ALCHEMY’S CHANGING ACT

Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Alchemy is set to unveil a little magic.
But unlike the medieval chemists that turned base metals into gold, business partners Ian Ginsberg and Sandy Mustion-Lemmerman are turning the two-year-old line’s basic black packaging into copper — compacts, that is.
Alchemy first hit retail shelves as the house brand of Bigelow Apothecaries, the 162-year-old Manhattan drugstore, in February 1998. Created by Sandy Mustion-Lemmerman, who was then the store’s makeup buyer, and Ian Ginsberg, who is Bigelow’s president, the line launched with 30 nail polish stockkeeping units. Within six months, it expanded to include foundation, eye shadow, lip color, blush, pencils and mascara — and expanded its doors. Now consisting of 220 sku’s in 24 classes of product, Alchemy is available in 25 doors in the U.S., including Bigelow Apothecaries and Sephora.
It has also more than doubled its international distribution over the last year and is now available in 54 international doors — including House of Fraser and Selfridges in the U.K., Sephora in Japan, and freestanding doors in Sweden and Saudi Arabia. Three Web sites — eve.com, sephora.com, and glamourama.com, a Swedish Web site, also carry the line. Neither Ginsberg nor Mustion-Lemmerman would comment on annual sales, although industry sources estimated that Alchemy did at least $5 million at retail last year.
“There aren’t a lot of startup companies in foreign countries,” said Mustion-Lemmerman of the fact that the brand has more doors overseas than it does in the U.S. “This is an exciting line with limited distribution, which I think is why it has done well.”
In fact, the brand’s success is a key reason why the line is being repackaged, said the duo. “In the beginning, we wanted to spend more money on the formulas than on the packaging,” said Mustion-Lemmerman of the black plastic packaging. “We wanted to make sure that there was global interest in the formulas before we invested a lot of packaging. At this point, we’ve expanded so much that it is allowing us to repackage.”
And the new packaging is indicative of the brand’s overall message, she said. “Alchemy is the fusion of metals,” she pointed out. “Bringing copper into that realm helps to tell a story.”
Not only that, basic black plastic packaging is so widely used these days — from mass to class — that it was time to create a point of difference, said Ginsberg. “It’s something we realized since the beginning, but it took us a while to find what we were looking for,” he said.
Ginsberg and Mustion-Lemmerman also wanted “more solid” packaging. “We were after something that would give a good strong click when you opened and closed it,” he explained.
The updated packaging should be on-shelf within the next six weeks, said Mustion-Lemmerman.
The outer packaging is also being redesigned. Currently in matte black cardboard boxes with the logo blind-embossed in black, it will be released in light gray cardboard boxes accented with embossed dots and printed with a copper Alchemy logo. There is also a strong focus on products that serve more than one purpose, said Mustion-Lemmerman. “There is so much competition in the makeup arena these days,” she said. “The market is getting saturated. To be successful, you have to come up with products that have multiple benefits — like a two-in-one lip pencil and lipstick, or an exfoliating lip treatment that also moisturizes the lips.”
Mustion-Lemmerman is bullish on the future of her four new Alchemical Compacts, which were released in late February. Filled with creme makeup, there are two variations for brows and two for eye shadows. All versions retail for $28.50. “They put everything you need to do your eyes in one place,” she said.
The duo have also repackaged the nine-month-old Medic line — a healing-oriented facial line — albeit for a different reason. Formerly in clear tubes, each emblazoned with a red cross, the line underwent a quick transformation after Ginsberg got a letter from a Washington, D.C., lawyer that “strongly suggested” that he reconsider Medic’s packaging. “The American Red Cross people take that symbol seriously,” he said wryly. Now in clear tubes with red printing and a clear cross, the line, which will be expanded this fall, now includes EMT Emergency Mouth Treatment, a moisturizing lip balm that keeps lipstick from fading and feathering; Lip Scrub, a moisturizing lip exfoliator, and four Blemish Treatment concealers, all concealers with herbal extracts and beta-hydroxy acids. Sku’s range in price from $14.50 to $18. “I actually like the new packaging better,” said Mustion-Lemmerman. “It’s more sophisticated and more pulled together.”
Alchemy’s also conjuring up a few other things, including a recently launched Bigelow Apothecary section on eve.com, a spruced-up outpost at Jeffrey New York, and new staffers. They include new director of training Justine Palermo, who has worked for Dior, Clarins and Prescriptives, and director of sales Julie Sena, who has worked for Make Up For Ever and Nars.
The duo’s long-planned 10-sku bath and body line, originally slated for a spring 2000 launch, has been pushed back to spring 2001. “We’re actively working on it, but it’s taken a different turn than we’d originally planned,” said Mustion-Lemmerman.