Recession Is Relative: The $400 Cream Theory

04/24/2008 02:44 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Amid blocks of construction in a developing section of Englewood, New Jersey sits a non-descript building. Yet, once inside you are immediately transported to a pristine and peaceful space of stark white rooms, clear glass doors, and bold, modern furniture. The decor echoes the fact that this is not only the headquarters for 3Lab Cosmetics, but the place where their scientifically researched products are conceived, created and packaged by a small group of chemists.

Haven't heard of 3Lab Cosmetics? Then perhaps you are in the lower tax bracket. Since debuting a few months ago, 3Lab's high-end skin care has earned cult-status among the really rich, from wealthy Upper East Siders' to international celebrities. As photos throughout their headquarters prove, stars like Dame Helen Mirren and Martin Sheen have already gotten a hold of these goods. Others like Donatella Versace and Sally Field are so devoted that they regularly spend hundreds of dollars on it. Skillfully selling the products and the premise behind them are 3Lab's Public Relations Director, Stephanie Scott and President, Spencer Kanis - himself a celebrity in the beauty industry for his stylish wardrobe, smooth persona and resume full of blockbuster companies like Gucci and Estee Lauder.

The most charismatic of the lot is David Chung, founder and CEO of 3Lab, whose personal story is as rich and rare as the ingredients found in his products. Chung was born in Korea and raised in New York City, where he spent his summers working at his parents cosmetics boutique. While attending college at the University of Maryland, he decided to open his own store and right after graduation made good on his goal. But after decades of selling high-end beauty products by Dior, Chanel and La Prairie, he was inspired to think bigger.

"It's always been a dream of mine to start my own beauty brand," said Chung over lunch a few days ago. "We spent two to three years developing and testing the products before we debuted."

It was time well spent. Since officially putting their products on the market last year, the company has achieved a singular feat: being the only Korean, family-owned company selling prestige beauty products on the international market. Today, you can find 3Lab products being sold next to the brands Chung used to promote at the worlds most prestigious retailers, including Barney's in New York, Harvey Nichols in Hong Kong, Lotte in Korea and Selfridge's in London.

Key to the company's success has been it's WW Cream. Full of natural ingredients and antioxidants, the product was formulated, created, and packaged by its staff of in-house chemists. WW Cream promises to brighten the complexion and erase fine lines. At $400 for two ounces, it also promises to break pockets. But despite the shaky economy, 3Lab reveals that it is their best seller at home and abroad. In fact, in London where 3Lab recently debuted at Selfridges, products sold out in minutes with a waiting list for more orders starting almost instantly.

David Walker-Smith, Selfridges' Director of Beauty said: "In the beauty market science sells, and 3 Lab's H Serum is no exception. Looking young is the holy grail and when products have this kind of research and cutting edge technology behind them, our customers know it's worth waiting for."

Yet Kanis has an explanation that hits even closer to home.

"Skin care is recession proof to a degree," he explains. "In a recession a woman will cut back on a dress, a pair of shoes, or jewelry. But the last thing she will do is cut back on taking care of herself."

It is a truth that belies the fact that no matter what the economists say, one man's recession is another's retail heaven.