Financial Times: Augustinus Bader and the making of a $70m phenomenon

Financial Times: Augustinus Bader and the making of a $70m phenomenon

31 March 2021

“We’re a little bit game-changing”

The Augustinus Bader story has become a beauty legend. Professor Bader, one of the world’s leading stem-cell experts, makes a groundbreaking wound gel that rehabilitates the skin of burns victims, without the need for grafts or scarring. At a dinner hosted by Robert Friedland, the self-made billionaire and long-time mentor to Steve Jobs, Bader meets Charles Rosier, a young French financier. They are kicking around ideas for funding the necessary clinical trials for the product, which would likely run into the tens of millions. Pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested because most burns victims are in emerging countries, where the market for sophisticated healing products is negligible.

Rosier has a flash of inspiration: could Bader use what he knows about wound healing to make an anti-ageing cream? “Yes”, answers Bader unhesitatingly.


Two years and much cajoling later, the professor makes a prototype skincare cream, and pretty soon anyone who has ever had more than a passing interest in face cream is talking about it.

According to Deloitte, as many as 90 per cent of beauty launches fail within a year. By contrast, the Augustinus Bader skincare brand has grown from a turnover of $7m in 2018 to $70m in 2020. It has also shattered traditional conventions of luxury skincare along the way. For a start, the company launched with just two face products, The Cream (for normal/oily skin) and The Rich Cream (dry skin) and insisted that - apart from cleanser and SPF - they’re all you need to use. No eye cream, no neck cream, no serum underneath, no primer on top - just one cream, and a very specific two pumps at that. This was intriguing. Most luxury-skincare brands (the creams retail at £205 each) don’t just sell you a dream - they sell you a regime.


Charles Rosier believes that their inexperience in the beauty industry helped at first. “If I’d known how complex and competitive the industry is, maybe I wouldn’t have had so much passion for it. But because I had seen what Augustinus’s science could do, I was truly convinced that he could create a product that was new, disruptive and of higher quality than whatever else was in the market.”


As it turned out, it was. Celebrities - normally paid handsomely to endorse beauty brands - were not only recommending the Augustinus Bader cream unprompted but investing in the company too (Courteney Cox, Melanie Griffith and Carla Bruni to note). Usually cynical beauty editors discussed it with the fervour of addicts (myself included). And in February, a panel of more than 300 industry experts voted The Cream and The Rich Cream as Women’s Wear Daily’s Greatest Skincare Product of All Time (Creme de la Mer, launched in 1965, took second place and Estee Lauder Advanced Night Repair, from 1982, took third), neatly capping off a pleasing statistic of 36 awards in 36 months.


Bader – a softly spoken, bow tie-wearing 61-year-old German – is both as thrilled and bemused by the brand’s success as you’d hope. Before making the face cream, he says, he had never used a skincare product in his life. But he likes the fact that now, when he uses the cream before shaving, he no longer cuts himself. It would never have occurred to him to have created a cleanse/tone/moisturise-type regime. “Beauty is always from inside,” he says. “You don’t need a routine, as many people have been used to. The idea is that just after washing your face, you use The Cream or The Rich Cream. Everything is in that one product.”


It would be tempting to paint Bader as the sneery scientist, dabbling with the beauty world as a means to an end (close to 10 per cent of the brand’s profits in 2019‑20 went to wound-healing research and other charities). The opposite is true: what finally convinced him to embark on the project was his patients’ reaction to his early prototype: “When I gave the product to patients with diabetic wounds, their skin became healthier-looking and stronger, and I could see how happy it made them . . . so for me, even though it was just a skincare product, it developed a kind of medical meaning.”


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