opening them in summer destinations such as Capri.
Although the launch in Italy was set in motion nearly three decades after the brand was founded, the company already has a strong business in Europe, being available in more than 1,000 doors throughout the region and listing Spain as one of its best-performing markets.
Other countries where Bobbi Brown is rapidly growing are Russia and India, in addition to Asia, led by China, Thailand and Japan.
“The U.S. is quite challenging in makeup in general. It’s all a cycle: one minute is skin care, next minute is makeup, so it just moves in a cycle,” noted Main. Nevertheless, the brand has a loyal customer base in the market, supported by the fact that its core business remains the face category “and there’s a tremendous amount of loyalty behind finding the right shade of foundation.”
Established in New York in 1991, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics has always maintained a link with its hometown. During the latest New York Fashion Week, it reinforced its roots by supporting 16 shows of female designers and entrepreneurs, including Ulla Johnson, with whom it previously collaborated on a makeup capsule collection.
“She is not widely known, but is very niche and unique and we launched her collection globally and it really resonated in some places — for example, even in China – where they didn’t have Ulla Johnson fashion for sale,” recalled Main. “So it was important in terms of how we as a brand can also take female entrepreneurs like Ulla Johnson outside of their distribution and really help them to drive more recognition and awareness behind their brands,” said the executive, who would be open to having the label support female fashion designers during Milan Fashion Week.
Another strategy Main would like to replicate locally is partnering with influencers or makeup artists, building on the influencer activity initiated in 2017.
“But we have to make sure that there is a real reason to be working with them and they are already strong Bobbi Brown users… it has to be authentic and organic and there has to be a purpose behind it versus just making a business proposition,” she specified.
Celebrity makeup artist Nikki DeRoest, one of the personalities tapped to cover such a role, was among the guests in Milan to celebrate the Italian launch of the brand, which was marked by a cocktail party on Wednesday evening. The label’s artist in residence embodies the values listed by Main as she started her career as a Bobbi Brown makeup artist and is a consumer of the brand herself. Her 215,000 followers on Instagram — including many Italians who got to know her for having worked closely with Chiara Ferragni many years ago — are a plus.
Marketing activities aside, overall the company’s goal is to continue to build on founder Bobbi Brown’s legacy after she exited the company at the end of 2016.
Main underscored that she and part of the current team, including the head of product development, had worked closely with Brown for many years, ensuring that “there is a continuation in everything and anything that we do as an organization.”
Product-wise, the company keeps focusing on expanding the shade range and perfecting the formulations. “That’s very important, especially right now that we talk about inclusivity and having shades for everyone, but this was really part of the DNA when we first started the brand,” she said, noting how the lightest and darkest shades in the collection were introduced in 1991.
Offering good-for-you ingredients is also key as she recognizes customers’ increasing awareness and demand for transparency regarding formulations.
Asked about the challenges ahead, Main addressed the sophistication of consumers and the increasing number of competitors in the beauty arena. Her solution to be ahead of the game in these market conditions is “to continue to stay true to who you are and to focus on what that means to the consumers, making sure to stay ultra-focus behind the purpose of the brand and providing the best products with the best ingredients to ensure the deliver of exceptional performance.”