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WHILE the beauty halls of department stores were once havens for beauty junkies out for a fix with that perfect red lippie or line-erasing serum, top brands are now moving into dedicated boutiques to peddle their prettifying wares. And these monobrand stores aren't just snazzy points of sale, but all-in-one emporiums that could even replace a visit to the facialist or spa.
From an airport shop that offers special detox treatments to rid your skin of accumulated toxins from being in the city before you fly, to specially designed facial cabins that provide private skincare treatments, chances are your favourite beauty brand now has a space of its own to better pamper you.
Last month, French luxury giant Dior opened its Beauty House at Changi Airport Terminal 3, which also includes the world's first Parfums Christian Dior space in an airport, offering 12 complimentary treatments such as a quick back massage or pre-flight facial. And it is just one of four beauty boutiques that are part of a luxury spa concept by Korean travel retailer Shilla Duty Free, whereby every outlet offers treatments to jetlagged travellers. La Prairie, for example, even has a bar that provides refreshments for customers - apart from luxurious facials that could take as little as five minutes.
"Brands are investing more and more in airports now because airports represent true spaces for brand image construction," says Victor Saint-Pere, area manager for Parfums Christian Dior, travel retail (South-east Asia).
"Some travellers are experiencing their first contact with the brands in airports because they are not necessarily shopping in local markets. For them, brands need to display their message at a glance."
And it isn't just the airport stores that are using their boutiques as chichi platforms for conveying their brand ethos. High-end Korean beauty label Sulwhasoo, which was introduced here in 2012, opened its own boutique at Capitol Piazza earlier this year, partly to cement its identity as a holistic beauty brand. A display window by the hallway tells the story behind the brand's key formulations - including what it dubs "ginseng science" and how it maximises the holy grail ingredient for its bestselling products.
"The flagship store is essentially an exhibition space that expresses everything about the brand; a product showcase where customers can try all of Sulwhasoo's skincare and makeup selection, a counselling space and a beauty lounge," says Katherine Sek, commercial general manager of Amorepacific Singapore, the parent company of Sulwhasoo.
While it isn't the only means of communicating a beauty company's ethos, monobrand shops provide such outfits complete autonomy over how their products and services are represented.
"Standalone boutiques are just another avenue for brand expression, albeit one that gives more control over how a beauty brand can express itself as compared to within a department store where the retailer will require a brand to follow its store concept and identity," explains Winston Seow, brand manager of Lancome Singapore, who noticed the trend of standalone stores kicking off in 2009.
"For high-value items such as designer clothing, jewellery, furniture and cars, a retail storefront is necessary and will appeal more to customers simply because they can see and experience the product."
Earlier this year, Lancome opened its first flagship store here at Capitol Piazza that comes with a swank facial cabin. The relatively new mall has been banking on its range of standalone beauty tenants like Aesop and Aveda, in addition to a stable of high-end salons. Last month, VivoCity also unveiled a new Beauty Aisle on its first level, housing four popular beauty brands - Chanel, Shu Uemura, Yves Saint Laurent and cult favourite Urban Decay. This is the first Urban Decay standalone store in Asia.
And one of the first to have jumped on the beauty boutique bandwagon is Kiehl's Since 1851, which debuted its standalone outlet at VivoCity in 2006. The US brand has opened 10 other boutiques since, and recently introduced a new store concept at the shopping centre, with features such as a customisable gifting zone, baby tower and even a cushy waiting area for men so they no longer have to loiter in a corner fiddling with their phones while their better halves pick out a toner.
"Singapore is an early adopter of the concept, quick to respond to changing customer lifestyles and global successes such as the 'beauty quarter' in Covent Garden, London, by interpreting the free-standing boutique model in a locally relevant way," says Evelyne Ly, group brand director of Kiehl's in Singapore.
Another US brand to open a standalone store here more recently is Origins. The natural skincare brand launched its first boutique here at Ion Orchard during the week and is known for pioneering the "open-sell" retail concept 25 years ago, whereby shoppers can try products themselves with hands-on displays. It's a method that has since been popularised by beauty emporium Sephora. "Today the natural skincare category is more cluttered and we want to stay modern, relevant and emphasise the elements that differentiate our brand from competitors," says Jean Alexandre Havard, vice president, Origins International.
The new store was designed to encourage interactivity instead of relying on overenthusiastic beauty advisers to deliver hard-sell spiels to customers. For example, a round sink offers an area for shoppers to try and experience immediate results, adds Mr Havard. They can also enjoy a free mini facial, which includes a skin diagnosis and consultation, or even pick out samples from rows of glass candy store-style jars.
"Consumers now want to discover through storytelling whereas the old model was more about product," says Mr Havard. "The most impactful aspect of our design is the fact that our stores feel like a 'home away from home'. That means that it exudes a sense of warmth, inspiration and comfort."
Where: Dior Beauty House, above the Shilla Cosmetics Duty Free Shop at Changi Airport Terminal 3
What: Relax And Detox Before Flying, a treatment to purify and re-energise your skin after exposure to accumulated toxins and stress from living in a city.
Where: Sulwhasoo, 01-72 Capitol Piazza
What: Not available at the brand's department store counters, Hyrdo-aid Treatment Purifying is an essential facial for intense hydration, especially for those with drier or more mature complexions.
Where: Lancome, 01-12 Capitol Piazza
What: Try the Ultimate Skin Regeneration Treatment which revolves around the Absolue L'Extrait, a concentrate from rose stem cells that in turn stimulate dermal and epidermal stem cells for smoothness and radiance.
Where: Shu Uemura, 01-12 VivoCity
What: A brow "artisan" analyses your face structure, before trimming and plucking your brows, and shading and colouring to define your new arches during the 3-D Brow Styling service. New customers who book online will enjoy a 50 per cent discount on the service till Nov 30 at the VivoCity boutique.