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A WELCOME MAKEOVER

The India look

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Serum with youth proteins, magnetic nail colours, tinted body lotions and invisible foundation. . . international luxe beauty brands are giving the well-heeled Indian woman a welcome makeover

Make up, for most Indian women, often means a thick swipe of kohl around the eyes. But with the entry of some big international colour cosmetics and skincare brands into India that could change really fast.

In December last year, Sephora - a multi-brand beauty and personal care chain owned by the LVMH group - launched its outlet in an upmarket Delhi mall two weeks ago. Sephora stocks the world's top skincare and cosmetic brands, along with an in-house collection. "It was like a jungle there, " says Shikha Mishra who visited the store soon after it opened. "So many women buying so much makeup . . . even products like tinted and glitter body moisturisers to help you highlight yours shoulders or dêcolletage. It all seemed very new, " adds Mishra who admits to being a make-up addict.

Luxury bath and body brand, Crabtree & Evelyn, recently set up shop in Delhi. Gosh and Flormar too put up small kiosks in a mall last year. Gosh, a Danish brand, is known for its nail colours and caters mostly to teenagers and make-up professionals. Turkish brand Flormar is sought for its matte eye shadow palettes and comes at affordable prices. While these two are more like the localdrugstore brands of the West, other players, like MAC, Shisiedo, Lancome, Estee Lauder and Clinique, boast of higher brand profiles.

These well established foreign brands are already visible on the dressing tables of many upper middle-class Indian women empowered by greater spending power and awareness. They are graduating upward from mass brands like Maybelline and Revlon. "For the longest time make-up was ignored in India. Our mothers always had one brown lipstick, which they carried everywhere. Now, make-up is considered as important as clothes and women are now spending a lot on it. For instance, I use Kiehl's eye cream that costs Rs 1, 800, " says Mehak Sagar, a 25-year-old beauty blogger who follows make-up trends and reviews products at peachesandblush. com.

Most MAC products start at Rs 1, 000 and the base mark in Sephora is Rs 2, 000. Some of its anti-ageing products cost anywhere between Rs 5, 000 and Rs 10, 000. Clearly, looking young and beautiful is priceless. According to L'Oreal India, which has launched top-end luxe brands in India like Lancome, YSL, Kiehl's and Armani, the luxury beauty segment in India is growing at an average rate of 20-25 per cent each year.

"Women are realising the cost effectiveness of quality products. For instance, MAC's lip butter costs more than Maybelline's but it's so much better in terms of texture, feel and mositurisation. So even if you spend Rs 3, 000 to Rs 4, 000 buying high-end products, they are value for money, " says Mishra.

Consumers are also becoming increasingly aware of the pricey ingredients used in expensive products. "Customers spend 30-45 minutes at our Kiehl's and Lancome boutiques to receive a personalised skincare and make-up consultation. We have noticed that consumers are now aware of the importance of a skincare regimen and the importance of ingredients like vitamin C, " says Marco Riggio, director luxury, L'Orêal India. Kiehl's, an alternative luxury brand which is known for its natural ingredients, was launched in India in 2010.

Bollywood has a big role in fuelling the demand for a certain 'look' and of course, the products that create it. For instance, Rani Mukherjee popularised the smoky eyed look in Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna which was put together by artist Namrata Soni. The glam look Sonam Kapoor sported in Aisha was credited to L'Oreal. Sagar says her readers constantly quiz her about Alia Bhatt's girl-woman look (bright red lips on a clean face) in Student of the Year. "The various international women's magazines now published in India are also creating a buzz around make-up, skincare and anti-ageing products, " says Vandana Arora, a senior manager at HR firm Mercer, and an ardent cosmetics shopper both in India and abroad.

Although big international brands are now available here, Arora feels that it's still cheaper to shop for colour cosmetics abroad. Recalling her two visits to Sephora store in Delhi, Arora maintains that she found the collection limited and in some, cases overpriced. "They still don't have big names like Nars. And the price mark up on specific brands like Bliss and their inhouse collection was 40-50 per cent higher, " she says.

Sagar, too, points out that while Burt Bees lip balms cost approximately US$2 abroad, Sephora is selling them at Rs 400-Rs 600. But she agrees that the arrival of these brands in India is a significant step because India has always had a limited number of make-up brands. Till recently, Lakme, Lotus and ColorBar were the only local players in the market.

Make-up artiste Vidya Tikari recalls having to source raw materials during her trips abroad when she started her beauty business in the early 90s. "What's great about having international brands here is that they introduce niche products, like dry shampoos and magnetic nail colours, which otherwise you can only buy abroad, " adds Sagar. Sephora stocks dry shampoo and magnetic nail colour is available at Faces, a Canadian cosmetics brand available in India.

While Indian consumers are embracing luxury beauty brands, they are not discarding traditional Ayurvedic preparations either. Says Mira Kulkarni, chief managing director of Forest Essentials: "The latest technology may produce instant results but these are short lived. Natural products used over an extended period help you retain the essential qualities of youth and beauty. "

Some of the big global brands, too, have used local beauty wisdom in their concoctions. For example, Magic Elixir Hair Oil, among Kiehl's bestsellers, has been inspired by the typical Indian tradition of oiling one's hair.

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