Byline: Pete Born

COLUMBUS, Ohio — History may be made here today when the Limited Inc.’s Intimate Beauty Corp. and Shiseido Co. Ltd. unveil the highly anticipated offspring of their joint venture. It’s a gamble that amounts to an estimated investment of about $40 million.
The object of attention, the first Aura Science store, will be opening this morning in the Easton Town Center near here. Designed by architect David Collins, the store is said to represent an unusual marriage of cool modernity and a warm human touch. The name is intended to embrace the woman’s total aura and the best product efficacy that science can muster.
The Aura Science project represents a departure from cosmetics orthodoxy on more than one level. First it is an entire brand, not just a product line or a store. Secondly, it is a skin care line launched with a full color cosmetics line.
Perhaps more significantly, the treatment range is organized by skin condition, rather than skin type or customer age. Sales associates can help customers diagnose their skin type and condition with the aid of a touch-screen computer, which asks seven leading questions about the consumer’s skin.
Once the skin condition is established, the consumer is guided to the products, which are organized into four groups or phases, each of them color coded. The phases correspond to skin characteristics often associated with certain periods of life, but it mostly depends on how well a person’s skin has aged. The driving point of the brand’s ethos is centered on a concern for the needs and well-being of the individual customer.
Phase One products are aimed at a young, unpredictable skin with heavy sebum production. Phase Two products, loosely aimed at a target customer turning 30, has a heavy emphasis on antioxidants. Phase Three is for maturing skin, minimizing fine lines that have appeared and preventing future formation of wrinkles. Phase Three also is designed to brighten complexion. Phase Four products are tailored to revitalize, firm and reduce the look of wrinkles. The Phase Four Hydrator, or moisturizer, contains hyaluronic acid, which is prized for its moisturizing abilities and tendency to boost production of collagen.
What is called the Aura 3 System is a trio of products consisting of a cleanser, a preparation step and a hydrator. The prep product is lotion that prepares the skin for moisturization. The price points for the trio of products combined ranges from $32.50 to $42.50 for all three, depending on phase and size. The pricing is considered at entry level prestige. For instance, a lipstick is priced at $15, and a foundation averages $25. The line consists of more than 60 stockkeeping units in skin care and 240 sku’s in color. Robin Burns, who heads the effort as president and chief executive officer of Aura Science, Victoria Secret Beauty and the Intimate Beauty Corp. parent, underscored that Aura Science is a skin care brand, just like Victoria’s Secret Beauty is a fragrance brand.
Lynn Emmolo, executive vice president and general manager of Aura Science, talked about the homeostasis of the brand, or a balanced state making for an optimum condition of one’s skin. “Our focus is to bring skin into balance,” said Nance Dickinson, vice president and chief marketing officer of Aura Science.
“We focus on women as individuals and their needs; we want to keep them for life,” said Burns. The brand will be merchandised only in its own freestanding Aura Science stores. The Easton unit, which contains 1,450 square feet of selling space, will be the first of nine or 10 stores opened this year. In the third week of May, the second store will open in the Woodfield Mall outside Chicago, followed by Water Tower Place in Chicago, Garden State Plaza in New Jersey, Pentagon City in Arlington, Va., and Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Md.
Emmolo noted that stores will be opened in Florida in the fall in Miami, Boca Raton and Palm Beach. Burns said the pilot stores will range in size from 1,100 to 2,000 square feet of selling space as a way of gauging what will be the optimum size.
When the joint venture was first announced Sept. 14, 2000, the partners said the new brand was expected to become a $1 billion business. Burns said she thinks the brand concept can ultimately support 500 stores in the U.S. and just as many overseas. A timetable has not been set. Emmolo hopes to have 25 doors open by the end of 2003 and 80 to 100 by the end of 2004.
None of the executives has ever discussed profitability, but industry sources indicated that the Limited and Shiseido both invested $13,500,000 each by the end of last year for a total of $27 million. It is expected that another $13 million will be invested this year. Executives are hoping to break even by the end of 2004 but at least by the end of 2005.
The alliance between two of the most influential powers in the global beauty industry will be underscored today with the appearance of both Leslie Wexner, chairman and chief executive officer of the Limited, and Akira Gemma, chairman of Shiseido.
In a statement, Wexner said, “Today marks an exciting time for the beauty industry. Aura Science showcases the Limited’s strength in retailing and brand development and Shiseido’s global expertise in product research and development. Together we have created a new standard in beauty retailing.” Gemma added, “We are committed to Aura Science and with the continued support of the Limited, I am certain that Aura Science will become a brand embraced by women throughout the world.”

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