Augustinus Bader and the making of a $70m phenomenon – Financial Times

By daniellenierenberg

The Augustinus Bader story hasbecome a beauty legend. Professor Bader, one of the worlds leading stem-cell experts, makes a groundbreaking wound gel that rehabilitates the skin of burns victims,without the need for grafts or scarring. At a dinner hosted by Robert Friedland, the self-made billionaire and long-time mentor to Steve Jobs, Bader meets Charles Rosier, a young French financier. They are kicking around ideas forfunding the necessary clinical trials forthe product, which would likely run intothetens of millions. Pharmaceutical companies arent interested because most burns victims are in emerging countries, where the market for sophisticated healing products is negligible.

Rosier has a flash of inspiration: couldBader use what he knows about wound healing to make an anti-ageing cream? Yes, answers Bader unhesitatingly. Two years and much cajoling later, the professor makes a prototype skincare cream, and pretty soon anyone who has ever had more than a passing interest in face cream is talking about it.

According to Deloitte, as many as 90per cent of beauty launches fail within ayear. By contrast, the Augustinus Bader skincare brand has grown from a turnover of $7m in 2018 to $70m in 2020. It has also shattered traditional conventions of luxury skincare along the way. For a start, the company launched with just two face products, The Cream (fornormal/oily skin) and The Rich Cream (dry skin) and insisted that apart from cleanser andSPF theyre all you need to use. No eye cream, no neck cream, no serum underneath, no primer ontop just one cream, and a very specific two pumps at that. This was intriguing. Most luxury-skincare brands (the creams retail at205 each) dont just sell you a dream they sell you a regime.

Charles Rosier believes that their inexperience in the beauty industry helpedat first. If Id known how complex and competitive the industry is, maybe Iwouldnt have had so much passion for it. But because I had seen what Augustinuss science could do, I was truly convinced thathe could create a product that was new, disruptive and of higher quality than whatever else was in the market.

As it turned out, it was. Celebrities normally paid handsomely to endorse beauty brands were not only recommending the Augustinus Bader cream unprompted butinvesting in the company too (Courteney Cox, Melanie Griffith and Carla Bruni to note). Usually cynical beauty editors discussed it with the fervour of addicts (myself included). And in February, a panel of more than 300 industry experts voted The Cream and The Rich Cream as Womens Wear Dailys Greatest Skincare Product ofAll Time (Crme de la Mer, launched in 1965, took second place and Este Lauder Advanced Night Repair, from 1982, took third), neatly capping off a pleasing statistic of 36 awards in 36 months.

Bader a softly spoken, bow tie-wearing 61-year-old German is both asthrilled and bemused by the brands success as youd hope. Before making the face cream, he says, he had never used a skincare product in his life. But he likes the fact that now, when he uses the cream before shaving, he no longer cuts himself. It would never have occurred to him to have created a cleanse/tone/moisturise-type regime. Beauty is always from inside, he says. You dont need a routine, as many people have been used to. The idea is that just after washing your face, you use The Cream or The Rich Cream. Everything is in that one product.

Before making the face cream, Bader had never used a skincare product inhis life

It would be tempting to paint Bader asthe sneery scientist, dabbling with the beauty world as a means to an end(close to10per cent of the brands profits in 201920 went to wound-healing research and other charities). The opposite is true: what finally convinced him to embark onthe project was his patients reaction tohisearly prototype: When I gave theproduct to patients with diabetic wounds, their skin became healthier-looking and stronger, and I could see how happy it made for me, even though it was just a skincare product, it developed a kind of medical meaning.

Also subversive is the brandsconspicuous lack ofmiracle ingredients. Baderswork is guided by theprinciple that your skin contains all it needs already its the communication between thecells thats important, notapplying endlessnew ingredients that your skin doesnt recognise. Conventional medicine very often tries to helpby treating symptoms, but what the patientreally wants is a healing process, he says. The creams themselves contain a complex called TCF8, which hesays is mainly made out of vitamins, amino acids and lipid structures.

$70mThe brands turnoverin2020

10%The profits in 20192020 thatwent towards wound-healing research and other charities

11The number of products in the Augustinus Bader line

50%The acceleration in healing time experienced by patientsusing Baders wound-healing gel

According to Charles Rosier, Bader isprobably the person in the team who is strictest about only using gentle ingredients which means the brand is able to satisfy the current appetite for clean skincare too. Thats why theres no SPF; because Bader is vehemently opposed to chemical sun filters and has so far found it hard to make sufficiently premium-feeling sun protection without them. And, says Bader, a little bit of sun is good for your skin as is a little bit of stress (and carrot juice: he says that people who eat a lot of carrots generally have good skin).

Last month the brand also launched avegan version of The Rich Cream, with original ingredients such as beeswax and lanolin removed and a slightly upgraded formulation. It has the same rich texture and the same uncanny ability which fans can eulogise about for hours to hug your skin within seconds of applying.

But is it getting harder to avoid the pull of the beauty mainstream? Some devotees have taken a recent spate of new launches to mean that the brand is moving away from its original one cream is all you need philosophy, and that as a result has lost some of its outsider charm. In the second half of 2020, launches came thick and fast: theres now anEssence, Face Oil, Cleansing Balm, Cleansing Gel and Lip Balm, plus body oils and lotions.

Rosier points outthat most of their competitors have around 200 products and that last years bottleneck of launches was largely due to hold-ups in the lab, as well as Covid-19. Perhaps our philosophy has switched a little from Well give you one cream to Wellgive you the essential basics of a skincare routine, he concedes. Well never do 20 serums, but well do products where we feel they can be better than otherthings that exist in the market, and allow you to have an Augustinus Bader routine and not have to mix our products with other brands.

Given how feverish the current Baderobsession is, it seems unlikely thatcustomers would need much convincingnot to mix other brands products into their routines. What isdebatable is how long this brand can remain a disrupter. Ever the renegade, Bader is less interested in being a beauty outsider than encouraging the rest of the field toraise its game.

This new beauty side of mywork is interesting because, ultimately, healthy skin contributes to beauty and for me, thats notsomething superficial, its something absolutely relevant to all the work that I do, including the medical research. In a way, Ihope that perhaps what we can do is be a little bit game-changing about what a skincare product may want to achieve. And that, to me, sounds like real hope in a jar.

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Augustinus Bader and the making of a $70m phenomenon - Financial Times

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