This week, I investigate the rise of expert-led beauty brands.
Now that Covid-19 has loosened its grips, the mass return to salons, spas and services is expected to be fast and furious — especially in the U.S. Some businesses, namely cosmetic aesthetic providers, started to see signs of recovery as early as July 2020, but that doesn’t mean consumer behavior hasn’t permanently shifted. After 16 months at home, many beauty consumers globally have decided they want — and need — at-home solutions along with their professional service routines.
This change has certainly had an effect on British skin-care brand 111Skin. Founded in 2012 by plastic surgeon Dr. Yannis Alexandrides and his wife, Eva Alexandrides, the luxury brand saw an 84% year-over-year increase in sales in the first quarter of 2021. When compared to 2018, 111Skin saw a 487% jump in sales. Eva Alexandrides, who is also CEO, said that much of the business has shifted to online channels, instead of the beauty counter, during the pandemic. At the start of 2020, digital accounted for 20% of total sales and now it is 43%. Though 111Skin was started as an at-home solve for Dr. Yannis Alexandrides’ patients after an appointment, word of mouth led to a launch in Harrods in 2012. Today, the brand is also sold at top luxury stores including Harvey Nichols, Joyce, Mecca and Neiman Marcus, as well as select hotel spas such as the Four Seasons Palm Beach, Bulgari Hotel London and the Anantara Kihavah Maldives Villas.
“At the beginning of Covid, I thought, ‘We’re not going to make it with the business.’ We had around 35 people working in shops, and I was thinking, ‘How am I going to pay these people salaries if they have to close the shops?’ We had a plan to finish  at between $15 million and $18 million [in sales], and we ended up finishing on the same budget,” said Eva Alexandrides. “We recovered and it was one of the best years for us, but I could never have imagined we would rethink the whole business.”
Mind you, these products with Dr. Yannis Alexandrides’ proprietary complex NAC Y2 range from $15 for a single mask to $995 for its 50-milliliter Celestial Black Diamond Cream.
But 111Skin didn’t achieve these figures through fervent, paid marketing. It spends only 9% of its total budget on marketing, allowing the products to speak for themselves. This is the same go-to-market strategy used by Augustinus Bader, which was founded in 2018 by Dr. Augustinus Bader, a University of Leipzig stem cell professor.
Charles Rosier, CEO of Augustinus Bader, previously told me, “Because we were a small team with no marketing budget, we thought ‘OK, where is the most influential community worldwide?’ If you take a French celebrity, in some ways, that person is influential in France, but not globally. If you go to Hollywood, celebrities are influential globally; their impact can be worldwide, with the exception of China. We had a friendship connection to Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson, and they kindly distributed the lab samples, the prototype of the cream to their friends in Hollywood.”
Similarly, Dr. Yannis Alexandrides initially used his patients to spread the brand’s gospel. A VIP patient from the Middle East introduced the founders to their Harrods buyer. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Khloé Kardashian are loyal brand fans, with Kardashian including 111Skin in her partnership with Ispy in March.
“The [product] line was always for my patients — I started with eight products in 2007 selling in these simple bottles. I didn’t know we had a business. I was very busy with my practice and still am, but the products sold themselves,” said Dr. Yannis Alexandrides.
Dr. Yannis Alexandrides’ authority as a doctor has given him a corresponding gravitas in beauty. In March, investment fund Valutier7 made a “multi-million” investment in the company. Fellow doctor brand Dr. Dennis Gross has been another winner on this front. In June 2020, the brand secured a minority investment from Main Post. The brand, which has a strong relationship with Sephora, was expected to bring in $100 million in retail sales in 2020. Dr. Barbara Strum is another winner at Sephora and has been growing its own online sales.
While brands from doctors and aestheticians are not new, the clinical movement had recently fallen out of favor and was largely replaced with natural or “clean” products. But as clean faces its own reckoning and redefinition, with brands like Deciem saying “everything is chemicals,” expert brands have an opportunity to take back market share.
Dr. Yannis Alexandrides said the plan for distribution in 2021 includes going deep with new product innovation, at retailers and in markets like the U.S. and China. 111Skin’s new liquid masks that range in price from $135-$150 are meant to offer a sustainable alternative to its popular singular masks. Though 95% of the brand’s packaging is recyclable, both Dr. Yannis and Eva Alexandrides know they can continue to improve on their products. Moreover, the new mask offer more accessibility to consumers, as the brand’s full-face singular masks start at $32 per product. Dr. Yannis Alexandrides said he plans to reformulate one of the brand’s best-selling franchises, in the wake of new medical research as early as next year.
“The innovation comes from doctor brands and new niche brands,” he said. Eva Alexandrides added, “In a sense, together with Barbara Strum and others, we are challenging the status quo. We are all taking a little bit of space from the giant conglomerates that have huge budgets and are marching together. We all have our points of difference, but the pack of us is stronger than just one of us coming and challenging all of the beauty industry.” –Priya Rao
Who is winning over shoppers searching for beauty?
Consumers continue to have an insatiable appetite for beauty, but where they find beauty content has changed. According to Terakeet’s latest market research report, released on Tuesday, traditional beauty brands and retailers are losing share to publishers and digital upstarts. For instance, Allure.com had the highest market share for skin care in Google organic search volume, at 12.4%, followed by Byrdie, New York Magazine, Good Housekeeping and Sephora. The latter accounted for just 4.7% of volume; in 2019, Sephora had the second-highest skin-care search volume. While product searches will continue to be important, Terakeet found that sites with more robust, longer-form content are seeing bigger online gains.
Inside our coverage:
Sun-care brands are cultivating younger fans on TikTok.
Kylie Cosmetics relaunches with shoppable livestream.
LilyAna Naturals flexes its Amazon success to other channels.
Hair loss brand Nutrafol is expecting a banner year for growth.
What’s we’re reading:
Beauty and fashion brands cut ties with Chinese celebrity Kris Wu after date rape allegation.
Teens reveal what they’re buying this year.