When I had the chance to go to Seoul back in June, one of the things I was most excited about was being able to talk to brand representatives. Here in the U.S., when a brand launches a product, beauty editors usually have the chance to meet the people behind it, get a demonstration of it and try samples. But because of geography and a language barrier, most of my K-beauty education comes from spending lots of money on products, reading about them online and forging relationships with the founders of K-beauty e-commerce sites, like Charlotte Cho from SokoGlam, who was my tour guide in Seoul.
One of the local brands I set out to investigate was Su:m37, creator of the mythical Miracle Rose Cleansing Stick, fondly called the MRCS online.
If you're not a K-beauty aficionado, imagine a fancy soap crossed with a classic deodorant dispenser and sprinkled liberally with rose petals, and you will get an image of the MRCS. It's a blend of many different oils, including coconut, lemon peel, green tea seed and olive, as well as cleansing agents that allow it to foam a bit, and the aforementioned Damask rose petals. (This is one of the best and most comprehensive reviews of the product I've ever read, if you want to know more.) It's an elegant, gentle product (if you can handle coconut oil on your skin) that leaves your face soft and not tight feeling, with the added bonus of being very travel friendly. It became an object of lust because it sells out frequently and was even discontinued at one point. I had to know more.
While in Seoul, I had the chance to meet brand representatives from Su:m37 at the LG headquarters. Yes, LG, as in the company that makes cell phones and other small electronics — it also has a booming household and personal care division. It's the second biggest cosmetics company in South Korea behind Amore Pacific. In addition to Su:m37, LG owns Belif (launched at Sephora a few months ago), Face Shop, and has a deal with Coty to sell Philosophy in Korea. Last year, there was even speculation that the company wanted to buy Elizabeth Arden.
Joaria Cho, Su:m37's brand manager, patiently answered my questions, and her team shared a short presentation about the brand.
First off, what's up with that name? This slide explains it all, in three languages:
The most important thing to note here is the reference to fermentation, which is the signature process of the entire Su:m37 skin care range. Fermentation is the process whereby microorganisms are used to break down proteins and other substances. Supposedly this increases the amount, availability, and absorption of active ingredients. Su:m37 uses 105 species of micro-organisms and over 300 different raw materials to make its various active ingredients. The brand claims that it has clinical research studies to show efficacy, though I wasn't able to see any results or data while I was there.
Su:m37's five top sellers are: Secret Programming Essence (this product is beautiful and I am hoarding it), Secret Repair Concentrated Cream, Water-full Gel Cream, White Award Bubble De-Mask, and Air-rising Glow Cover Metal Cushion. But where is the MRCS you ask? Cho told me she was surprised when she heard a year ago how popular the product was in the U.S., because it's not a best seller in Asia. This is partly due to availability.
The MRCS is difficult to make in large quantities because of the production process. A vat is filled with all the ingredients, then the rose petals are added by hand in layers. The ingredients have to be mixed together very gently so the rose petals don't get destroyed. The roses themselves are fresh and rigorously inspected before they go into the MRCS. Because of the intricate process, the company can't make a lot at one time, hence the shortages. The day I visited, the brand store at LG headquarters was actually out of them. (Luckily I found some in a different neighborhood, where I promptly bought six.)
Because of the process, the MRCS has also been hard to copy. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery they say, and in Korea, land of lightning-fast innovations, it's a common occurrence. Despite a few brands trying, none have been able to to come up with a similar product that's as elegant as this one, so it's a true original in a marketplace full of dupes.
You can find the MRCS currently at Sokoglam for $28, which is about the same price as in Korea (historically it has been $5 -$10 more expensive here). It's still tricky to find other Su:m37 products, but I highly recommend giving the Secret Programming Essence ($67.79) a try too. In the meantime, here's hoping LG expands its retail of Su:m27 to the U.S.