The story of how beauty brand fresh began is one that founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg have told many, many times – a tale that begins with a scent that’s immortalised “in my nose”, in Glazman’s own words.
As a child growing up in the shadow of the iron curtain of the Soviet Union in the 1960s, the only perfume available in the country was Red Moscow for men, and Red Moscow for women.
This was the only fragrance Glazman had ever experienced, until his mother bought a smuggled French perfume and spritzed it on, sealing Glazman’s destiny in that instant.
“Red Moscow smelled pretty horrible and everyone smelled the same,” said Glazman during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
“I remember when she sprayed on the perfume, it delighted her and I transformed with her because it smelled so beautiful.”
He then realised that beautiful things existed outside where he lived, and fragrance is an expression of your own personality, it’s how you want to be perceived by others and that it can be very transformative.
That was when the then six-year-old Glazman began dreaming about fragrances which led to experiments with beauty products, beginning with a bar of soap that eventually grew into a global beauty brand.
Glazman and Roytberg’s first apothecary in Boston opened its doors in 1991 with a small set of artisanal, nourishing soaps which the duo hand-wrapped themselves.
Fresh has since grown into a full line of lifestyle products spanning skincare, bodycare, fragrance and candles.
While fresh were pioneers in their field at a time when there was a gap in the market for natural products, in the past few years, the industry has experienced a growing demand for these products, as consumers become more aware of ingredients in skincare.
Today, a more educated beauty enthusiast has a wide range of brands to choose from, what then, is the enduring appeal of fresh? “One is that we were the pioneers when we started 27 years ago. Natural beauty was not explored the way we explored it and we stayed consistent to our original vision.
“We wanted to explore the world by finding the ingredients and the appropriate amount to our formulations, and being very innovative in the way the natural ingredients are used,” he explained.
“Second, we share our knowledge about the rituals of beauty that existed for centuries. People are emotionally connected to our brand because they are not just buying the product, they're buying a story behind it. That became a richer experience for them and became almost like a lifestyle.”
Glazman also expressed that his major goal for the products is ensuring that the products are safe.
Fresh bans over 5,000 ingredients and updates this list regularly while complying to strict worldwide safety regulations.
“But what's winning for us is the generosity of the product. If you take the Rose Deep Hydration Toner, you have real roses inside. We're very generous with ingredients and if we're talking about the honey mask, you get 50% of honey ingredient,” said Glazman.
What’s also important to the founders is that the customer can relate to the products, as opposed to reading a bunch of ingredients on the label and not understanding what any of it means.
“We decided to create products with ingredients and benefits that people could understand. For example, what is the benefit of milk? Milk has calcium and it's great for your bones so they immediately connect to that. When they recognise the ingredients, they feel empowered.”
An empowered customer will also feel less alienated and more welcome.
Previously only available in Sephora, fresh now has a brand-new boutique at Mid Valley Megamall’s centre court.
“When we entered into this business, we opened a store. We create our own way of merchandising things, how we want the products to communicate with you when it's on the shelf.
“That's why I'm extremely excited that we're finally opening the store because it's always very helpful for people to see what we're all about. And because we are a lifestyle brand,” Glazman explained.
Roytberg and Glazman have two daughters, 21 and 25, who give their parents feedback and ideas on products.
“I always get my daughters' opinions on new products. They're the first ones to try them and they will tell you the truth,” said Glazman, laughing. “It's incredible to see the excitement in their eyes when I open the jar or fragrance."
The fresh journey began with Glazman’s mother, who is living in Miami and has had the chance to witness the impact that incident had on a six-year-old boy.
And what became of Red Moscow? Glazman, laughing, revealed that the fragrance is still on the market, and that his grandmother used it for decades more when she immigrated to the United States.
“That scent is in my nose, it’s in my memory. When I met my grandmother at the airport after she moved, the first thing I smelled was Red Moscow. I mean you're not living in Russia anymore, you have other fragrances, but it’s a force of habit I suppose,” he reminisced.
And that’s the beauty of fragrance, which brings us back to Glazman’s realisation more than half a century ago that a scent is an expression of a person.
“That's what attracted me the most about the beauty world and fragrances – the association with the fragrance is extremely strong. We remember people by their smell. There are so many times I would come home and my mother would not be there but I could smell her fragrance.
“It’s so amazing because you’re connected to the person there, it's almost like their spirit is around you,” he said.
The doors of its first 527 sq ft (49 sq m) store in Mid Valley Megamall Kuala Lumpur opened recently in a space designed in the same spirit as the flagship sotre in New York's Union Square.
The elevated retail concept brings fresh's iconic collections to life, including Rose Hydrating Skincare, featuring formulas infused with real roses; Black Tea Firming Skincare, based on an ancient remedy cultivated in China; and Creme Ancienne Skincare, the ultimate in age-delay inspired by the world's first cream.
The boutique's concept was inspired by elements that embody the brand's core values: a bakery (artisanal and sensorial); a kitchen (community and hospitality), a library (tradition and knowledge), and an alchemistic lab(research and innovation).
These elements come through in decor details such as a custom chandelier made of glass bubbles designed to look like molecules emphasising fresh's leadership in science, as well as one entire wall showcasing custom-created artisan tiles adorned with fresh's signature sugar pattern.
Fresh at Mid Valley Megamall is located at G-054, right at the mall's centre court. A full assortment of products from skincare, bodycare to fragrance will be available.