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Genderless Body-Care Brand Nécessaire Wants to Make Clean Beauty Accessible

A new venture from the *other* founder of Into the Gloss and an Estée Lauder veteran makes its debut on Friday.
Nécessaire's full range of products. Photo: courtesy of Nécessaire

Nécessaire's full range of products. Photo: courtesy of Nécessaire

Quick: Do the math on how much money you really spend taking care of your body. Between $30-a-pop yoga classes, organic veggies from the farmer's market, adaptogenic supplements to stir into your morning smoothie and that new vitamin subscription you just signed up for, it's likely (conservatively) upwards of hundreds of dollars per month. So why are you still reaching for the $6.99 bottle of drugstore body wash every time you take a shower?

This is the gap that Nécessaire, the just-launched body-care company co-founded by Nick Axelrod (a former WWD and Elle editor and co-founder of Into the Gloss) and Randi Christiansen (a 15-year veteran of The Estée Lauder Companies), aims to fill. But to be clear, Nécessaire is not about luxury — although the minimalistic, elegant-yet-edgy packaging could fool you. No, as the name might imply, it's about necessity.

"I think it's fair to say there's been a shift from self-care being perceived as a luxury to an essential," says Christiansen. "And it's happening right now." The co-founders felt this shift coming when they first began working on the concept for Nécessaire nearly 24 months ago. A year later, they dedicated themselves to the company full-time; and on Friday, they're officially looking to shake up the wellness category with the introduction of three core products that suggest body care just might be the next big thing in beauty: The Body Wash, The Body Lotion and The Sex Gel (yes, it's a personal lubricant).

"It's funny, 'self-care' is a buzzword these days, and there's no genre that comes closest to getting to the core of self-care as body care," Axelrod says. "It's the most physical real estate you have." To continue the metaphor, he calls the line "furniture for your bathroom;" something that you interact with every single day, that needs to both look the part and add to your life in some meaningful way.

The recent growth of the natural skin-care industry (skin care is growing faster than cosmetics for the first time, and the natural beauty market is expected to be worth $13.2 billion by the end of the year) has no doubt played a part in the development of the new body-care brand. "Randi and I saw a disconnect and thought, 'Why are we using [body lotion] filled with ingredients we don't want to put on our faces?'" Axelrod explains. "It just didn't make sense, and that gulf is kind of what got us here." "Here" being a collection of "clean," safe body-care products formulated with (nearly) all-natural ingredients.

"'Natural' is a marketing word," Christiansen plainly states. "The word 'organic,' unless it has the USDA stamp can, be a marketing word." She speaks to the fact that in the United States, neither descriptor is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; essentially, brands can stamp "natural" on their chemical-filled products, slot it into a Facebook ad, rack up the sales, and call it a day. Nécessaire strategically avoids those ambiguous terms, unless referring to an individual ingredient, in favor of "clean." "[It's] a word that I think both Nick and I believe is starting to get definition around it," says Christiansen. Nécessaire specifically defines "clean" as ingredients that have been proven to be safe.

To that end, the brand has created "The No List," which is "a range of ingredients we believe are unsafe for skin," says Axelrod. Among the offenders are parabens, silicones, drying alcohols and no-brainers like formaldehyde and coal tar (which, yes, are surprisingly still used in a number of hygienic products today). "I think that what we wanted to do first and foremost was start with skin health and determine what are the ingredients that we know will have a negative impact on skin and what will have a positive impact on skin," he says, stating that he thinks what's not in the product is just as important as what is in the product.

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Nécessaire's range relies on mostly-natural ingredients, including Omega-6 and Omega-9 fatty acids for moisturizing properties; antioxidants like vitamins C and E to fight environmental damage; and natural oils including marula and meadowfoam to soften and protect the skin. The Body Lotion, which Axelrod is "obsessed" with for its ability to sink into the skin without leaving behind any greasy residue, also includes peptides to firm and tone skin over time. While every product is offered in a fragrance-free formula, customers have the option of ordering The Body Wash in one of two essential oil-spiked scents, as well: Eucalyptus ("cool and sporty," according to Christiansen) or Sandalwood ("more warm and sexual").

The body-care company does incorporate some man-made chemicals into its products, though, predominantly in the preservative category. "[Preservatives] are crucial when you have a water-based product," Christiansen says, with Axelrod noting that the company uses the chemical phenoxyethanol, which has been extensively studied and is generally regarded as safe for skin. It's true that preservatives seem to be the last great frontier of the natural beauty movement; and phenoxyethanol is the same substance used by clean beauty brand Beautycounter, which boasts its own "Never List" of harmful ingredients it doesn't allow in its products. But until a natural alternative emerges, Nécessaire believes that it's safer to formulate with synthetic preservatives than without any at all. "It's our commitment to stay aware of the best and most effective emerging technology in preservatives," Axelrod promises.

Beyond creating body care on par with skin care, Axelrod and Christiansen wanted to broaden the definition of the category altogether. "And that's how Sex Gel sort of came into the mix," says Christiansen. The Sex Gel is arguably the most buzzworthy product in the collection, if only because the aloe vera-based lube seems slightly provocative and out of place alongside the more innocent Body Wash and Body Lotion. "But we sort of thought this line should include all the things we do with our body," says Christiansen. "Might it be sex, might it be my shaving, might it be the face and the treatment options there." (Perhaps a hint at what's to come for the nascent brand?)

Nécessaire founders Nick Alexrod and Randi Christiansen. Photo: Nécessaire

Nécessaire founders Nick Alexrod and Randi Christiansen. Photo: Nécessaire

Environmental consciousness is also a pillar of the brand: Nécessaire goes so far as to say, "No planet, no body" — that is, it sees the environment as a stakeholder in the company. To this point, Axelrod and Christiansen have made it their mission to both uphold environmentally-friendly practices when sourcing, packaging and shipping the products; and provide customers with total transparency about their sustainability progress every step of the way. 

"It is difficult to do the right thing and to stick up for the environment," Christiansen says. "But this is a passion point for us." At launch, Nécessaire’s boxes are made with 100 percent recyclable materials and 85 percent post-consumer waste materials, but "what we still have ahead of us is the primary bottles," Christiansen shares. "As Nick and I say in our welcome letter [on the website]: We have begun." The co-founders are working towards the goal of only using recycled materials — no virgin plastic — in future Nécessaire products.

This transparency is just one of the many ways Nécessaire is carving out a new space in the oversaturated self-care industry. Also noteworthy: It's entirely genderless. "We wanted to create a line that didn't pander to the gender stereotypes, with typical women's pastel packaging," Axelrod says. "This brand is for all, it's for everybody."

To escape the clichés often associated with woman-centric self-care items, the company enlisted Brian Roettinger, a graphic designer known for his work on Jay-Z's album covers (and who had never worked with a beauty brand before), to design the brand visuals, and asked up-and-coming photographer Charlotte Wales to shoot the launch campaign with a uniquely female point of view. "If you think about the '90s, when everyone was shooting skin and sex, it was all shot by guys," Axelrod says. And, as with everything else about Nécessaire, "It’s kind of our M.O. to do it differently."

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