By Amanda Richards
Feb 04, 2019 @ 12:00 pm
La Prairie

No single moment of clarity has hit me harder than the one I had sprawled out on the pavement on a busy, club-lined street in South Beach, Miami during Art Basel. Seconds before, I’d fallen head first out of a luxury shuttle bus — not drunk, just six feet tall with unruly limbs and remarkably small feet. After I hit the ground, blood started pouring from my leg and onto my expensive white dress. My broken sandal was twisted around my rapidly swelling foot. Above me, beauty editors, PR reps, and representatives from the luxury Swiss skincare brand La Prairie watched in horror, concern, and thinly veiled pity as I attempted to gather my bearings.

“I am not a La Prairie woman,” I thought to myself. “I shouldn’t be here.”

So who is the La Prairie woman? That was part of what I’d come to Miami to find out. The brand brought a group of editors and VIPs to South Beach for Art Basel to enjoy a comprehensive La Prairie skincare experience, complete with luxury hotel rooms, exquisitely prepared meals inspired by their products’ hero ingredients, a tour of everything that Art Basel had to offer, and the launch of their latest $655 skincare innovation.

More on that later.

In order to figure out why a brand would pull out so many expensive stops to announce a new product, I had to understand who the brand was doing it for.

“The La Prairie woman, our typical client, personifies the brand really well,” Chief Marketing Officer Greg Prodromides tells me during our interview in a breezy Miami penthouse. “She’s demanding and discerning — extremely so. Very cultured. She’s international, also, always a bit on the go and on the move. Very, very connected and extremely savvy. No apologies, very precise, very knowledgeable, and always contemporary.”

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At certain points throughout my life, I’ve fantasized about becoming a woman with those very qualities. A wealthy textiles importer on a first class flight to Hong Kong, perhaps. A shrewd investment banker with a closet full of perfectly tailored pantsuits. An heiress whose family fortune was obtained when the country her father ruled for 20 years ceased to exist.

The La Prairie woman.

When I arrived at what was probably the closest I’d ever come to any of that — dressed in expensive clothing that I had to borrow, eating small food positioned delicately on big plates, receiving private tours to the biggest art fair in America, rubbing elbows with Swiss executives — it turned out that I wasn’t up to the task. I did not feel like a La Prairie woman; I felt like a dumb bitch bleeding out on the sidewalk.

But luckily, the world already has enough La Prairie women who are far more suited to living the #lifestyle than I am. The brand’s dedicated, international, deep-pocketed clientele allows La Prairie to develop and produce some of the skincare market’s most covetable and high-dollar products, which cost anywhere from $200 to $1,200 a jar. Throughout my time in Miami interacting with both the brand and some of its top-spending customers, I heard stories about La Prairie devotees spending upwards of $15,000 a year on products at Saks; Chinese billionaires’ wives rumored to outfit all of their homes, and their daughters’ homes, and their granddaughters’ homes with full product ranges. There were even whispers of one La Prairie woman redesigning her bathroom shelves so that each of her La Prairie products could nestle in its own custom-measured groove.

It’s easy to scoff at the lengths to which La Prairie customers will go for what they consider to be top-of-the-line skincare, and easy to side-eye the brand for refusing to develop products for the mass market. However, something about the aspirational, unapologetic mindset of both the La Prairie brand and the La Prairie loyalist just feels honest to me The products are expensive, yes, but cost is simply not something the brand is concerned about — it just is.

“Our customer comes to us attracted to what the brand stands for,” Prodromides says, leaning towards me and adjusting the sleeves on his exquisitely tailored grey blazer. “Pure, real, authentic luxury is about aspiration. It’s about desirability. There’s no question about this. And [the product] is a piece of the dream, of the desire — but we know that they stay with us because of the product, because at the end of the day they expect visible results on their skin.”

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That’s the thing about La Prairie — the products actually do work. Using just a few of them over the course of several days, I noticed a visible difference in both the texture and radiance of my skin. After just one night of the Skin Caviar Luxe Sleep Mask ($375), the dermal byproducts of my relatively unhealthy lifestyle (lack of sleep, coffee by the gallon, an undying love for greasy breakfast sandwiches), had all but disappeared — I actually looked well for once.

So what makes the products so good? Part of it has to do with the La Prairie origin story. In 1931, a glandular transplant specialist named Dr. Paul Niehans started researching cell therapy. He believed that the root to all successful skincare could only be found at the cellular level. From a stunning chalet hidden away in the Swiss mountains, Dr. Niehans developed what is now known as the exclusive cellular complex, found in all of La Prairie’s products. The complex is produced in three separate laboratories so that the complete recipe remains a secret; no single La Prairie chemist knows the full formula.

Clinique La Prairie in Montreaux, Switzerland

La Prairie

In addition to this proprietary formula, the brand offers products in a few different ranges, each with a different luxurious hero ingredient. The Radiance Collection, for example, contains a pure gold infusion. The White Caviar and Skin Caviar collections both harness the active ingredients found in — you guessed it — caviar. And the Platinum Rare collection, included in the brand’s newest launch, the Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion ($655), contains a platinum peptide that claims to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and maintain firmness, all with the help of one of the world’s most precious metals. The new launch has the consistency of an essence, and it’s meant to be used after cleansing and before applying serum, both in the morning and at night. The idea behind adding Cellular Life-Lotion to the Platinum Rare range was to give customers a product that would enhance the efficacy of their skincare routine; Cellular Life-Lotion assists in the skin's natural cellular detoxification process and infuses the skin with moisture, allowing follow-up serums and moisturizers to better absorb.

Like all La Prairie products, the Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion comes in a bottle with the heft and solidity of a lifetime achievement award. Across all of their product ranges, the brand prides itself on designing packaging that extravagantly contains the precious goo within. Most of the jars and bottles are made from a thick, heavy plastic polished to a high gloss, designed to look exactly like something you’d build custom shelving to display.

“La Prairie is about the overall experience,” says Regional Vice President of the Americas Francois LeGloan. “Your experience starts with the ritual of opening the packaging. They are beautiful objects, in nice colors. They are like art. Like culture.”

And there on the South Beach pavement, I became part of that culture for a minute, a hemorrhaging one-woman work of art. Unsurprisingly, the brand took excellent care of me after my injury. I'd split my shin open so aggressively that I developed a hematoma. La Prairie sent a private doctor to my room at the 1 Hotel to accompany me to an X-ray and an MRI, during which he paternally patted my shoulder and told me that everything was going to be fine. I didn’t need stitches, but the wound on my leg would certainly take some time to heal. It was difficult to walk on my badly sprained ankle, but I managed to survive the rest of the trip and make it home, uncertain if all of it had actually happened or if I’d just experienced some kind of opulent Swiss fever dream.

About a month later, concerned that the wound on my leg was healing oddly, I had the thought to start treating it with the skincare products that were tangentially responsible for it all. I dabbed a bit of Platinum Rare Cellular Life-Lotion around the scab, eventually graduating to a richer Skin Caviar cream. And what do you know: in about a week’s time the wound on my leg and the skin around it looked better than it ever had. I’m no private physician making hotel room house calls, but I have to believe  that it was the La Prairie products that helped me heal. In my own way, and in my own time, I had become a La Prairie woman — rarefied, demanding, discerning, and, at least in my own mind, eternal.

 

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