American women tend to like their bath and body products sweet, flowery and bright pink, if mall stores like Bath and Body Works are any indication. But American bathrooms everywhere are going to get a shot of restrained European sophistication this fall, in the form of two new beauty brands hitting the US market.
Rituals, which was launched in 2000 by Raymond Cloosterman, a Dutch former Unilever exec, is probably one of the biggest beauty brands you've never heard of. The brand currently has 300+ stores in Europe, and it just opened up two NYC locations (Upper West Side and Soho), its first in the US. Barneys and Cos Bar also picked up the range, and e-commerce launched here this past spring.
Cloosterman felt there was a gap in the market, and was inspired by the various rituals he saw in Asia. The resulting line is a mixture of East meets West sensibility. The products are all produced in Europe, and they're loosely grouped by theme: relaxing, energizing, and purifying. The Sakura collection, inspired by Japan's annual cherry blossom festival, is the brand's most popular line, and having tried it, I can see why. The scrubs are luxe, the body lotion is silky, and the scents are divine, never cloying. You won't find any "green apple honey cinnamon flair"- type smells here. (Or the dreaded pumpkin spice. Ugh.) The company's best-selling product is the Sakura Collection Zensation, a cool hybrid shower cleanser that starts off as a gel and turns foamy as you rub your hands together.
A hammam collection provides lots of scrubbing options, and there's a robust men's line. A small skin care range offers many cleansing and toning options, and the brand even makes fancy dish soap and candles. With the exception of one hand scrub, all the products are paraben-free and many contain organic ingredients, though it's not a fully "natural" and organic line. Most products are in the $12 to $15 dollar range, with fragrances topping out at $75.
The stores are set up with a wet station, where staff will demo products along with mini-hand massages. While there are spas at a few of the locations in Europe, that option isn't available in the US, though it would seem like a natural extension for the brand. Reps tell me that West Coast interest in the brand has been strong, and more NYC locations are in the works.
The H&M Group-owned, awkwardly-named brand &Other Stories is finally hitting the US after launching in Europe a year ago. Its NYC Soho outpost opens in mid-October and e-commerce will launch here at the same time. And while the fashion is good, the beauty is very good.
European &Other Stories stores carry outside beauty brands, but the US will only stock the house brand, at least at first. The bath and body range comprises the majority of the products, though there is also a 30-shade nail polish line and a few other color cosmetics. Prices range from $9 for a nail polish to $40 for a fragrance.
The brand opted for a very minimal, appropriately Nordic look in its packaging. Simple white labels and black print are punctuated by "smudges," (as the brand's beauty chemist called them) painted by a house artist. Each smudge color corresponds to a different scent family, so you can coordinate or mix and match easily. The hand creams even come in metal tubes reminiscent of paint tubes. And again, no air freshener scents here. The "lemon daydream" scent is a mixture of citrus and wood that is subtle and grown-up. Nail polish colors are named after different textiles — I was loving an army green "Mohair Khaki." Candles, a new launch for the brand, should fly off the shelves this fall, particularly the one that is inspired by the Stockholm atelier — it's like suede, but liquefied. A lot of thought was put into the formulation of the products. Think scrubs that don't immediately slide off your body the minute you put them on.
These two launches should inspire you to lay off the strawberry kiwi body wash and try something new this fall.