Italian cosmetic, fragrance and personal care brands offer a singular, unparalleled quality and excellence, and are poised for growth in the U.S. market. Opportunities abound, but challenges with niche brands’ marketing and promotional strategies need to be conquered. And they must learn more about the specific consumers they are targeting and hone their storytelling skills.
These were some of the key points made during the inaugural Italian Beauty Council (IBC) panel discussion on “The Rise of I-Beauty: Heritage, Creativity & Innovation” held at The Italian Trade Commission in New York City. The session was livestreamed to the entire country of Italy and welcomed participants there to join in the discussion.
Panelists were Linda G. Levy, president of The Fragrance Foundation; celebrity hairstylist and eponymous brand owner Rossano Ferretti; celebrity makeup artist and cosmetics brand entrepreneur Vincent Longo; and Meredith Kerekes, head of U.S. Beauty Desk at the Italian Trade Agency. Jenny B. Fine, executive beauty editor at WWD & Beauty Inc., served as moderator.
“Beauty Made in Italy” is a new program launched by The Italian Government that promotes the awareness, availability and excellence of Italian beauty products and brands to the U.S. market and consumer. The Italian Beauty Council was created to support this program and is an advisory group of Italian professionals and specialists from the beauty industry who offer advice, knowledge and personal experience to the “Beauty Made in Italy” member companies.
What Does Italian Beauty Mean to You?
Fine started out the discussion by asking the panelists to offer their thoughts on Italian Beauty. She commented: “I think of Italy as quality and luxury; there’s such an awareness of beauty in Italy.”
Ferretti, known for his successful global, niche hair care brand—and his passion for everything Italian—responded: “If you are Italian, you feel beauty every day. He attributed the difference between “us and the rest of the world” to authenticity. “We bring beauty to the rest of the world,” said Ferretti. “Our sense of beauty is innate.” He added: “Beauty and art are in everything; they’re the essence of Italy.”
“To me,” said Levy, “in terms of Italian fragrance, there’s a transformation—it takes you to a place. Everything is about style and beauty and quality. And it’s ‘perfecto,’ every time.”
A look at iconic Italian beauties such as Sophia Loren, says it all, according to Longo. Beauty is embedded in the “fabric,” there’s a romanticism. In any category, from mass to prestige, it’s part of the lifestyle. He emphasized the extremes Italian suppliers go through to produce a product to meet brand specifications. He said innovation and quality are key among Italian manufacturers, saying the sentiment is, “If it’s not done right, then it’s not worth doing.”
Quality was a characteristic that all of the panelists agreed on, and said Italian quality is universally acknowledged as the best. “I-beauty’s quality makes it stand out,” said Kerekes. “Whether it’s a French or U.S. cosmetics brand, it was probably made in Italy,” adding “everyone makes their powder and mascara in Italy.”
Going the Extra Mile
Longo commented on the wonder of the cosmetics manufacturing community in Italy. “Within 100 miles,” he said, “you can find most of the top cosmetic producers in the world.” As far as manufacturing, he said, “The difference in Italy is the innate quality and sophistication of the manufacturers, with everything tied to university research. They go the extra mile to ensure the product has an extra level of uniqueness and quality; as a result, I come away with award-winning products.”
As a complete insistent “Italophile,” Ferretti stressed: “It’s the tailor-made detail. Italian manufacturers go out of the box. Unlike Japan or Korea, Italians will find the solution every time.”
Speaking as the voice of fragrance, Levy said, it’s a long creative project with Italian brands. “Until it is perfect, it will not appear,” she said. “It’s much more about building a brand and keeping a standard, rather than lots of launches. It’s also a lot about the designer.”
What are the challenges for brands in relaying this message of quality and innovation to consumers? asked Fine.
Most panelists agreed that in many cases, ineffective marketing efforts are at fault—and better consumer education is needed.
Ferretti summed it up: “We are the most undiscovered, quality companies in the world—but we have no intelligence in marketing.” He stressed the need for brands to act as storytellers and relay their message to consumers.
Storytelling is especially timely in the current fragrance market—and it may be an ideal moment for niche Italian brands to come forward and move into retail locations in the U.S., said Levy. In the world of fragrance, she said, “This is a special time because consumers want to know the story—the ingredients, the quality, where and how it’s being created. The time has come, she said: “In fragrance—and everywhere—this is the Indie moment, and small brands have opportunities for entry like never before.” She also cited the success of selling fragrance online, previously fairly unheard of. “If you tell the story and use a sampling program, there are new opportunities to sell online.”
All agreed that social media is key to telling the story—and “will enable beauty brands to explode.” Another idea was for brands to band together for special Made in Italy retail displays and promotions.
While Ferretti felt that small brands don’t have the marketing budget needed to expand in the U.S., Longo stressed that using social media is affordable with far-reaching results. Most important, emphasized Longo, the brand must understand the consumer, exactly who they are going for; they have to speak to a specific demographic. In essence, he said: “Brands have to know who they are and who they want to connect with.”
Ferretti’s advice to brands focused on entering the U.S. market: “Position yourself in an authentic way and people will listen to your story. Consistency and authenticity of the message are key.” He adds: “The biggest mistake by both the Italians and the French is they come here thinking like Europeans. Instead, be sure to play with local rules and culture.”
Clean Beauty Advice
Italian brands also stand out as far as the trend toward clean beauty. “Products are completely different today,” said Longo. “Italy is at the wave of cleaner makeup and environmental advances. It’s all there. It’s just a case of marketing bringing it all to the forefront.”