What can explain the level of extreme devotion, on the part of Augustinus Bader skin care users, to 50 milliliter bottles of creams that cost $280 each — and now an expanded offering of everything from body creams to hair vitamins?
Part of it seems to be the scientific allure around the brand, which was founded by one Augustinus Bader, a German doctor and professor who administers secretive treatments to wealthy consumers who fly to a clinic in Leipzig, Germany, seeking help to slow their aging.
Those treatments, the brand acknowledges, have nothing to do with Augustinus Bader products. But they may be part of a narrative that has helped the company grow into a serious player in the beauty industry in just a few years since its start in 2018.
The brand has also benefited from high-profile fans who claim to slather Augustinus Bader products on their face every day including Gwyneth Paltrow and Bobbi Brown.
“I’ve used every skin care product known to mankind,” said Linda Wells, a veteran beauty journalist and former editor in chief of Allure who said she likes the products. “I’ll use them until something else comes along that I like better.”
The Science of Storytelling
Professor Bader met his co-founder, Charles Rosier, nearly 10 years ago. As they pitched their company as a miracle skin care line to journalists and others, they would often refer to Professor Bader’s research background and his interest in developing an ointment to help heal wounds.
The brand has caught the eye of some in Hollywood, including Melanie Griffith and Courteney Cox, who were early testers and investors, when it began with two products, the Cream and the Rich Cream. Ms. Paltrow flagged the Bader creams as part of her routine even as Goop cashed in on the skin-care cow with its own products.
According to the company, Augustinus Bader net sales exceeded $120 million in 2021, more than double the previous year’s sales, and it has begun a rollout as the house brand for all Bulgari hotel spas. Next year the company is set to open its first treatment room, atop the Webster in New York City.
Last spring, Augustinus Bader completed a new round of financing, led by General Atlantic and Javier Ferrán, the chairman of Diageo liquors, and totaling $25 million. Other investors included Jacques Veyrat, the chairman of Impala SAS; Mert Alas, the fashion photographer; and Antoine Arnault, the oldest son of Bernard Arnault, the chairman of LVMH, and his wife, the model Natalia Vodianova.
Mr. Arnault said it was Ms. Vodianova who convinced him to invest, independently of LVMH.
“At first I simply asked her what those new blue products were, and she’s like: ‘Oh, it’s this new brand that I was introduced to. You have to try it,’” Mr. Arnault said. “She just has a good social network.”
It’s who you know, not just what you know.
As much as Professor Bader’s scientific background infuse his beauty products with credibility, there is an equal amount of social science at play in the construction of Augustinus Bader, the brand.
Mr. Rosier and Professor Bader could have emerged from central casting to fill the roles of dashing businessman and nutty professor peddling a moneymaking idea. Mr. Rosier is a suave French financier with salt-and-pepper hair and a suntan that offsets his blue eyes. Professor Bader is a soft-spoken, bespectacled German gentleman with ruddy cheeks, white hair and a bow tie, a stylistic affectation he said predates his role as Augustinus Bader, the brand.
“I learned it in the U.S.,” he said. “A lot of medical doctors wear bow ties here.”
Professor Bader is a medical doctor, though the honorific “Professor” is considered more prestigious than “Doctor” in his native Germany. His professional bio is dotted with stints at medical schools in Chieti, Italy; Würzburg, Germany; and the Inselspital in Bern, Switzerland.
He has also worked at Shanghai Second Medical College and Harvard Medical School, and he is currently the director and professor of applied stem cell biology and cell technology at the University of Leipzig in Germany.
Stem cells are of great interest to the uber-wealthy, some of whom invest vast sums of money to try to combat aging and preserve their health. One of those people is Robert Friedland, the billionaire mining magnate who was a highly influential friend of Steve Jobs.
Mr. Rosier said that Mr. Friedland was a mentor to him when he was a managing director at Goldman Sachs with an interest in biotech. Mr. Friedland and his wife were in the habit of flying to Leipzig, Mr. Rosier said, where Professor Bader offers specialty treatments.
One night over dinner at Villa Treville, Mr. Friedland’s hotel in Positano, Italy, Mr. Rosier recalled, Mr. Friedland told him: “‘You have to go to Leipzig. Of everything we do for our health, the only thing where we seriously see an impact are the treatments we do with Augustinus.’”
Eventually, Mr. Rosier went there, not with the intention of starting a luxury skin care line but to connect Professor Bader with some of his other biotech interests. Mr. Rosier learned more about Professor Bader’s research, which focuses on using stem cells to soften aging and help heal injuries.
