If French beauty conjures minimalist laissez-faire and South Korean beauty represents its high-maintenance, multistep cousin, then Italian beauty aims to be in the middle with its luxurious yet nonchalant style.
At least that’s how the Italian government and cosmetics industry are trying to frame it, with a new push to introduce Italian-branded lines into the U.S. market through Beauty Made in Italy, a new program formally launched this month between the Italian Trade Commission and Cosmetica Italia, Italy’s personal-care industry association. Beauty Made in Italy serves as a launch pad for Italian brands entering the U.S. and is divided into three different tracks consisting of an incubator, accelerator and business council for companies based on their experience in the U.S. market.
Italy currently produces 60 percent of the world’s cosmetics but mostly through private-labeling or contract-manufacturing for non-Italian brands, according to Meredith Kerekes, head of U.S. Beauty Desk at Italian Trade Commission and who spearheads Beauty Made in Italy. The goal is to put the Italian-made spin in the spotlight.
“The purpose of our program is to promote the awareness, availability and excellence of Italian skin products,” she said. “As we know, Italian beauty products are not even in the consideration in the mindset of an American consumer.”
Other brands are catching on to this burgeoning opportunity, as well. Valentino, the Rome-based fashion house, signed a licensing agreement this week with L’Oréal Group to produce luxury beauty and fragrances aimed at millennials that will begin on Jan. 1, 2019. Even American companies are seeing the marketable opportunity for Italian products. Luci, a Philadelphia-based brand launching in June, features products all formulated and manufactured in Milan, Italy, and its social media is modeled on Italian sophistication and relaxation as the brand aims to strongly associate itself with Italian luxury, said Heather Jones, founder of Luci.
“I wanted to work within Milan because when we think of Italy or we think of Milan, we think of luxury. Italian beauty is synonymous with style, innovation, craftsmanship and really high quality,” Jones said.
In an industry landscape in which regional beauty rituals and products have come to dominate store shelves, made-in-Italy beauty marketing is ripe for its own moment. There’s a vested interest already in Italian beauty: Italian cosmetic sales reached $12.8 billion, up 4.4 percent in 2017 compared to the previous year, and sales are expected to grow another 5 percent in 2018, according to Cosmetica Italia. Exports specifically were a significant contributor, with sales climbing 9 percent to a total $5.4 billion, while the Italian market grew only 1.3 percent.
“Italian beauty is glamorous. It’s a woman who is confident and very comfortable in her own skin and her own sexuality,” Kerekes said, adding that it’s also “that thing your grandmother kind of passed along.”
For Beauty Made in Italy, the program’s business incubator will host 35 companies not yet distributed in the U.S., a brand accelerator to guide four larger brands with existing U.S. distribution, and an Italian Beauty Council made up of no more than 10 beauty industry leaders and heritage brands that want to help guide the conversation on Italian beauty.
For brands in the incubator, the program provides feedback and informs companies through a series of six webinars throughout the year on how to approach the U.S. market. The program covers the cost of PR support for one year for brands in the accelerator, in addition to the same feedback and webinar support as the incubator. The council, meanwhile, helps guide the conversation and answer what Italian beauty is in the United States, what makes it special and why people should care about it.
There’s another adjacent element, as well, that lends itself to the rise of Italian-associated brands: Despite Italy having the third-largest economy in the eurozone, it has been experiencing economic turmoil. And while Beauty Made in Italy was initiated by the previous Italian administration, Kerekes said the government promoting Italian beauty exports can be beneficial to the economy in these current circumstances.
“I think Italy as a whole is looking to provide additional support, education and information to domestic Italian [companies]. Italy sadly has a very high unemployment rate, and there’s a lot of instability, and how you tend to combat that is through small-business creation and entrepreneurship,” she said.