Beauty boutique launches skin care line


Marla Malcolm Beck, founder and chief executive of Bluemercury, with her new skin care line, M-61, in the company’s flagship beauty boutique in Georgetown. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

Beauty emporium Bluemercury carries dozens of cosmetic and skin care products, but never its own brand of merchandise.

Until now.

The Georgetown-based chain is introducing M-61 Skincare, a line of cleansers, masks and serums that blend organic and chemical compounds to rejuvenate dull skin. Products range from $26 for face wash to $92 for a vitamin-infused salve — around the same price of all the other items at Bluemercury.

“The line speaks to the realities of modern day life: Wanting to eliminate and simplify, wanting maximum technology, but also the most natural products possible,” said Marla Malcolm Beck, founder and chief executive of Bluemercury.

The idea for the skin care line came to Beck about five years ago when she noticed more customers asking for natural products, but then complaining about mediocre results after using them. In the ensuing years, Beck began working with a team of scientists to find a happy medium between plant-based ingredients and proven chemical agents such as salicylic acid.


Beck says the new line blends organic and chemical compounds. (Jeffrey MacMillan/Capital Business)

M-61 Hydraboost, for example, is composed of, among other things, vitamin B5, known to hydrate skin, and tamarind, which some claim helps to relieve sun damage.

“There are a lot ingredients that customers don’t want in their products anymore. If I can eliminate 100 of them, I’m happy with that,” Beck said. “Is it a perfectly organic line? No, but our clients don’t buy those.”

All of the products will be sold only in Bluemercury’s 36 stores that span from Connecticut to California. The beauty boutique started out as a Web site in 1999, but within months morphed into a brick-and-mortar operation when Beck purchased cosmetics retailer EFX’s two stores in Dupont Circle and Georgetown.

At the time, the speciality beauty retail market was in full swing, with stores such as Sephora and Bath & Body Works leading the way. The niche revolutionized the way retailers sold cosmetics by placing products within consumers’ reach, rather than locking them up behind glass, said Karen Grant, senior analyst for beauty at market research firm NPD.

Bluemercury, like Sephora before it, offered a mix of exclusive brands, such as Mario Badescu and Dermalogica, and department store staples such as Clinique. Grant considers Bluemercury’s product mix a more “edited and upscale version of Sephora.”

Given its price range, M-61, Grant said, would be considered a “prestige” brand on par with the likes of Origins and Kiehl’s. Through the first four months of this year, prestige skin care products sold in department stores generated $1.1 billion, up 13 percent from the same period a year earlier, according to NPD.

Bluemercury’s reputation in the market, Grant said, may give it an edge as consumers could view M-61 as an extension of the store’s beauty expertise.

“There is room for new players, but you have really strong established brands in the prestige market,” Grant said. “If a brand offers a point of difference and has trust and following, there is opportunity.”

Before the close of the year, Beck will add a moisturizer to the M-61 lineup. There are about 10 more products in various stages of development. In the month since the products hit the shelves, the Hydraboost and Vitablast C serums have emerged as the top sellers.

Beck has 12 Bluemercury stores in the pipeline for this year. One opened in Clarendon a month ago. Though she would not disclose exact sales figures for the privately held company, Beck is projecting 40 percent growth in revenue for 2012 with the new stores and product line.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel covers the banking industry for The Washington Post.
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