Where I grew up, L'Oreal is certainly not a premium brand. You normally see it on the shelves in supermarkets and pharmacies, next to brands such as Maybelline and Neutrogena. I almost feel that it's more like a brand geared towards customers of middle-age and above. The package is old-fashioned and unattractive. I think the only L'Oreal product I have ever used was a face wash, and I wasn't that impressed. Honestly, Neutrogena has better cleansing product for the same amount of money.
However, it is positioned as a premium brand in China. You can see L'Oreal TV commercials during prime time almost on a daily basis, huge posters in crowded shopping districts, and nice advertisements in glossy magazines that target young white-collared females. This new positioning seems to work well in opening up the China market for L'Oreal, but if it wants to expand it's market share in China by entering the rural areas, L'Oreal will need to come up with plan that won't risk it's image while capturing the lower end of the market.
In fact, a lot of the foreign brands face similar challenges. I remember at my ex-company, almost every meeting about marketing strategy was a discussion of "how to make the poor people buy our stuff without cheapening the image which will piss off the existing rich customers in the big cities". If you have a smart answer, then you can have a really brilliant career in China.