The 31-year-old entrepreneur's Borba Skin Balanced Water and Aqua-Less Crystalline products, touted as having the ability to clarify, replenish and age-defy like high-end cosmetics, are selling briskly at Nordstrom, Sephora, Henri Bendel and the painfully chic Beverly Hills salon Fred Segal. They are quaffed by the likes of Hilary Duff, passed around at uber-agent CAA's parties and sipped at Sundance Film Festival.
Mr. Borba, a smooth-talking makeup artist and incessant networker with spectacular good looks, breathlessly reels off a host of scientific-sounding terms-bio-available, microsphere and atomization process-in discussing his product, sounding like an overacting soap-opera doctor.
So is he selling a beauty breakthrough or snake oil? Maybe a little bit of both, in an industry fueled by the arts of illusion, persuasion and hope.
"I feel like it's the late 1800s and the snake-oil salesman," said Darrell Jursa, managing partner at Liquid Intelligence, acknowledging that the concept of a drinkable cosmetic sounds iffy. Even so, he's a believer. "They can't keep it in the stores," he said. "Borba is driving the beverage companies insane" with envy, he said, because "no beverage has gone out of its way to distribute itself in a place like Nordstrom or Sephora."
"I haven't heard that yet," responded Mr. Borba. "It would be understandable to make that claim based on not having seen the clinical studies on the product. We spent months in clinical tests and years in development."
Soon Mr. Borba plans to announce a new distribution outlet (really big, really famous!) but refused to elaborate until all the papers are signed. Later this month, he'll launch a seven-day system to complement the current 30-day system, and soon after that, jelly bean and gummy versions under the Borba Confections moniker.
He's also laboring to launch in mid-summer a complementary topical "cosmeceutical" line based on fashion technologies using fabric and fiber textures.
Connections have helped Mr. Borba-a pedigreed cosmetic-industry veteran with product development and marketing experience for LVMH/Hard Candy, Procter & Gamble's Wella-Sebastian, Shiseido/Joico, Neutrogena/Johnson & Johnson and Murad-get into high-end retailers. (In January, Murad sued Mr. Borba for breach of contract. They settled out of court in March.)
While he wouldn't release sales figures for the privately owned company, Mr. Borba claimed the products-priced at $2.50 per bottle, $30 per case and $100 for 60 crystalline packets-have become the No. 10 clinical-skin-care brand at Sephora and Nordstrom, and that the company has just signed on with Whole Foods.
Michael A. Baruch, CEO of Fred Segal, said he sold all of Borba's inventory, 10,000 units, within the first 10 days. Sales have slowed a bit, but Mr. Baruch said it's moving 5,000 units a month, "comparatively to all of our best-selling brands." The other retailers didn't return calls.
Borba's big splash came in January when the brand crashed the Sundance Film Festival to distribute samples at the Fred Segal Boutique in Park City's Village at the Lift.
"We owned the whole area with Fred Segal Beauty," gushed Mr. Borba. He insisted that no celebrities are paid; pop siblings Hilary and Haley Duff are said to be big fans and Paris Hilton a devotee.
Next, Mr. Borba plans to link with companies outside of the beauty realm, from dermatologists to hotels. "We're totally on track with our brand being a lifestyle company," he said. Borba is working with Cole & Weber/Red Cell, Seattle, to develop a campaign due out in late June or July to augment its print effort that broke in April. Borba has a half-million-dollar marketing budget covering advertising and public relations (handled by Think PR, New York).
There is a lucrative market for "nutraceutical" beverages, which Datamonitor estimates to reach $7.4 billion by 2008. But that pales next to "cosmeceuticals" valued at $12.4 billion by Market Trends.
Nutraceuticals aren't recognized by the Food and Drug Administration. Because Borba is in water form, it is treated like a food and is regulated by the "generally regarded as safe" nutritional guidelines. It also may be monitored by the Federal Trade Commission for its marketing language, although neither agency would comment on the product. Marketing copy makes such claims as independent clinical studies have proven visible results in seven days with two bottles per day.
So do Borba's products really work? "If you drank 32 ounces of water a day, your skin would improve and if you add the vitamins to it, well, it's an added something," conceded Dr. Lynn McKinley Grant, a medical and surgical dermatologist based in Chevy Chase, Md. Yet, "fountain-of-youth claims are always so scary," she said. "My biggest fear is that people will think `all I have to do is drink this and I'm home-free."'
contributing: ira teinowitz