Hubert Burda Media

SOAP OPERA

Fresh has grown into a multimillion-dollar LVMH subsidiary. Its founders tell us all.

SOAP OPERA

IT'S THAT CLASSIC love story. Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Boy and girl open a beauty shop, manufacture their own soaps, and sell them to Barneys New York, which offloads the entire first run of stock within two days. Boy and girl name their line Fresh, with products drawing on his beauty addiction and packaging elevated by her fashion-design background. Boy and girl sell a majority stake to LVMH and become one of the biggest names in the beauty business today.

That boy is Lev Glazman, a Russian-born émigré and serial entrepreneur who worked as a dental technician and built a lucrative window-washing business before meeting and marrying the girl, Alina Roytberg, who hails from Ukraine and worked on the design team for Anne Klein.

Their first joint venture was a high-end drycleaning business, but in 1991, borrowing money from their families, they launched Nuts About Beauty, a beauty market in Boston. Their first proprietary products were soaps, wrapped in beautiful paper and tied in wire with a semiprecious gem, that were an antithesis to the “Irish Spring, Dove, a pack for $3 with six soaps” that Glazman says was de rigueur at the time. Fresh grew to encapsulate several natural lines, and in 2000 accepted a hefty investment from LVMH, bolstering the brand’s presence globally. Today it’s a favourite of celebs and beauty junkies alike.

HOW WAS FRESH FOUNDED?
Alina Roytberg: I remember the first night I stayed at [Lev’s] house, in the morning I went to the bathroom and, of course, I wanted to see what’s going on under the sink. That’s where all the secrets come out. And I screamed. There were bags, little shopping bags from different department stores, skincare companies...some not even opened. Not something you generally expect in a man’s bathroom. But he talked to me and it was clear to me that he had a passion for products. One night we were sitting in this bar in [Boston’s] South End and looking across the street to the corner shop, he said, “I would like to open this beauty market, a place where we have all these products that are not the traditional ones.” Interestingly enough, a few months later the space became available. He signed the lease with the landlord, and it wasn’t based on a business plan. It was based on the fact that we had something that was not out there and we really wanted to see it and we really believed other people would be interested.

AND WHEN DID YOU START CREATING YOUR OWN PRODUCTS?
Lev Glazman: The dream from the get-go was to have our own products. As we were travelling and bringing those special products from different parts of the world, we also saw a gap, and we thought, the store needs to hold even more. And we had ideas. We found a factory in France that was willing to do 50kg per flavour of soap, which is a very small production. We never ever turned that into numbers. When the truck arrived several months later, it was so big, I asked Alina, What is that truck doing here? And she said, it’s delivering our soaps. I asked why it was so big, and she said we had 800 bars of soap coming. And 800 bars of soap was a year’s supply of soap. But we sold it out in three months.

THE SOAPS WERE AN INSTANT HIT. WHAT CAME NEXT?
LG: We were the first ones to put the concept of milk out there – the benefits of milk-whey proteins on the skin. But we also created flavours that were completely unusual – the first chocolate milk soap. All these gourmand flavours: jasmine milk, almond milk.
Then the Brown Sugar Body Polish; that took it to a whole other level. It became a huge success. Then the Sugar Lip Treatment. Then the Rose Mask. Everything started following. It’s amazing to see how long they’re holding up. It’s incredible, the loyalty.

MANY OF THE INGREDIENTS SEEM COMMONPLACE: ROSE, BLACK TEA, SOY, SUGAR, ETC. WHERE DID THE IDEAS FOR EACH LINE COME FROM?
LG: Sugar, it’s been used by our grandparents, both in St Petersburg and in Ukraine. When we had little cuts, our grandmothers would put sugar on them because it’s a natural antiseptic. Seaberry paste I used when I had a third-degree burn on my arm when I was two years old and it helped it to heal. There’s so much in history about rituals and traditions of beauty, and that’s what fascinates us the most.
But then we also obviously want to discover new ingredients, bring something to life. When we launched the sugar acai body cream, we were the first ones using acai as an ingredient. People weren’t aware of superberries; they didn’t know what that means.

WHAT ARE YOUR OWN BEAUTY RITUALS NOWADAYS?
AR: There’s so much development going on that you always have something new that you’re working on and incorporating into your routine. I’m just grateful that I happen to be involved in a company with somebody who’s taking care of all of my skincare needs. My specific concern, obviously as you get older, is you get dry skin. I need a lot of hydration and nutrition and nourishment. So I have a lot of moisturising steps on different levels.
LG: I try so many different products. I’m constantly trying new formulations that I’m working on. I’m trying to see how they work with our existing products. I really play in the bathroom a lot. Cleansing is a big deal for me. I like the Clarisonic together with our Soy Face Cleanser. Or with our exfoliants like Sugar [Face Polish]. I do that no matter what. Then once my skin is clean I try different things. So by the time I’m done, at least six or seven products have been used over about 45 minutes.