Fashion & Beauty / Who, What, Why

The Cult Manhattan Beauty Brand Straddling High and Low

In an era of democratised beauty, simplicity and friend referrals reign supreme

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Artwork by Noni Braithwaite

Who? Cosmetic chemist and esthetician Mario Badescu was born, and trained, in Romania. His eponymous and vast range of spa-level products now hold household status across America – whether sat beside a Crème de la Mer moisturiser in an Upper East Side bathroom or on a dorm room sink, the apothecary-style packaged brand has universal appeal. In the early 60s, Badescu ventured over to the United States and set up his own venture, having trained to a medical professional standard in Europe and began seeing clients in his studio apartment on the first floor of 320 East 32nd street. As Badescu’s client-base grew – welcoming the Rockefeller family and fashion industry influentials like photographer Francesco Scavullo – so too did his spa space, gradually opening out through the building one apartment at a time.

From his bespoke European facials came the need for form-fitting products that he would hand-make for his clients to take away with them – these mixes would form the basis of the now ubiquitous Mario Badescu line. Since each facial was carefully targeted to the dermis at hand, so too were the weapons. The result is a collection of active products that can each stand alone, and is thus easily integrated into any routine and bathroom cabinet. Today the brand’s hero products garner exulted celebrations in comments sections and beauty blogs aplenty.

What? To describe these products as having cult status is an understatement. Take the AnOther office, where Mario Badescu Drying Lotion has claimed numerous converts, and even those who haven’t tried it, definitely know it. Just the process of using this Pepto Bismol pink potion makes it feel like you’ve joined a secret club. 1. Take the little glass vial from your armoire; do not shake. 2. Insert a cotton bud all the way down to the powder pink sediment settled at the bottom. 3. Slowly pull the bud upwards, sealing the pink in a casing of clear gel on the way. 4. Tap the bud on side of the vial to shake of excess. 5. Dot the pink lotion onto any pronounced blemish. 6. Sleep. The pimple will be gone by morning.

For blackhead obsessives, the Silver Powder is a hot tip. This product was late to the party; since the Mario Badescu facial always focused on extractions, Mr Badescu had no need to use a blackhead solution on-site, nor give one to customers on their departure. The subsequently created substance – loose powder that, when pressed onto congested areas, breaks down oil settling in the pores – naturally (who doesn’t love dissolving the gunk in their pores?), has a huge following. The product range is over 150-strong and also contains many normal, non-cultish items too (masks, eye creams, SPF moisturisers), but they all share this same kind of simplicity which makes them endlessly and easily addictive. A very reasonable price point helps too.

Why? Mario Badescu chimes with our modern day beauty era, where beauty brands have been democratised and no single luxury brand rules the roost. Successfully straddling both high and low – channelling professional know-how with its fuss-free, pharmacy-esque packaging, this product line boasts a hoard of friend referrals and recommendations. In an age in which cult is king, and nothing is more valuable than an expert’s top tip, the very tangible magic of these simple tinctures continues to shine, all the way from 60s Manhattan.  

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