NEW YORK — The Shu Uemura beauty brand’s new majority owner, L’Oréal, has big plans for its growth in the U.S.
The worldwide beauty giant upped its stake in the Japanese brand from the 35 percent it had acquired in 2000 to its current 52.9 percent late last November. When it announced the increased stake, L’Oréal revealed that in 2002, Shu Uemura registered sales of $136.7 million, or 14.9 billion yen, up 8 percent year on year. Fifty-four percent of its sales were rung up in Japan. Of the 46 percent generated internationally, 83 percent came from Asia.
In fact, L’Oréal has owned international rights to the Shu Uemura brand outside of Japan since it acquired its first stake in the company in 2000. Its increased stake —?an investment that industry sources estimate to be from $59.5 million to $71.5 million, or 50 million euros to 60 million euros — simply raises the bar for its goals.
And while the brand’s current share of the U.S. market is quite modest, L’Oréal executives plan for that to change.
“This brand has incredible potential in the U.S.,” said Edgar Huber, president of the Luxury Products Division of L’Oréal USA, “and we intend to build it. It is one of the richest brands I know in terms of history and quality of products. We’re planning to develop its distribution very carefully among high-end specialty stores to make sure it has a solid long-term base, but it already has quite a following among savvy consumers.”
The brand was founded by Hollywood makeup artist Shu Uemura, now 75, in the Seventies. While Uemura is no longer the majority owner of the firm, he remains extremely involved in its operations.
And while the Shu Uemura brand is not heavily advertised in the U.S., its market profile has been boosted by its beauty sponsorship of 7th on Sixth ready-to-wear shows here. The brand had signed a deal to be the shows’ makeup sponsor in 2002, and also has had a booth in the tents for the past few seasons. The official deal has just concluded, but the brand continues to support selected designers.
Perhaps best known for high-quality makeup brushes and its cleansing oil, the brand is taking a large step into the facial moisturizer category this April with Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery. The new collection represents an effort by the company to provide consumers — particularly those in their 20s and 30s —?with a comprehensive skin care offering, said Chris Salgardo, senior vice president of sales for Shu Uemura. It is also the brand’s first moisture replenishment collection and the first skin care line to feature the brand’s signature Depsea water.
The four-item line is comprised of Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery Nanowater, $25 for 150 ml.; Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery Equiwater, $25 for 150 ml.; Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery Emulsion, $38 for 50 ml., and Depsea Therapy Moisture Recovery Cream, $40 for 30 grams.
The key ingredient in all four of the products is the brand’s signature Depsea water, intended to help optimize water balance of the stratum corneum (a layer of the skin). The water is mined from 300 meters below the ocean’s surface, explained Michelle Kwok, marketing manager for Shu Uemura. While the water rarely rises above the lower ocean current in which it circulates, she added, the mineral-rich water can be found in the coastal waters off Hawaii, Norway and Japan’s Cape Muroto. In order to explore the potential of deep-sea water in cosmetics, Shu Uemura founded the Muroto Factory Museum, a mining center for the water, in 1989 — which is said to have made it the first company in the world to incorporate deep-sea water into cosmetics products.
“Trace minerals in the water, such as lithium, magnesium, silicon, copper, zinc and calcium, have an affinity with the fluids in the human body and can quickly permeate our cellular membranes as active ions to rapidly refresh and hydrate the skin,” explained Salgardo.
Other key ingredients in the new products include seaweed extract, to help bring moisture to the skin’s surface, and skin flora controller, intended to strengthen the skin’s barrier and hold water within the skin, said Kwok. Each product is also bottled with a marble-size ceramic ball, which is intended to help preserve the purity of the product, noted Kwok, “through ceramics’ antibacterial properties. The ceramics also help keep the products at a constant temperature.”
With the collection’s androgynous transparent bottles and turquoise lettering, Salgardo has hopes of appealing to both men and women. While he wouldn’t comment on projected sales, industry sources estimated that the new collection will do upwards of $2 million at retail in its first year in the U.S.
As well, the brand has struck a deal with Neiman Marcus that will take Shu Uemura’s existing stockkeeping units into the retailer’s Beverly Hills door in April. It will then enter Neiman Marcus’ Houston store in June, and plans are for an additional five doors to be added by year-end 2004.
Neiman Marcus will be the first to carry the Depsea Therapy skin care line, which will be available exclusively in Neiman Marcus from April to June. In June, it will roll out to the brand’s other U.S. doors — six Barneys New York stores, Bergdorf Goodman, Takashimaya, Nordstrom’s San Francisco store and Shu Uemura’s two freestanding U.S. boutiques in New York’s SoHo and on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Altogether, the brand is available in about 300 points of distribution in 15 countries.
Neiman Marcus and Shu Uemura have also collaborated on a new assisted open-sell counter design — intended to resemble a backstage environment — which will be installed in the retailer’s Beverly Hills door in April. The space includes what Salgardo terms a “color playground” with all of the brand’s color cosmetics, as well as a sink where skin care items can be demonstrated — particularly the brand’s cleansing oil, which emulsifies with water. The counter design will be rolled out to new Uemura doors going forward, Salgardo added.