Hubert Burda Media

Behind the scenes at Fresh Beauty's lab

Fresh Beauty celebrates a quarter century with a mask made of juicy oranges and lemons. We delve into the deceptive simplicity of a brand that made a small story into a big business.

Fresh Beauty's Vitamin Nectar Vibrancy-Boosting Face Mask

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade – or so the saying goes. Lev Glazman, one half of the couple that founded Fresh Beauty in 1991, did get his hands on a lot of lemons, but he didn’t make lemonade. He made jam. And then, from the jam, he made a face mask.

Pinterest is filled with do-it-yourself beauty solutions using all manner of household products, from coffee-ground facial scrubs to aspirin-paste blemish cream to cider-vinegar toners – and for every common-slash-crazy idea presented, there’s an Internet thread debunking its efficacy.

Fresh has made an empire out of harnessing these everyday ingredients, taking the likes of sugar, honey, tea and rose and elevating them into delicious little concoctions that benefit the complexion. On the surface, the concept may seem overly simplistic, but it’s a strategy that has worked for two-and-a-half decades.

The ingredients for Fresh Beauty's Vitamin Nectar Vibrancy-Boosting Face Mask

The ingredients for Fresh Beauty's Vitamin Nectar Vibrancy-Boosting Face Mask

The story, by now, is famed in beauty circles – Glazman and his wife Alina Roytberg decided one day to manufacture high-quality soaps, which they wrapped in beautiful papers and then sold out of their shop in Boston and by mail order, taking telephone orders themselves at all hours of the night by hand. “The system,” Glazman jokes, “was always ‘down’.” Their approach began humbly and continues to be so, despite being acquired by the LVMH behemoth in the year 2000, which afforded them access to the science labs and research facilities used by the likes of Dior and Guerlain.

Instead of selling out and moving on, Glazman and Roytberg are now more than ever a part of the business, and not only as its faces. Without access to the LVMH archives, Glazman may never have discovered the base recipe for Fresh’s high-end Crème Ancienne – but then again, neither would the holding company necessarily have considered allowing production to take place in a monastery in Prague rather than a typical assembly line. Without Glazman’s discovery of kombucha and its healing benefits, there would be no Black Tea Age Delay collection. So there is little doubt where the idea to mix jams made from lemons, oranges and clementines came from.

Experimenting in Fresh Beauty's labs

We are in the belly of the Fresh laboratory just outside of Paris, and Glazman is showing us exactly what his idea was by mixing up a big vat of crushed citrus fruit. We could be in a kitchen, except the mixing bowl is a giant beaker, and instead of aprons, everyone is wearing lab coats. The concoction is delicious and, as we are told, filled to the brim with radiance-revealing vitamin C. Pair that with a patented vitamin complex also rich in E and B5, add a mean little mineral cocktail, and you have a quick 10-minute formula that peels back dullness to divulge a brighter complexion.

Fresh is known for many products – its Sugar Lip Treatments work wonders against chapping;it’s Soy Face Cleanser is surprisingly effective for such a gentle formula; its Hesperides Grapefruit fragrance is unforgettable. But its masks are truly magic. The Rose Face Mask consistently tops bestseller lists; the Crème Ancienne Honey Mask is so nourishing you feel like you haven’t yet washed it off because the texture of your skin has changed to quickly and dramatically; and its Black Tea twin threats – Instant Perfecting Mask and Overnight Mask – are so equally beloved they cannot really be separated.

But this Vitamin Nectar Vibrancy-Boosting Face Mask is something else. Chunky in texture, with a juicy citrus scent that makes you want to eat it (“do not ingest” is on the box, in capital letters, though), in 10 minutes it takes you from drab to fab. Your skin is softer and smoother, and even before you wash the product off it seems clearer. Wherefore art thou, pores? I don’t know, and I don’t care.

Experimenting in Fresh Beauty's labs

And while the concept may have begun with the founders, the labs elevate it from Pinterest project to global skincare phenomenon. The formula is one thing, but there’s a lot more that goes on behind the scenes before the product makes it onto shelves. Clinical testing is no small or short procedure. Securing global administrative approval for the formula takes time and a keen attention to detail. Sourcing the ingredients in large quantities is certainly no piece of cake, especially when you need to maintain a consistency which most of us know is near impossible when dealing with fresh and natural produce. And creating one jar of Vitamin Nectar mask may be simple, but scaling production to output the thousands of jars sent to boutiques around the world, while keeping the integrity and stability of the recipe intact, requires an entire department.

In short, this is a symbiotic relationship that has proved both lovely and lucrative for all parties. There are a lot of dirty takeovers in the luxury world, sensationalised by media and fictional tales in film and TV. Designers lose the rights to their names, hospitality gurus find their new bosses rather inhospitable, family businesses have scions stripped of power as the business expands and made into mere “ambassadors”. Boring it may be, but this isn’t that story “The purpose of the group,” explains Roytberg, “is to find creativity and then nurture it. When LVMH approached Fresh, I think what resonated to us was that the people we were talking to understood where we were coming from. Sometimes, learning business in America, we’re not taking the emotional approach – we try to be very reasonable and logical. One of the big challenges is how to maintain the family spirit as you go to different parts of the world. This is something we talk about every day. Our first visit to the laboratory after we joined LVMH – that first product Lev wanted to do – was Sugar Face Polish. And there was an appreciation for the authenticity and what we believed in, there was a real understanding. People appreciated that, and that’s what made us succeed as partners. that’s part of who we are, and I don’t think anyone has ever wanted to erase it.”

Fresh Beauty founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg

Fresh Beauty founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg

We celebrate the big two-five with the couple in typical Fresh fashion. There’s a colouring book filled with drawings of Glazman and Roytberg in every country that hosts a Fresh boutique (cuter, still, is wallpaper featuring the couple discovering various ingredients: taking sake baths, picking tea leaves, sleeping in soybean pods). A pastry class led by celebrity chef (and celebrity boyfriend to Sophie Marceau) Cyril Lignac. A ball pit of orange and yellow spheres that caters almost specifically to Instagram Boomerang mini videos – juggling optional. And of course, there are facials with the new mask, from which we all emerge luminous. It’s very quaint and very personal and not at all like you’d expect of one of the world’s largest luxury corporations.

The couple may be far from retirement, but the milestone anniversary does beg the question, what happens then? The question of legacy is always an important one in brands old or young, and particularly for one that has so ably executed a personal touch through all its transitions. “The chemists, they [already] embrace our spirit,” says Glazman. “So I think something is going to start sticking as our heritage – in the next 25 years, it’s going to stick big time. “[But before that happens], they’ll have to roll me out of the laboratory. Drooling.”