How Fresh Became a Cult Beauty Brand
From a small apothecary in Boston to an LVMH beauty empire, founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg on how it all started from a bar of soap.
The first time I met Fresh founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg was over Sangiovese and handmade tagliatelle in a restored castello, Borgo dei Conti (Google it!) in Umbria, Italy. It wasn’t an average deskside (editor-speak for meeting); that was not lost on me. But Lev and Alina—who launched Fresh back in 1991 with individually wrapped soaps for gifting, something I wish I had thought of first (but then again, I was four)—have now grown their humble Bostonian apothecary shop into an LVMH-owned mega-beauty brand. They flew in a cache of international editors and influencers to the “green heart” of Italy to get to know not only them, but one of the first products they launched as part of their foray into skin care over two decades ago, Umbrian clay. It was over this dinner that I realized they were the first (FIRST!) to use sugar as an exfoliant; they were responsible for the milk-in-beauty-product trend of the early aughts; they are the reason beauty companies have been resurrecting long-lost skin-care rituals. They are a very big deal. Over the next few days, I talked to them about how things have changed since LVMH, their cultlike following, collaborating with renowned ceramiche Rometti as the perfect ode to Umbria, and why nature and science are the secret to products worth all their hype.
Why looking to the future was the key to their success:
Lev: “When Alina and I started Fresh back in 1991, every moment of our existence was all about innovation. We always tried to look forward to the future to see what new innovation we could bring to the market.”
Alina: “We brought passion, necessity, but also excitement about what it means to really use a good product and what that means in your life. We loved the idea of transforming everyday routines into sensorial rituals that are as indulgent as they are effective. It’s amazing to think that 26 years later, we’ve grown from one shop in Boston to being present in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K., France, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, and South Korea.”
And going around the world helped them discover:
LG: “We have always had a passion for traveling, especially for experiencing the world around us through our senses—touching, smelling, eating, walking in interesting places. We realized that there are so many unique ingredients that have been used for centuries in different cultures. Our proprietary Umbrian Clay is a perfect example; the clay has actually been used since the 6th century BC by the Etruscans. I think that’s how these products gain a cult status. They’re rooted in rituals and stories people can relate to—but they’re amplified through modern science, so they’re incredibly effective.”
Why Fresh garnered a cult following:
LG: “We think the entire ritual and experience of using a product is as important as the results, and we have always been very devoted to authenticity and craftsmanship.”
How looking to the past made their products revolutionary:
AR: “We had a passion for creating authentic products with effective ingredients that carried their own stories. As children growing up in Russia, our medicine cabinets were filled with Western medicine and Eastern natural ingredients. So often our ingredient inspirations came from a time-honored ritual—for example, our grandmothers using sugar on scrapes and burns.”
LG: “From there, what Alina and I like to call ‘boundless curiosity’ kicked in. We’d have a hunch that there was a reason behind this ritual, so I would begin researching the ingredients with my chemists in the LVMH Fresh labs outside Paris. We’ve uncovered some incredible curative and scientific properties behind these ingredients. I truly believe all the answers lie in nature. When we take natural ingredients and apply modern science to them, that’s when we really bring revolutionary ideas to the forefront.”
When they realized they “made it”:
AR: “When we realized it wasn’t just about Lev and I any longer, but about our whole Fresh Family.”
What changed since the LVMH acquisition:
LG: “The LVMH purchase opened Fresh up to so many amazing resources, like the Fresh Research Lab, which is housed in LVMH’s Helios Research Center in France. This lab is where Fresh alchemy comes to life. The access to LVMH’s incredible technology has allowed us to be even more innovative in transforming our unique artisanal ingredients into effective skin-care products.”
The organic way they discovered one of their hero products:
LG: “A longtime friend of mine suffered from cystic acne in her 20s. She moved to Rome, and Alina and I went to visit her. When she opened the door, we almost didn’t recognize her because her skin was so smooth. She said she had visited an herbalista (an Italian homeopathic shop), and they recommended she mix a white clay powder with water into a paste and apply to her face. After a few weeks of daily use, her skin was miraculously clear. We canceled the rest of our travel plans to track down this ‘miracle clay’ in the tiny hilltop town of Nocera Umbra, in Umbria. The mineral-rich clay in the town has been the basis of therapeutic treatments for centuries.
“The Umbrian Clay Purifying Mask is one of our most iconic products. The mask is truly amazing, because it can be used on all skin types without drying out the complexion. When the product first came out, we didn’t launch it in a big way, and we’re very excited to do that now and be able to share the rich history behind the ingredient.”
They collaborated with Umbrian-based ceramicists Rometti:
LG: “Nocera Umbra is a very special place, and we are so proud of our [Umbrian Clay products] that we wanted to celebrate it with a special artistic collaboration that would bring Umbria to life, highlighting its rich history and Etruscan heritage. To partner with a group of artists who share our sensibility and work around the corner from where we source our clay is absolutely amazing.”
The advice they would pass on:
“Trust your instincts and stay consistent with your vision and message.”