Beauty: Pots of gold

By Janetta Mackay

These creams are way too rich for most budgets.

Dior L'Or de Vie La Creme $695. Photo / Babiche Martens
Dior L'Or de Vie La Creme $695. Photo / Babiche Martens

For some people luxury equates to purity or performance, for others it is defined by price. Almost always it is also inextricably bound up with promise.

Like most skincare consumers, I take promises of miracle results with a pinch of salt. I know certain ingredients are more likely to deliver a pleasing appearance, but I've tried enough of them on my own skin to know we are talking incremental improvement rather than overnight transformation. So why then do some women buy face creams that cost more than the average weekly wage?

Allowing for what one hopes is some reasonable satisfaction with their use, it surely comes down to psychology and credit lines. And that pesky word "promise".

Mercedes or Mitsubishi? Jimmy Choos or Jandals? The basic function may be the same, but the promise is worlds apart. There's undoubtedly hype aplenty across all skincare sectors, but the all-but reverential tone adopted at the upper end sets it apart. L'Oreal's marketing line "Because You're Worth It" is perhaps the most honest in a "me" centred world, but that's got nothing on the aspirational invitation to enter a world where jewels, precious metals and caviar are servants of skincare, used as ingredients to imbue products with a luxurious appeal.

With anti-ageing creams and serums from prestige brands and cutting-edge cosmeceutical companies now commonly costing in the $150 to $300 bracket, the luxury level is a big step up again. Expect to pay close to $1000 for some super-premium products. VIP local customers are courted with discreet invitations to enjoy private facials and sample the latest of these items.

The global recession has had an impact on sales growth but, as with other luxury goods, emerging markets are opening up. Not fast enough for La Mer, explained its Asia-Pacific vice-president, Virginie Descamps, on a recent visit to New Zealand. The Hong Kong-based Frenchwoman said China's regulatory framework meant the introduction of new cosmetic products to that burgeoning economy often lagged behind global launches by a year or more - one reason many Chinese shoppers stock up abroad, including here in Auckland.

Here are some of the priciest products available in New Zealand and what the makers say about them. Shop vicariously or let the decision to buy be between you and your banker.

1. La Mer The Essence $3900

To be fair these tubes - containing "an unprecedented level of miracle broth" - are designed as a special 21-day treatment rather than for ongoing daily use. During the three-week cycle of renewal, skin apparently "rests, recharges, and repairs, emerging visibly reborn".

A single pot of La Mer moisturising cream should last several months and will cost $680 - or buy in bulk at $3100 for 500ml. The heavy duty cream is the heart of the range and it is rich in a biofermented sea-kelp extract, originally developed by a Nasa physicist to treat his burns. Several women I know swear by La Mer's emollient action, though I like the texture of the lighter lotion much more. You'll presumably also want to try one of the serums to boost regeneration or radiance, these are $565 each.

2. La Prairie Cellular Radiance Emulsion SPF30 $765

Sunscreen, reflective pigments, colloidal gold and an "exclusive golden peptide" combine in the latest moisturiser from the Swiss company which uses platinum and caviar in other formulas. La Prairie also draws on a number of scientifically recognised skincare ingredients - and a lot of promise including of a "luxuriously silken formulation that employs a multi-layer, liquid crystal carrier system that mimics both the skin's own cellular structure and its lipid composition. This gives the emulsion an extraordinary affinity to the skin, increasing its ability to deliver beneficial ingredients through intercellular pathways." The emulsion leaves a slight sheen that will brighten the blanched cheeks of anyone paying for a full set of what is undoubtedly a fine feeling fluid.

3. Dior L'Or de Vie La Creme $695

If you read the glossy magazines you will have seen a glossy version of actress Sharon Stone fronting Dior's Capture Totale, but that anti-ageing range (priced from $235) isn't its ultimate enticement. L'Or de Vie is, and you'll find this "miraculous skincare" on only a few Dior counters worldwide. The line is a partnership with France's renowned Chateau d'Yquem and uses an extract of sap said to be "from exceptional vines capable of eluding time to perpetually regenerate and get better ..."

It promises a march of antioxidants against free radicals to help rejuvenate, restimulate and rehydrate skin. The gold-topped pot is weighted like a shotput, but the cream is lighter in feel and designed to work in conjunction with a serum (you can buy a set for $1369) and there's an eye cream for $450.

4. Chantecaille Nano Gold Engergising Cream $830

Contains nano-particles of pure gold and real silk, but is a mostly botanical mix with a rosewater base, described as a powerful healing breakthrough that "helps skin cope with stress whilst recharging, re-energising and rebuilding every skin type". The firming serum (572) contains stem cells from the resilient, and much lauded, Swiss Apple Uttwiler Spatlauber. Unusually in the sector, this French company's product is paraben-free.

5. Chanel Sublimage La Creme $515

This is billed as the "ultimate skin regeneration for face and neck" and being French it is perfumed, in premier packaging and prettily storied.

From Madagascar, Chanel has hand-harvested the vanilla planifolia plant since 2006, using first its green fruit and now the flower to extract two separate essences. To yield 1kg of the "exceptional active ingredient", enriched Planifolia PFA, 60,000 fruit and 14,000 fresh flowers are needed. First there's a detoxifying and revitalising serum to apply. That costs $630 and prepares the skin for this lush cream and the statement that "Cell regeneration is optimised, for sublimely perfect skin".

6. Estee Lauder Re Nutriv Re-Creation Day and Night Creme $1510

Buy the set and save yourself $50, almost enough for a 10 per cent deposit on the matching eye cream in the Re-Creation offshoot of Lauder's pioneering Re-Nutriv line. When Re-Nutriv was first launched in 1958, the advertising asked: What makes this cream worth $115? Estee Lauder replied: "The materials that go into a famous painting may not add up to its selling price, but it's the final creation you're paying for." At the time a $10 cream was considered a top-dollar buy, but she began the luxury skincare sector - and banked millions - thanks to a belief that women would respond to a promise of superior science and technology.

These days the standard Re-Nutriv Ultimate Lift Age Correcting Creme is yours for $450, so you could say time has been relatively gentle on Lauder fans. Add $330 to upgrade to a tub of Re-Creation with "some of the finest and rarest of ingredients to create a treatment system that will re-energise your skin like never before".

7. Lancome Absolue Precious Cells Advanced Regenerating and Replenishing Cream $317

The bargain of the bunch has a companion night cream costing $373, but Lancome won't be outdone in the claims department, stating: "This exceptional range is the very first to work beyond the protection of stem cells in order to retrigger skin's regenerative potential. Within six days, skin recovers the epidermis of a younger skin.* Day after day, skin is denser, regenerated, and radiant. (*In laboratory, rather than human, tests)." Quite some claim for this cream aimed at those aged 50-plus, but it does have a lovely lightness of texture and an uplifting aroma that make it a joy to apply.

Stockists: Dior L'Or de Vie, La Prairie, La Mer and Estee Lauder Re-Creation exclusive in the upper North Island to Smith & Caughey's. Chanel and Lancome from counters in selected department stores and pharmacies (Chanel stockists ph 0800 957352). Chantecaille from Mecca Cosmetica, Ponsonby and Newmarket.

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