Why for skincare less is more, and the myth of 10-step K-beauty routine

The founders of the popular skincare label Malin+Goetz talk about the importance of choosing essential, fuss-free products that do their jobs well, and why there’s no reason to complicate your beauty routine

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 July, 2018, 7:46pm

In 2004, when Andrew Goetz and Matthew Malin founded skincare brand Malin+Goetz in New York, the word “wellness” had a different meaning, K-Beauty wasn’t a phenomenon and the concept of a beauty start-up was completely foreign.

It’s a different world now. From the retail offerings at Hong Kong’s glitziest malls, which in recent years have shifted their tenant mix from luxury shops to beauty and health stores, to the proliferation of digital-first beauty brands, and the hugely successful and often gimmicky products from South Korea, it’s hard to keep track of the constant “drops” and short-lived trends of the beauty industry.

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Against this backdrop, Malin+Goetz almost feels like a palate cleanser. A very recognisable and sleek visual identity, a well-curated range of products and a fuss-free approach to skincare are the brand’s main tenets.

Goetz, who had a background in design, and Malin, who had worked for brands such as Kiehl’s and as a beauty buyer at department store Barneys New York, combined their fields of expertise to offer something that, 15 years ago, was a rarity in the industry. Their idea was to create a “modern apothecary”.

“We opened our first store in the same building where we lived in Chelsea, Manhattan,” says Malin when we meet the two at their recently opened store at the IFC mall in Hong Kong.

“So the concept was similar to a traditional apothecary, a neighbourhood chemist. You would go there and get all your simple products that were mixed up for you and you would take them home. That was essentially our idea.”

Without seeking outside investment, the business and life partners founded the company, initially homing in on two items: “a great cleanser and a great moisturiser and we gave the same message to men and to women,” explains Malin.

While the brand includes five categories (face, hair, body, fragrance and candles), it doesn’t overwhelm its loyal customers with countless new releases, which was part of the founding ethos from the get-go.

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“I had been a beauty buyer for Barneys when it was a family business and we launched niche brands such as Kiehl’s, Nars and Philosophy,” says Malin. “They were all small but eventually were bought by groups like L’Oreal or LVMH.

“The tide was turning with these independent businesses being acquired by corporations, so we wanted to start a business with a soul, authentic, all concepts that are buzzwords now.”

“Also nobody was using design in beauty with a modern perspective. It was very baroque and traditionally packaged,” says Goetz.

Another key aspect of their strategy was to make skincare simple and effective. “Beauty brands like Estee Lauder and Lancome were making beauty routines very complicated and it continued with K-beauty and all those steps,” says Malin. “We wanted to take it back to what’s essential and necessary: washing your face and moisturising to create balance.”

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One can’t help wondering whether the no-frills regime they advocate will take off in a market in awe of the latest innovations from K-beauty and Instagram influencers, but according to the two, more of the customers who discover Malin+Goetz complain about skin sensitivity, which is a result of all these unnecessary routines.

“Beauty marketers want you to spend money so they convince you that you have to use all that stuff and need all those products,” says Malin. “Think of our grandparents. They were just washing and moisturising.”

“The greatest luxury in the world, especially in a city like Hong Kong, is time,” says Goetz, who believes that as “one of the top” English-speaking cities in the world, Hong Kong was the natural next location for a shop, after New York, Los Angeles and London.

While the two are admirers of the self-care traditions of Asia, Goetz admits to finding the obsession with whitening “quite offensive”.

“That you think you need to change your DNA of your skin is not right and also unhealthy,” he says. “It’s a combination of trying to hide your class and your ethnicity.”

Ultimately, the duo’s beauty philosophy is pretty simple: wash your face every day with something gentle and effective, exfoliate and listen to your skin. “When it’s 35 degrees in Hong Kong in the summer, you don’t need to moisturise as much,” says Goetz.

Their practical approach extends to the ingredients they use in their products, which are gentle but also need to be effective.

“It’s very difficult to be 100 per cent natural because if you’re truly natural, you’d need to keep the products in the refrigerator like eggs or milk and have an expiration date,” explains Goetz.

“We always say that mother nature does things that are really good and so does science. Not everything natural is great. Take poison ivy. We get the best of mother nature and the best of human ingenuity.

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“If you want results, you need human ingenuity and labs. If it doesn’t come with an expiration date, it’s not natural, so the brands that claim that are not being transparent.”