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Beauty – and confidence – Italian style

EVERY Kiko Milano compact — and eyebrow pencil, lipstick, blush, etc. — is meant to create not just beauty, but to inspire confidence.

The Italian brand was launched in the Philippines in January, with a store opening in SM Mall of Asia. It went on to open stores at SM Megamall, and SM Grand Central, with more branches to open at SM North EDSA, SM San Lazaro, and Alabang Town Center later this year.

Simone Dominici, Kiko Milano’s Global CEO, was in the Philippines on June 8 to talk about the brand, and how well it fits here in the country. “A lot of people smiling. It’s quite a key characteristic, I realize,” he said about their Filipino customers during a lunch at Rockwell. “Walking in the mall, a lot of people joyful, dynamic, vibrant. Something which resonates with us a lot.”

In terms of market share, the brand is number one in Italy, number two in the Middle East, and number four in France, said Mr. Dominici. According to a company statement, Kiko Milano was recognized as the third fastest-growing manufacturer in the global beauty industry by Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) in New York in May, with a sales growth rate of 48% in 2022.

The brand’s products are rumored on online platforms to be dupes for several more expensive brands — only a few products of Kiko Milano go beyond the P2,000 mark, while their alleged counterparts go for double or triple that price. “It was very important for us to reach all the populations, not only the affluent ones,” said Mr. Dominici of their pricing.

The brand was founded by the Percassi family in 1997 — the family holds the franchise for Zara in Italy, as well as the franchises for Starbucks, Nike, and Victoria’s Secret in Southern Europe. They thus used the same business model of Zara for their beauty products. “The intuition was to launch the Zara of beauty: democratize high quality,” said Mr. Dominici.

They are able to do this by situating themselves in the “Beauty Valley” of Italy, an informal term for the cosmetic factories situated right outside Milan. “These are producers who [make] 50% of the globe’s makeup and cosmetics. All the French brands, and the indie brands, without mentioning anybody… they source from the Beauty Valley. By being in the heart of the Beauty Valley, we are able to engage with the suppliers faster than anyone else. We talk with them at lunch,” Mr. Dominici said. “We have the opportunity to come before the others with innovation, and having more affordable (prices) because we negotiate better with the suppliers,” he continued. “We pass all this advantage to the customers.”

Addressing the rumors of being more affordable dupes for high-end brands, he says, “I cannot tell you anything, but a lot of the high-priced brands are produced in the same factories as where we produce.”

The Milano branding is prominent in the makeup (the name came from the fiancée of one of the Percassi sons) which led to the question: How important beauty is for the Italians? To answer this, Mr. Dominici went back to the Dark Ages of European history: a time of wars, conflict, a general lack of learning, and the Black Plague. “This uncertainty normally brings ambiguity to the people. The Italians demonstrated how to convert ambiguity into harmony. Then the Rennaissance period came, in which all the famous Italian painters and artists came,” he said. “This tells a lot about Italians. We are very complex at the core, a mix of different elements, very refined in execution in everything we do. We curate our look always,” he says. “When you’re six years old, you look at yourself in the mirror before going out.”

It’s not vanity that drives them, but self-confidence. “We don’t gain confidence on how people perceive us. We gain confidence from how we feel inside. When you feel more confident, you feel more beautiful.”

This then translates into the products: all 2,000 and more of the items they sell, ranging from skincare to makeup.

“The dream is that we want to ignite confidence into people and enrich their lives. We believe that people with better self-esteem, they are better contributors to the community where they live,” he said. “When you feel more confident, you behave better.”

BusinessWorld tried Kiko Milano’s idiot-proof Eyebrow Sculpt Automatic Pencil, with a chiseled pencil (that mimics the hair strands on eyebrows) at one end, and a brow brush on the other. We did find ourselves smiling at the mirror, seeing how easy it was to fake full eyebrows, and it became the first step to a pleasant day. That’s a pretty high-minded goal for makeup, but Mr. Dominici corrects us. “We are not selling beauty. We inspire confidence.” — Joseph L. Garcia

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