The Swiss Secrets Behind This $1000 Luxury Skincare Cream
Like calibrating a fine Swiss watch, designing skincare for the rhythms of time is a study in luxury and precision at La Prairie
In the world of what Swiss luxury skincare maker La Prairie describes as "haute rejuvenation", nothing is done by halves. If you're paying nearly $2000 for a cream or an elixir, you're going to expect performance — plus some pandering to your finer sensibilities.
In the recently reimagined Platinum Rare collection, this comes by way of jewel-like amethyst-hued bottles edged in platinum trim. They're designed with a rigour that Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier would have approved of, echoing his elemental geometric forms.
Turns out, at La Prairie, elements and geometry factor into the creation of skincare. So, too, the play of light on surfaces.
To launch its latest product — a caviar-infused eye cream served up on its own little silver tray like the best beluga roe — the company flew its top skincare scientist across the globe. Dr Daniel Stangl's visit to Sydney reminded him of his first trip 38 years ago, when he experienced sunburn for the first time, and then Hamilton, for post-graduate study.
In the intervening years he's tracked growing environmental awareness of risk factors to the skin. Damage is now known to occur not just from UV rays, but from air pollution and blue light from devices.
As director of innovation, Dr Stangl must keep up with the latest research and ensure La Prairie stays at the forefront of combating both these damaging external stressors and the intrinsic signs of ageing. All while keeping customers feeling their outlay is worth it.
"A lot of clients do have unrealistic expectations, of course, because cosmetics is not a medical treatment … but we can do a lot," he says. "I think people nowadays have changed a little bit... to this possibility of ageing gracefully, but at the same time doing something to the skin that retains the glow, the radiance, the beauty in it. This is a more realistic approach than looking like when they were 20."
A polite chuckle erupts when I note heavily invested clients may swear it's all about the skincare, while finding other ways of dealing to wrinkles.
Discretion has always been part of the La Prairie way, the company's origins are in a clinic opened in Montreux more than 80 years ago by Dr Paul Niehans. From this retreat, the rich and famous were sent home looking refreshed, with an anti-ageing "cellular complex" to apply.
In the 1990s, the original complex was re-engineered, gaining a patent for actions on cell proliferation stimulation. Unusually, the patent was renewed after 20 years, recognising advances in the formula’s action.
Along with time in the laboratory, creative thinking is part of Dr Stangl's job. At the Sydney launch of White Caviar Eye Extraordinaire, $845, he happily riffs on the subject of light and shape with leading architect Tony Chenchow, who designed the venue with partner Stephanie Little.
It's a new white bijoux box of a house in Glebe that unfolds inside in angles and curves to frame a view to the cityscape. Both men reference Le Corbusier and Dr Stangl talks of how light interacts with the planes of the face.
Then it's on to the eye cream, containing a melanin-inhibiting molecule dubbed Lumidose that has been 15 years in development and which is said to counteract dulling chromatic disturbances in the skin. Golden caviar is used to support collagen production to better scaffold the eye area's shape.
Speaking to Dr Stangl, he is candid about his career. "La Prairie is known for using rare and precious ingredients like the caviar, platinum, gold and so on," he says. "I think it's very important to have ingredients that really do perform. Of course, then we try to fit them into the storytelling aspect, the more marketing aspect, but it's really important that those ingredients fulfil both aspects."
Involved in introducing caviar to cosmetics, he says it was initially an "audacious decision to use fish egg extract on the fact... but it turned out to be a source of many, many different skin benefits".
The use of platinum developed from being the vehicle for a single peptide to a more complex multi-peptide with extra skin-cell messaging functions. "This is a kind of chemistry that is actually very rare, you can do it with gold as well and silver but platinum is one of the best."
Future work will focus on strategies to modulate activities in skin cells, including using polyphenols, or plant extracts. Multi-level approaches with multiple ingredients gave best results, he says, with the aim of decreasing oxidative stress in skin and bolstering repair mechanisms. "That's what's fascinating, we are not at the end, we are far from reaching the end of the perfect skincare product."
With a laboratory that might run up to 50,000 tests on a single molecule, there's more time and effort put into La Prairie than into a $10 face cream, he notes, "Is your product 60 times more efficient? That’s not the right question."
The superior sensorial textures and investment in staff service was also part of the overall promise. "You have to pay that somehow."