There’s a pretty good chance that, if the headline of this article appealed to you, you’re already familiar with La Prairie. Perhaps you’ve sauntered into a department store, aimlessly perusing lipsticks and powders, only to come across a sleek, blue-and-platinum fortress with the brand’s logo emblazoned (subtly) on glass bottles inside. You may have mistakenly pronounced “prairie” like Americans do (as in, Little House on the) rather than the proper, French way (prayer-eee). Upon further inspection of the products’ packaging, you’ll find words that evoke only the finest things in life — diamonds, caviar, and platinum (oh my!). And at this point, you either do one of two things: You mentally tell your credit card that limits are for quitters, and that we deserve this level of pampering. Or, you take one look at the place, and do a swift turn on your heels, and walk right over to something that won’t put you into Sallie Mae-levels of debt.
But, alas, there’s a third option — just one most of us might not be familiar with. If you’re interested in option three, you’re undaunted by sticker shock and are actually game for what can only be considered the most luxurious of skin care upgrades. And so, you start to shop.
With La Prairie’s newest launch, the Platinum Rare Cellular Night Elixir, the brand is aiming squarely for the customer behind the third door. With a retail price of a whopping $1,200, it is inarguably among the most expensive over-the-counter beauty products available for purchase today (and, in some cases, likely the most expensive). In this instance, La Prairie is engaging in what the kids today would call a “flex” — a public display of power and might to other brands in the beauty industry that La Prairie knows its customer, and knows that their products are worth the price tag. Remember the phrase, “When they go low, we go high?” Well, in the beauty era of Kylie Jenner’s viral lip kits, La Prairie decided to go pretty damn high.
So high, in fact, that a bunch of beauty editors (myself included) endured altitude sickness during a trip to Aspen to fête the launch of the product. We were there to bear witness to a meteor shower, since once upon a time, it was one meteor that landed on Earth that gave us our current supply of platinum — a key component in the product, which can also be found throughout the most expensive “collection” in the La Prairie arsenal.
It was there that Daniel Stangl, the Director of Innovation for La Prairie for the past 11 years, explained the complex science behind the new elixir. One drop a night, the brand promises, and you’ll have newborn skin by morning. And if you don’t believe them, you can check the double-blind clinical trials — with 91 percent of respondents saying their skin “felt protected and nourished,” and 67 percent “that their skin felt regenerated.” (Respondents were not, to our knowledge, aware that they were testing a .68oz product that cost as much as a Gucci handbag.)
But “newborn skin” is largely fluffy marketing speak for regenerated skin — a play on words based on the product’s key function. “The renewal process [of the skin] is one of the crucial processes in order to have a thick epidermis, and an intact skin barrier that really helps to keep all the irritants and microbes out of the skin,” Stangl explained. In order to help co-opt and capitalize on the skin’s automatic regeneration every night, the chemists utilized a peptide “that’s meant to stimulate those proteases that really do the desquamation process.” In non-scientist speak, it’s a peptide that helps exfoliate and, thus, activates the enzymes that are a part of the proliferation process. After that, elements like amino acids and glycol proteins help to repair and restore the skin. After 14 days’ treatment with the elixir, subjects reported a 60 percent difference than their control group in their ITA, or individual topology angle (a measurement of skin pigmentation). Effectively, the brand claims that because the test group’s ‘staining’ (or, presumably, scarring) got lighter over 14 days’ time than their peers in the control group who weren’t using the Elixir, cellular turnover was working faster than average.
If all of this brought you back to Chem class, then please allow me to offer my apologies. Much of the science behind La Prairie’s products can be complicated — and that’s because the brand is privately-owned and often makes their own compounds and ingredients with in-house chemists. They’re reluctant to share details about certain elements of the brand’s most “precious” ingredients, including a very mysterious item called the “exclusive cellular complex,” which apparently appears in its highest concentration in the Elixir.
But it’s hard not to see all of this as a compelling marketing strategy. Anyone who’s ever read about a Birkin bag that a so-sorry-ma’am-salesperson insisted was “waitlisted for years” knows that mystery is actually the king of all ingredients in selling a luxury product. The cult obsession and fascination with the world’s most expensive brands often comes from their lack of transparency or approachability — and this is a strategy that has, for the most part, withstood the tests of the digital age.
After all, if it’s beautiful, they will lust for it — and the Elixir doesn’t skimp on pretty, either. “The packaging is outstanding,” Stangl noted as a velvet box containing the product was passed around. “This is extremely expensive, as well. It’s three years’ design work and technical issues that had to be solved in order to come up with that kind of packaging — this all contributes to the price.” And even though design isn’t the good doctor’s specialty, he wasn’t kidding. Plucking the dropper bottle from its sumptuous throne, I held it up to the light, and could honestly only liken it to looking at an amethyst.
For days after the trip, I racked my brain trying to figure out how to justify a $1,200 price tag for a serum that would last (at most) three months. I looked up the price of Botox injections — surely a more impactful investment, even if they would only last four-to-six months. I tried researching how much Fraxel or other fancy dermatologist treatments would cost (spoiler alert: more). I even looked at competitive brands, like La Mer and Chanel, researching the products that came even remotely within the orbit of the Elixir’s cost.
And after a few ceremonious evenings of applying one drop per night to my extremely expensive face, I decided I simply couldn’t understand. The product formulation was typical of La Prairie’s line — indulgent, incredibly fragrant, silky, and gorgeous. It doesn’t absorb too quickly, and a little went a (very) long way. I looked luminous immediately after application. But there was something about this product that wasn’t for me. Back in the velvet cage, it went.
Just two weeks later, I sat down next to my mother on Christmas morning as she surveyed the robust bag of beauty gifts my tenure at Allure had amassed her. In a euphoric daze, she opened and scanned the items before her, remarking on how pretty that bottle was, or how “nice” that eye shadow would look later. But, upon inspection of the rather large, black box, she paused. “What’s in here?” she asked.
“That’s the new serum I was telling you about. The $1,200 one?” I offered.
Gingerly, Mom opened the box and unveiled the Elixir. “Wow,” she said, aghast. “Twelve-hundred dollars?!” And without a pause, she removed it from its velvet cushion, twisted off the cap, and applied one drop all over her face and neck, breathing in the smell.
“How do I look?” she asked.
For more super luxurious skin-care products, keep reading:
- This Is How Much Allure Editors’ Face Routines Cost
- 7 Best Asian Skin-Care Products Worth Splurging On
- The $510 Moisturizer Kim Kardashian Uses Every Morning
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