The beauty boutique with a $750 face cream

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No doubt you've done some damage at Sephora, and maybe at upscale beauty boutique Bluemercury, too. But it's unlikely Cos Bar has your credit card on file, yet. It will. With 14 Cos Bar beauty boutiques around the country today and 50 slated for the next five years, plus a big push in ecommerce, the luxury beauty retailer is about to go big. It's also celebrating a birthday — the big four-o — and, thanks to a steady regimen of retinoids, vitamin-C serums, and hyaluronic-acid creams, it doesn't look a day over 29. Not bad, considering Cos Bar is old enough to be those other beauty boutiques' mother.

I visited the first Cos Bar in its unlikely birthplace, Aspen, Colorado, last week while on vacation with my sons. I say unlikely because Aspen is not exactly the center of the beauty universe. Nor is it the capital of great skin, unless you like a goggle tan. Two days on the slopes and I'm florid with windburn, gummy with sunscreen, flaky-lipped, runny-nosed, and begging for mercy. When we sat down in her office, Lily Garfield, the founder of Cos Bar and queen of luxury beauty, handed me a box of tissues, a leopard-print face mask, and a bunch of beauty wisdom.

LW: Give me a little Cos Bar history. How did you start it? Why Aspen?
LG: I worked at Bloomingdales in New York and I never wanted to step foot in there again. I came out to Aspen and with $5,000 to my name, I put in an order for Borghese, Lancome, Orlane, and Germaine Monteil. Your skin takes such a beating in this environment. And there was nothing else here, other than the pharmacy. My store was originally supposed to be for locals, with the theory that, if it worked for locals, then the tourists would come. That was 1976. When Leonard Lauder saw the store — he has a house here — he said, "This is how cosmetics will be sold in the 21st century." And now indie cosmetics stores are more common.

LW: Why is the skin-care business challenged right now? Fragrances outsold skin care last year, and that was a first.
LG: There's more competition. There's the dermatologist, the aesthetician, spas — we're all competing for the same dollar. And they're all copying each other. Doctors are taking existing products to labs and saying, "Replicate this." Also, some products need to be explained. And most salespeople aren't trained well enough to explain skin care. Salespeople will tell you things like, "You have to use every product in our line or your skin will react." Nothing bad is going to happen if you mix brands.

LW: So what are your favorite products right now?
LG: This cream by Amore Pacific. It's called Prime Reserve Crème. You have to try it. I'm 66 — should I say that? — and after I used it I ran into people who said, "What have you done? You look amazing." They only make 1,000 jars of the cream a year because it comes from some particular plant.

LW: How much is it?
LG: $750 a jar.

LW: What?
LG: Yes. And you cannot use it alone. You have to use another cream on top of it.

LW: I'm sorry, but that's insane. Tell me what else you like that's under $750.
LG: Linda Rodin's oil [Olio Lusso; $170]. Sisley Black Rose Oil ($235). I love oils, especially in this climate. You have to try This Works Deep Sleep Pillow Spray ($29). It's lavender and chamomile, and it puts you right to sleep. Try it on your kids' pillows. I love Temptu [the portable airbrush makeup machine; $195]. You can almost use it with your eyes closed. You could use it wearing a white chiffon blouse and it wouldn't get on it. And it doesn't look like heavy makeup at all. I'm a Clarisonic brush girl. I keep it in the shower. One of the greatest cleansers is by Cle de Peau. It's a cream that dissolves into an oil ($72). And don't even talk to me about the Cle de Peau concealer ($70). It's the best concealer in the world.

LW: I need more than concealer. My skin is so red and dry and wrecked right now. I'm embarrassed to be seeing you like this. What can I do?
LG: Did you bring your Clarisonic brush with you?

LW: No. I had a lot of luggage.
LG: You should have. Your skin is clogged with sunscreens. It's also dehydrated and windburned. [She searches her desk and hands me a Patchology face mask.] This will help. And you have to drink more water.

LW: So tell me, what's the future of skin care?
LG: Keep it simple. Go for immediate results. After cleansing, while your skin is still damp, apply an essential oil — the purest, highest grade extracts from the plants. Then wait. Then apply cream. It's that simple.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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