With its reopened experiential space in Koreatown, a new vegan skin-care line and its recent embrace of the world of TikTok, the U.S. beauty brand Avon is undergoing something of a refresh by pitching itself to millennial and Gen Z consumers.

I found that particularly compelling, because once upon a time, I was that younger customer.

The 135-year-old New York-based Avon Co., owned by LG Household & Health Care, has conducted business through a network of representatives, once referred to as Avon ladies, that sell creams and lipsticks at social gatherings or door-to-door. (A 2016 split in Avon created two companies, Avon Co. in North America and London-based Avon Products.)

In the 1970s, my mother was an Avon lady.

We were living in Hong Kong. My father had just started his own textile export business, and my mother became one of the first in her tight-knit community of Indian women to be an Avon lady. She’d invite her friends over for tea and put out samples of lip gloss compacts in quirky containers (there was one shaped like a hamburger) and slender tubes of lipstick.

She’d pass around a catalog and assiduously write out orders on three-ply note pads before mailing them off and waiting weeks for the products to arrive. It was the only “nonhousewife” thing my mother, in an arranged marriage from age 20, had ever done.

When I was a tween, my friends and I loved poking through the samples and using the products. A favorite was the Sweet Honesty perfume, which came housed in a fuzzy teddy bear; the head would pull off to reveal a little spray bottle of scent.

It was on a bathroom shelf next to my Bonne Bell Lip Smacker and my father’s blue and gold bottle of 4711 Eau de Cologne.

So when I went to see the Avon Co.’s new Studio 1886, a 19,000-square-foot venue in Los Angeles that is the first in-person physical location in the company’s history, I found myself scanning the shelves for the teddy bear. (It’s on eBay.)

The outside of the Avon Co.'s Studio 1886 in Koreatown.

The outside of the Avon Co.’s Studio 1886 in Koreatown.

(Avon)

The Koreatown studio, which includes 8,000 square feet for retail, is airy and modern, with pink and white interiors and tons of lounge space where reps can meet with their customers.

Steve Bosson, the Avon Co.’s president of sales, told me that the plan moving forward was with the aim of “refreshing and modernizing the Avon experience through the opening of Studio 1886. It’s our statement piece, our flagship.”

It’s a timely alternative to gathering around someone’s coffee table.

Studio 1886 opened in November but had to shutter a few weeks later because of stay-at-home orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (It’s designated as a spa-salon.) It reopened in early February, at 25% capacity, and will eventually include a coffee bar and treatment rooms.

A photo of Studio 1886.

Studio 1886 opened last year but had to close because of the pandemic. It recently reopened for a limited capacity.

(Avon)

The plan is for it to be used as a location for live shopping events, 30-minute mobile-friendly segments in which shoppers can communicate with reps and be given interactive access to product information. (Last year, Avon released a mobile version of its product catalog using augmented-reality technology.)

In early March, Avon rolled out the brand’s most important launch of the year, and one that will align with the brand’s intention to appeal to a more eco-conscious shopper. Farm Rx, Avon’s first clean and vegan offering, features four products with ingredients that include broccoli sprouts, aloe and bakuchiol, a trendy plant-based alternative to retinol.

Farm Rx, priced at $37 and $44, joins numerous categories featured at the space, including color cosmetics (which can be “tried” virtually using AR technology), oral care, fragrance and home, all arrayed on walls at the rear of the space.

A look at the seating and work area for customers inside Studio 1886.

A look at the seating and work area for customers inside Studio 1886.

(Avon)

The center of Studio 1886 features spacious, socially distanced seating areas. But don’t expect to walk out of there with a haul of goodies; orders can be placed, but in keeping with the trend in contactless shopping, products will ship from Avon’s warehouse in Ohio.

For Avon and other storied brands, the last year delivered a series of challenges, with consumers spending more time at home during the pandemic and routinely wearing sweatpants and going makeup-free. Along with that, there have been shifts in what younger consumers buy in the beauty space.

Gen Z and millennial adults, the ones Avon appears to be after, have largely grown up in the age of clean beauty and are discovering new drugstore and Korean beauty finds as well as celebrity makeup brands such as Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line and Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Skin line.

Andrew Charbin calls Avon’s latest initiatives a “fresh strategy” for the brand.

Charbin, managing director of New York-based the Sage Group, an independent investment bank that provides analyses to consumer and retail brands, said: “[This] marks a bold move, particularly at a time like this when foot traffic and visits to brick-and-mortar retail are limited. … This retail model of purchasing in-store and then having it shipped to you is increasingly common in today’s world of [direct-to-consumer] blending online and in-store.”

To commemorate the opening of Studio 1886, Avon did something unexpected. It launched its priciest product.

The photo of a bottle of new Avon fragrance.

The Avon fragrance Charmed comes in a gold-plated, peacock-shaped bottle embellished with Swarovski crystals.

(Avon)

Its Charmed fragrance is made with neroli, lily of the valley, jasmine and musk, and it is housed in a gold-plated, peacock-shaped bottle embellished with Swarovski crystals. The limited-edition bottle sells for $1,200.

Still, I just wish they’d just bring back the teddy bear.

Studio 1886, 515 Shatto Place, Los Angeles, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, (213) 746-2777 studio1886.com





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