While only a handful of Italian cosmetic brands have acquired a real global notoriety (L’Erbolario, Bottega Verde), the country is nevertheless a key player as regards as subcontracting. There are about 500 subcontractors/third party manufacturers (called terzisti in Italian) in the peninsula, mainly located in Lombardy, a region in the north of Italy, between the region capital Milan and the municipalities of Agrate Brianza, Bergamo and Crema [2]. They form what is known as the cosmetics quadrilateral, a true equivalent of the French Cosmetic Valley. The companies export more than 80% of their production outside Italy (of which 1/3 in Europe) for the most prestigious and well-known brands of the market such as Lancôme, YSL or Estée lauder for naming just a few.

This excellence of made in Italy is due to different factors [3]. First of all, the dynamics of Italy itself, a historically exporting country with a large number of SMEs in all industrial sectors, with the Milanese territory already specialising in pharmaceuticals. Then the proximity of the universities (Milano Bicocca) and the most advanced research centres in the Peninsula in chemistry, materials science and polymers, which has allowed a great creative force in R&D to be concentrated. Finally, the geographical proximity of Milan has contributed to fostering a synergy between science and the boldness and creativity of Italian fashion and design industries, resulting in the super-specialised district that exists today in Lombardy.

Third party companies offer a range of services from formula to packaging and consulting. These include for example :

- Contract manufacturing of formulas (a brand asks for its formula to be made as is);
- Proposal of innovative formulas created by the subcontractor (the brand can take it as is and add its own perfume and active ingredients, or modify it slightly);
- Briefing from the client to the subcontractor to create an innovative formula;
- Design of tailor-made packaging or industrial equipment (lipstick moulds, for example);
- Filling and assembly;
- Advice on the creation of a new brand (e.g. the Intercos concept department at Intercos).

Among the best known formula subcontractors are: Intercos, Gotha, Art Cosmetics, Omnicos, Regi, Bkolor, Chromavis (part of the French group Fareva).

There are also more discreet but very well-known players in the field, such as Nastritex (compacting fabrics for make-up powders), Brivaplast (a historic company for the packaging of mascaras, glosses, concealers), Gpe Ardenghi (leader in silk-screen printing in cosmetics) and many others.

They all share the same values that are specific to Italy itself: curiosity, reactivity, ability to innovate with no limits (just like Italian design). Italian subcontractors have a future-oriented vision, especially in terms of clean formulas (RSPO, vegan, GMO-free...) and biodegradable packaging. The main competition for Italy comes from Asia, notably from South Korea with subcontractors such as Kolmar, Cosmecca and especially Cosmax (world leader in cosmetic subcontracting just ahead of Intercos).