For whatever reason there aren’t many beauty brands in the West that have been started by a Russian woman, much to my bewilderment, after all, Russian women are known for their looks and even when times are hard, they find a way to look incredible. Luckily, Marina Shcherbinina, founder and CEO of NuBo skincare, is leading a trend to change that. She was born and raised in Moscow, yet came to create and establish her business in the UK, notably in London, where NuBo’s headquarters are based.
We have met once, prior to my interview with Marina, at the NuBo event that she hosted at Fenwick and I have found her slightly reserved, yet she was very animated when she talked to the customers about NuBo’s products and ethos. She was not only very knowledgeable on the subject, but also completely in charge of everything, from organising the event itself to making sure her personnel answered the questions and looked after the customers with proper care.
Our interview took place at one of Marlon Abela’s restaurants, called Umu and when I arrived promptly at midday, there was no one inside apart from the manager giving instructions for the day to the service team. I enjoyed the solitude and gathered my thoughts, before Marina arrived, business-like and composed, wrapped up in a fur coat against the dampness and coldness outside. We were taken to our table and started to chat, while browsing the menu and easing ourselves into the conversation. Before long the crowd started gathering, including Marlon Abela’s Russian wife, together with Anya Ziurova, who is a well-known Russian stylist, working for Russian editions of Tatler and Allure, amongst her other projects.
Marina was born in the family of science professors & from early on was encouraged to follow in her grandparents footsteps ( a very common trait in Russia, both in the past and current times ) and study such subjects as physics, chemistry and maths, while she herself was fascinated by history and wanted to do her own thing. Her father worked for Almaz and hardly spoke about his work at home. Marina was an independent and strong-minded child, who ‘didn’t want to dream about the unachievable but wanted to concentrate on what I wanted to do’.
When Marina finished high school, instead of taking an easier road in terms of entrance exams into the University where her grandparents and mother taught, she tried to get into Moscow’s State University but failed. Unraffled, she took her documents to Historical Archives Institute, which was located between Lubyanka and Red Square, right in the centre of Moscow. Looking back Marina has only two memories of that time, delicious ice cream in the waffle ‘glass’ with candied fruit ( the likes of which just doesn’t exist any longer-creamy and delicious, full of sweet goodness & instant happiness ) and having to attend military department ( cafedra ) as part of her University studies, which incidentally was part of every single University in the Soviet Union at the time-it didn’t matter whether you were a boy or a girl, that was part of your University education, without which it wasn’t possible to gain a degree. So every Friday Marina had to attend medical classes, which were boring and exhausting at the same time.
A year later, much to the surprise of her family, she managed to get into Moscow State University and started her studies on historical faculty, followed by doing a masters degree ( a Soviet equivalent of it ). Marina loved her studies and felt justified in her determination. Having learnt her lesson, she now tries to listen to her own children and says that being smart and desiring things are two different things.
Time went by and all of a sudden the wind of change blew perestroika in and Marina realised that she wasn’t interested in doing academic staff anymore-as she put it to me ‘listening to an old professor of history wasn’t the same as listening to the old professor of mathematics’. And it’s a very fair point, especially considering Russian mentality and way of life back then. Marina was brimming with curiosity, even though it felt a bit like the wild, wild West all around her.
One of the things that we bonded over with Marina, was our love of good coffee. When I was growing up, my parents used to make coffee on the gas stove, in the special copper pot with a long handle called ‘dzhezva’. Most people don’t use it now-after all, using a cafetiere is simpler and you don’t need to stand over it, so it doesn’t spill over. Russia’s climate isn’t suited to coffee growth, so Marina decided that she wanted to address the problem of the lack of great coffee in Moscow. With the approach of ‘time has to be right for everything’, she took the decision to concentrate her efforts on importing coffee to Russia. The next thing was to decide where to start? She knew about Brazilian coffee but didn’t have any contacts in Brazil, so armed with her youthful determination, she marched to Brazilian embassy and asked to see Brazilian trade attaché. That, my dear readers, was how her first business got started ( she continued to work with the Brazilian trade attaché for a while and formed a very amicable professional relationship with him). Marina built her business from scratch, starting with certification and learning about different types of coffee and discrepancies in taste preferences. In Switzerland, for example, they prefer a slightly bitter taste, while Russians tend to go for sweeter variety. Marina’s business covered the whole of the Soviet Union ( and tiny it certainly wasn’t ), all the while she balanced her professional commitments with being a wife ( her and her husband worked together for a while ) and a mother to two children. Life might not have been easy, but it certainly was interesting.
In 2004, not having many friends or acquaintances in London, Marina decided to relocate there, together with her children. Starting a new chapter in one’s life isn’t easy, especially when everything is new and you have to find your footing fast, bearing the responsibility for your decision and how it affected your children.
I asked Marina how she starts her day and was surprised to hear that she doesn’t have breakfast in the morning, just a cup of coffee , which is ‘ a must ‘, followed by fitness. She smokes and is unapologetic about it and in a way, that’s how the idea behind NuBo was born. As Marina says, ‘ NuBo is not a beauty brand for angels, angels don’t need anything’. We live in a fast-moving environment, where there is lots of pressure and expectations and at the same time, many of us choose to burn the candle at both ends, working and playing hard, which obviously takes its toll on how one looks. Marina admits to ‘liking complex people, they are much more interesting’ and sites Anatolyi Komm, one of Russia’s top chefs who specialises in molecular cuisine & has worked with Ferran Adria in the past ) and her friend. She is in complete awe of chefs and says that when she attended some exhibitions with Anatolyi, she was mesmerised by the camaraderie and the exchange of creative ideas that flowed, unlike in beauty business, when one can look at the product, scan the list of the ingredients and create their own range based on what they saw. Hence Marina believes that at the forefront of a good product should be pioneering technology. Large corporations might rule the roost, but they can’t react quickly to certain processes, like a change of bar codes, labels or ingredients-it takes them much longer to adjust than a smaller business. Take example of Johnson and Johnson, who will only take out certain bad ingredients our of their products starting from 2015.
