L'Oreal has opened a Helena Rubinstein salon and store in New York's SoHo, as a pilot for the brand's reintroduction into its home country. Company executives said they're waiting to gauge the reception before planning any expansion of the spas or the brand's U.S. distribution.
Once a staple of department-store counters, Helena Rubinstein withdrew from the U.S. market in 1983, three years after it was bought by a group of private investors. The investors later sold the brand to L'Oreal, which has relaunched it in various overseas markets in the past three years.
Margaret Sharkey, U.S. general manager, said the company recognized that a cosmetics brand can't be truly global without a foothold in the largest market in the world. But rather than return to department stores, it was decided that a spa would be a better showcase to reposition the brand.
"It really gives women an opportunity to sample our products in a living environment," said Ms. Sharkey. And the concept could be expanded to other markets as well, she said.
The HR Beauty Gallery opening is backed by a small ad campaign from Gotham, New York, with approximately $1 million budgeted for media, mainly local magazines and outdoor.
The campaign features surreal images created by Carlos Villalon, HR's international artistic director, under the theme "Visionary beauty." Gotham adapted the images for bus boards, wild postings, postcards and print ads, all leading to the opening of the spa this month.
Helena Rubinstein is re-entering the U.S. at a time when specialty retailers are challenging department stores' traditional dominance in prestige cosmetics and skincare. Specialty retailers such as Intimate Brands' Victoria's Secret Beauty Co., chains such as French retailer Sephora and even Internet retailers are trying to get a piece of the $1.9 billion U.S. prestige cosmetics market and the $1.5 billion market for prestige skincare products.
The new Helena Rubinstein brand is nothing like the brand's old image in the U.S., said Sheri Baron, Gotham's president.
In its former home, Helena Rubinstein was seen as a sophisticated, "old" brand, she said. "It was your grandmother's makeup."
But L'Oreal has repositioned the brand overseas with edgier colors and advertising, Ms. Baron said. In fact, the global advertising imagery was so avant-garde that U.S. focus groups were confused.
"When we brought this concept to [U.S.]) consumers, their response was 'Uh?'," Ms. Baron said.
Blue and green lipstick and glittery nail polish were not how they remembered Helena Rubinstein, she noted.
But they will remember Helena Rubinstein's skincare, she said, because it has retained its technological edge over the years.
Gotham's ad strategy has two prongs: one promoting the color line to attract young consumers, and another focusing on the skincare offerings likely to appeal to aging baby boomers.
Besides touting the opening of the spa, the campaign also promotes the launch of Hydro Urgency, a moisturizing line.
"We think we have just the right mix of tantalizing, revolutionary images