Pressed for more details about the treatments administered to the likes of Mr. Friedland a spokesman for Augustinus Bader declined to disclose specifics.
The rarefied spa treatments in Leipzig are part of Professor Bader’s continuing research, the spokesman wrote.
If the stem cell treatments are so shrouded in secrecy, why talk about them so publicly at all?
The spokesman replied, “It’s part of the brand origin story.”
From Leipzig to Hollywood
Augustinus Bader’s royal blue and copper packaging catch the eye on the bathroom sink. The look is regal, aristocratic and medicinal, printed with a mouthful of a name evocative of olden times. It’s easy to picture Professor Bader hunched over a microscope or thumbing through medical journals in a lab or library in a land far away. The deep shade of blue was chosen for a starry night sky. Copper is a medicinal metal.
“Copper is antimicrobial,” Mr. Rosier said. “It was used on the doorknobs of hospitals.” The company logo? “It’s a reinterpretation of the healing star,” he said.
Before the average person with $280 to spend on face cream is Googling an obscure German professor, they’re more likely Googling Ms. Paltrow. Mr. Rosier and Professor Bader got some Hollywood names on board in early, seeding through Ms. Griffith, which is less random than it seems. Her sister’s husband is Mark Daley, the brand’s first chief executive. Ms. Griffith tried the creams in 2017, before the brand was on the market, and was hooked.
“Within two weeks I could tell an enormous difference in my skin, and then after a month it was crazy,” she said. “I took the cream around to all of my friends in town. That helped start word of mouth around Los Angeles. I gave it to my mother. I gave it to my daughter.”
She also gave it to Cassandra Grey, a beauty entrepreneur, who introduced the products at Violet Grey, an influential beauty e-commerce site and store. (Ms. Grey had already gotten a sample from Elizabeth Sulcer, a stylist in Los Angeles.) Ms. Griffith invested in Augustinus Bader, and she continues to fly the flag fervently.
Soon Professor Bader found himself dining with Ms. Cox and Demi Moore, Kris Jenner and Kim Kardashian and Brad Pitt. Instrumental to some introductions, Mr. Rosier said, was Sat Hari Khalsa, a jewelry designer and Mr. Pitt’s partner in his new cashmere venture, God’s True Cashmere.
“Augustinus had never heard the words ‘Kim Kardashian,’” Mr. Rosier said.
“I had heard of Pitt,” Professor Bader deadpanned.
Is it worth the hype?
When Augustinus Bader was released, its party line was that it would sell only three products, the Cream, the Rich Cream and the Body Cream. They were all you needed to achieve amazing skin.
Cut to 2022 and the Bader collection includes the Serum, the Eye Cream, the Light Cream, the Essence, the Face Oil, the Ultimate Soothing Cream, the Cream Cleansing Gel, the Cleansing Balm, the newly released Eyebrow and Lash Enhancing Serum. There are also hair care products — shampoo, conditioner, scalp serum, hair oil — and skin and hair supplements. And, the Lip Balm. The newest product is the Mask, released on Nov. 17.
“It’s not scalable as a business to have just two products if you have big ambitions,” Mr. Rosier said, noting that the Rich Cream makes up 50 percent of the company’s sales. “For example, in Korea, when we only had two or three products, they were not interested in carrying us because you are not relevant if you don’t occupy space. You don’t exist.”
All of the Bader skin- and hair-care products are “Powered by TFC8,” which the company’s website describes as “natural amino acids, high-grade vitamins and synthesized molecules naturally found in the body” It reportedly addresses fine lines, wrinkles, redness, hyperpigmentation, cellulite and stretch marks.
Does Ms. Wells see a difference after regular use? “No,” she said. “I don’t really think that any of these products are going to make a remarkable difference in the way you look. But I like the way they feel on my skin. They don’t make my skin react badly.”
After evaluating the ingredients in the Bader formulas, Allen Sha, a chemist who helps brands develop products, said, “These are tried-and-true ingredients that the skin care industry has utilized and leveraged to deliver results.” Mr. Sha once worked at L’Oréal and now runs his own firm, Sha Consulting Group, though he has not worked for Augustinus Bader.
Mr. Sha said he didn’t know the exact chemistry in the products’ formulas, but he believes it involves a proprietary peptide.
“I think this product definitely has some scientific rigor and merit to it,” Mr. Sha said, though he expressed skepticism at the glowing results the company publishes alongside its products. “It seems too good to be true.”
Mr. Sha also noted the effectiveness of the Augustinus Bader packaging and marketing. “Beauty is a subjective category,” he said, adding that the company uses “a lot of scientific language in their branding.”
Storytelling can be as powerful as, if not more than, peptides.