Creating something new always takes time, you can go through a test trial and everything would be perfect until…last week, when you will have to reformulate and start again.
In 2008 Marina started work on NuBo, with an idea of creating skincare brand, as if she was creating skincare products just for herself. She wasn’t prepared to compromise on the quality or quantities of the ingredients, as good quality skincare is needed by anyone who cares about how they look and every ingredient ( isolated molecule ) within a specific formula/product should have a role to play and not be used because it’s popular/‘current’ and written about by the press. Marina was also quite picky about factories and formulators ( initially she worked with Colette Haydon, the chemist doyenne who has created products for L’Oreal, Lancome, Ren etc ). Her suppliers chain is quite widespread, from US to Japan ( Marina praises Kanebo and their research, as well as Guerlain and French cosmetics traditions ), and Marina says that ‘very country ‘has their own chips’ that they play well and combining this expertise can only benefit the brand. She also adds that Korea has very interesting technologies ( take Dr Jart, which since it’s recent launch is doing a roaring trade in Boots ).
Marina also created focus groups and asked beauty journalists for advice and feedback, while offering them product samples to try. What strikes me about Marina is while she is calm and slightly aloof, behind it hides a very curious mind and lots of knowledge. You don’t see many brand owners having an open conversation with you on the subject of beauty.
I ask her why she doesn’t sell her products in a very lucrative Russian market and she says that apart from possible issues of customs and stock, there are issues with the patent registrations, as well as lack of representative offices and factories capable of producing the products. The plan however has been set in motion. Another thing, that unfortunately is common among Russians, is that they are trend and popularity led-if the brand is well-known, you have to open the door wide; otherwise it is very difficult to get your foot in the door of a very tightly saturated market. Marina has also been pragmatically selective in terms of choosing her stockists and in London only Harrods and Fenwick ( Daniella, who works there is absolutely fantastic and it helps to know her if you want to book yourself in for an occasional high tech NuBo facial, which is absolutely incredible ) stock Nubo ( of course you can also purchase NuBo products online too ).
NuBo is a cosmoceutical range that smells beautifully, but much more importantly it produces clinically backed results. Marina uses biotechnological advances and purified bio-actives from plants and minerals that help to repair the damage already done to the skin ( by environmental factors, lack of sleep, sun exposure ), as well as protecting the skin from further damage and helping it to re-generate.
There is a choice of cleansers, serums, creams, peels, exfoliators, masks and treatments that make your skin look and feel younger. The formulations are paraben and SLS free and contain no synthetics-that’s why they don’t have strong, overpowering smells like some very well-known skincare ranges. Products can be tailored to your skin’s needs and will address such pressing issues like under eye circles, dehydration, hyperpigmentation or post injection/cosmetic surgery soothing. My personal tried and tested from NuBo are Cell Dynamic Velvet Cleansing cream ( perfect to shift make-up and impurities in the evening without drying my skin ), Cell Dynamic Bio-electric Buff ( a great scrub that I use weekly to clear dead skin away without causing any redness-if anything, my skin looks healthier after each use ) and White Diamond Ice-Glow mask ( Marina recommended it to me a while back but told me not to use it before going to bed, as it is a very active mask. Instead, it’s my great pre-party boost trick, as it wakes the skin up and makes it look and feel luminous-one has to try it to believe it, but when you initially apply it it feels like the Snow Queen is gently blowing in your face-magic ). Marina says that she always works along the lines that the effect of the product should be fast, if not instant and the products should be quick, easy and effective to use daily.
Marina is very convincing when she says that one of the most important parts in looking after your face is the regime and the overall feeling of nurture. You shouldn’t use the cleanser that isn’t suited for your skin type, even if it comes highly recommended, ‘the product should do the work, not you’. It also helps when the product can multi-task and act as the perfect canvass for make-up and that’s the point that I completely share. If you skin looks bad, no amount of make-up is going to cover it up or make you look beautifully radiant. Marina adds that cleansing plays a very important part in the health of your skin: you should wet your hands, inhale the product’s aroma and start gently to cleanse your face, enjoying the feel of the tips of your fingers massaging your face and neck and the hydrating effect of the product on the skin.
One of the things that is central to NuBo, is its patented Cell Dynamic Technology,which makes it possible for the ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin layers and work on cellular level, helping to rejuvenate the skin. Some of NuBo ingredients replicate the activity of proteins, enzymes and lipids that are present in our skin when we are young and NuBo’s biometric skin actives can trick the skin into behaving the way that it did when we were younger.
Marina is generous with sharing her beauty and skincare tips, telling me about an amazing hairdresser that she thinks I might like or about the fact that vitamin C is her trusted must in helping the skin look radiant ( if used correctly every morning ) and I appreciated that, listening to her life story as well.
When we part, as Marina is travelling to Germany on business later that day, I don’t feel like I know her, but I certainly walk away with the measure and the feel of a woman who created a powerful skincare brand that is making waves and offers innovative and impressive products and treatments. I also feel pride that this woman is Russian and in a way, NuBo has Russian DNA too.