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The name Augustinus Bader carries a certain weight within the beauty industry. Synonymous with exclusivity and luxury, it brings to mind images of little blue and gold bottles, glowing skin, and a cult following that includes the likes of Victoria Beckham, Bella Hadid, and Margot Robbie. Since launching in early 2018, the skin care line has risen to prominence seemingly overnight, and its beloved moisturizers have overtaken centuries-old favorites to become some of the most sought-after products in the world. But for the man behind the brand, Augustinus Bader, the success of the last two and a half years has been somewhat of a happy accident.
As a long-time professor and researcher of stem cell biology, the German-born Bader has spent more than three decades studying the body’s ability to heal itself. After working early in his career with patients who faced disfigurement as a result of scarring, he was motivated to think about the problem in a new light and develop ways to cope with it. “The idea of creating stem cells outside of the human body was what drove me,” the scientist explained. “But at some point, I thought that we should look into helping the body heal itself rather than taking something from the outside to induce regeneration.”
Bader spent the next 15 years excogitating injury and disfigurement, especially as they appear in burn victims, and in 2008, he formulated a revolutionary hydrogel that could heal even the most severe of burns with its continued application. “I had early indications that it might work, but it seemed too good to be true, so nobody totally believed me,” he recalled. “I wanted to conduct studies, but in an academic environment, you’re so limited and cannot really do major studies.”
At the pinnacle of his frustration, however, Bader was introduced to Charles Rosier, a French investment banker who was very impressed with his innovation. “I didn’t have any more liquidity to help Augustinus, but I was really fascinated when I saw what he could do on burned skin, and I thought that it was very necessary to make that available to the world,” the financier said. While pondering ways he could support the scientist’s efforts to fund a clinical trial of the burn treatment, it occurred to Rosier to repurpose the disruptive technology to address wrinkles and aging. “It was really a pragmatic idea to finance his research, and I was confident that we could create an amazing product that would probably be superior to what existed on the market because I knew how unique Augustinus’ brain and discoveries were,” he noted.
Bader loved the idea and, over the proceeding 18 months, developed two indulgent moisturizers—The Cream (from $170, Nordstrom.com) and The Rich Cream (from $170, Nordstrom.com)—powered by his patented Trigger Factor Complex (TFC8), a groundbreaking complex that activates skin’s natural healing process. “Coming from burn treatment, I was using gels a lot, and I learned that actually gels are not very good for burned skin because they dry out, and when you change the dressing, you’re removing it all,” the professor explained. “I found that you really needed something that was just a super rich cream that wasn’t sticky when you applied it to skin, so richness was a prerequisite for getting something that was very calming for your skin.”
With actress Melanie Griffith as an early investor in the brand, samples of the creams soon fell into the hands of some of Hollywood’s biggest names, and a buzz began generating within the beauty industry. “We had this sort of word of mouth in Hollywood, and we realized that it was the best strategy because Hollywood has more global influence than anywhere in the world,” said Rosier, now the CEO of Augustinus Bader. “We knew that if we could manage to convince people there of the reality of the product and how good it was and how established Augustinus’ research was, it would be very helpful for us.” Within weeks, the creams were the talk of the town and subsequently the subject of magazine write-ups, newspaper editorials, and many a social media post.
By the time Augustinus Bader made its official launch in February 2018, the brand’s reputation was stellar, and demand for the widely extolled creams was high. An air of exclusivity was already present, if only for the famous celebrities and tastemakers who sang the line’s praises, but what really solidified its cult status was the company’s selectiveness in retailers. Unlike other high-end options, Augustinus Bader was not—and even two years on is still not—everywhere. In partnering with reputable and trusted vendors, like Violet Grey, the brand presented itself as part of a discerning curation of products, letting consumers know from the start that its products were there because they deserved to be.
Having the little blue and gold bottle of Augustinus Bader cream on your bathroom shelf and in your skin care routine quickly became a symbol of stature and prestige. It told the world you were in-the-know and had enough clout to actually procure the hard-to-get cream. But interestingly, the brand achieved this cachet without a lofty and prohibitive price tag. At $265 for the largest (1.7oz) size, the moisturizer might not exactly be affordable, but compared to its $800 and $1,200 competitors, it’s a steal. Bader’s signature TFC8, indeed what really sets it apart from the rest, can also offer results in fairly small doses. “You can benefit from it even if you use the cream once a day or once every two days; you don’t necessarily need to buy the largest size every four or six weeks,” Rosier said. “So, the price might still be a little bit prohibitive in some ways, but we really have tried to fight this barrier of access.”
While many young brands tend to capitalize on early success by quickly putting out countless products, Augustinus Bader has been relatively slow to expand its line. The brand’s star ingredient, TFC8, boasts almost universal efficacy because it doesn’t address just one skin concern or issue. The complex instead triggers skin’s natural repair and renewal process—be it to repair acne, dryness, inflammation, or signs of aging—so it essentially tailors to your skin’s individual needs once it’s applied. For that reason, the brand has had no need for dozens of product variants to treat different skin problems and has been able to focus on developing only a handful of truly necessary products. “You don’t need an entire Augustinus Bader routine or need to do five, six, 10, 20 steps to see results; it is actually something that is a one-step procedure,” Bader explained. “Each product is a stand-alone product, and although people are welcome to combine them, they each work on their own.” It’s then left to a customer’s personal preference whether he or she uses The Rich Cream or The Face Oil, but they do not actually need both.
As the brand has expanded, it’s been careful not to make any gratuitous additions. The Augustinus Bader line now includes 11 products, seven of which were just launched this year, but each offers a distinct purpose. “All these developments are focused on specific skin needs, and different areas of the body have different needs,” Bader said. “The reason we have been able to expand it was defined by the need to extend to other areas. So, The Rich Cream was just a face product, but we didn’t want to stop at the face, so The Body Cream was the next one, and it was optimized by spreading.”
While Augustinus Bader’s focus on science and biologically personalized skin care might be an anomaly in the current cosmetics market, the stem cell scientist believes that this approach will ultimately be the future of beauty. “I do think we will see an emphasis on genetics and understanding how human beings function and how genetics shape our skin and how it behaves,” he said. “You’ll have something that adjusts to your own genetic code, and it will be totally personalized this way.” But despite the immense success of his brand and its potential impact on the world of beauty for years to come, Bader insists that he’s just the scientist and just the one working in the lab.