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At the Counter: Rome

Four cities, four undercover reporters in search of a spring skin care regimen-and a satisfying shopping experience.

Four cities, four undercover reporters in search of a spring skin care regimen—and a satisfying shopping experience.


Deep in the beauty counters at the Italian department store Coin—the city’s second largest flagship—the assistants busy themselves stocking shelves and arranging displays on a slow weekday morning. Due to its location in Piazzale Appio, near the Coliseum, the store’s customers are a mix of tourists and locals. Revamped early last year, the beauty floor is in line with the Italian chain’s remodeling strategy to elevate design and modernity. Coin’s beauty floor carries many of the industry’s big names, plus a few offbeat brands.

Striding up to the Chanel counter, I ask an assistant for help in choosing a new skin care regime. Immediately she stops loading samples into drawers and introduces herself, shaking my hand. She first asks me to describe my skin (dry on the surface and oily underneath) and what sort of results I am searching for (luminosity and clarity). She explains Chanel’s three skin care lines are differentiated by three objectives: hydrating, illuminating and purifying. Even though I am after the latter two in a combination, the sales associate suggests I go with the purifying line Chanel Purete, identified by a green band on the packaging. We go over the products in the regime, an exfoliating cleanser with microbeads and a toner (both around $48). “The toner is especially good for refreshing the skin in the summer months,” she assures me, before recommending a mattifying fluid ($74) combined with a serum ($81) to complete the daily regimen. Then, to polish off the process, a weekly mask. At the end of her mini presentation, I ask for some samples but she tells me the Purete line samples finished earlier in the week—could I come back next week to pick some up?

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I move on, and spy a counter of products in slick white and silver boxes I am not familiar with. A sales assistant immediately zeros in. “Would you like to know about Organic Elements?” she asks, and goes on to explain the organic skin and body line is under a year old, originates from Parma and boasts Mediterannean ingredients. I explain how my skin loses lucidity and looks tired, and before I have finished the sentence she whips a rectangular package off the shelf—a detoxifying rosemary and lime tree mask ($52) contained in 10 sachets, with two uses per the closable sachet. “This mask is amazing—a lot of the girls here have used it and people ask what we have put on our skin to make it so bright the day after,” she says, turning to another associate nearby who agrees with her. Immediately drawn in, I ask what moisturizer and cleanser I should use to go with the mask, and am proffered a luminescent serum ($80) that has artichoke to disinfect and rosemary to calm irritated skin. Another customer interrupts us with an antiaging cream request and the assistant gets distracted talking to the new customer. I take the opportunity to slip away, to a nearby L’Occitane corner. Before I start asking about L’Occitane, the Organic Elements sales assistant finds me to press an information booklet into my hands.

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“I live in Milan,” I announce to the L’Occitane sales assistant, “and the pollution makes my skin break out. Can you recommend something?” Pointing out the Almond-Apple line, she recommends its cleansing oil that turns into milk when mixed with water ($22), a toner ($22) and a scrub ($37) twice a week, and, for every day, the velvet moisturizing cream ($37). She opens a tester jar of the scrub and insists I take a whiff. “This is made with crushed almonds from Provence,” she says and then asks if I’d like to try, leading me to a nearby sink and giving the backs of my hands a massage with the fragrant scrub. After patting them dry she leads me back to the counter where she massages dry skin hand cream into my hands for a good five minutes while we talk about other star products of the brand. I leave her counter with a stockpile of 15 sample sachets of the hand cream, an anti-water-retention body gel and a body moisterizer, as I go to the cash register to buy the scrub.