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Beauty & Cosmetics  |  Paris


Celebrating its 61st anniversary this year, Clarins is one of the pioneering global leaders of luxury skincare, cosmetics and fragrance. Meet the President and owner of one of France's most emblematic family companies, Christian Courtin-Clarins.


Celebrating its 61st anniversary this year, Clarins is one of the leading global luxury skincare, fragrance and cosmetics companies in the world. Pioneering entrepreneur, Jacques Courtin-Clarins, founded the emblematic French brand in 1954 when he laid the foundations of modern aromatherapy in his Parisian beauty salon. Today, his sons Christian and Olivier Courtin-Clarins run the privately-owned family company. Their daughters – namely Prisca, Jenna, Virginie and Claire – are also shareholders, supervisory board members and global ambassadors of the brand, projecting a fresh-faced future for the company. With an estimated valuation of $3.6 billion, and more than 9,000 employees worldwide, the brand now sells in over 160 countries, and its high-quality skin care products and perfumes are still exclusively produced in France.

"The Clarins brand started with the development of professional skin care treatments”, explains Christian Courtin-Clarins, President of the Clarins Group. “My father strongly believed in natural plant extracts. In 1954, he created face and body treatment oils for his clients based upon 100 per cent pure plant extracts to rebalance the skin. The products still exist today. It's one of the unique successes where a product range has existed for such a long time.”

A natural researcher and a born inventor, Jacques Courtin-Clarins’s conviction was that beauty, health and well-being were interconnected – a daring holistic vision in the early 1950s. At his Parisian beauty "Institute", he would draw up a personalised skin care diagnosis for each of his clients. “My father was a genius of marketing and understanding our customers”, Christian says. "Over the years, this information provided him with a vital source of research for the ongoing development of the Clarins product range." 

In 1974, his father asked Christian to join him in the family business to create the company’s International Division, and drive its worldwide development. “I was born a Sagittarius, which is the astrological sign of "the traveller"”, Christian says. “When I started to work at the company, I remember that every morning my father would give me 10 letters from our customers that I would have to answer. That was very useful, as it helped me to better understand our customer's needs and helped us immensely in the creation of new products." 

Subsidiaries started springing up from Europe to Asia. In 1980, Clarins became the leading luxury skincare brand in France. In 1981, it opened its first US subsidiary. The company listed on the Paris Stock Exchange in 1984, and by 1990, Clarins was the number one skin care brand in Europe and remains so today. “I've been travelling all of my life. From 1974 to 2000, I opened 128 countries for the company”, he explains. "Travelling to every country was such an experience. Japan was one of the most difficult countries to open because we had to deal with so many local regulations, which is also the case in Germany. When you are successful in these countries, it generally means that you can make it anywhere else."

Christian’s younger brother, Dr. Olivier Courtin-Clarins, joined the company in 1995 after a career as an orthopedic surgeon. Now the Managing Director of the Clarins Group, Olivier oversees the company's research and development, the Clarins Skin Spa boutiques and over 50 luxury Clarins spas around the world. He also launched My Blend, a high-end skin care line, and Spa My Blend by Clarins, a new generation of ultra-personalised spas based in a select group of luxury hotels around the world such as the Royal Monceau in Paris. 

In 2008, after 24 years on the Paris Stock Exchange, Christian and Olivier Courtin-Clarins decided to delist the Clarins Group and make it private again. “When you are in a family business, you need to have a long term view of at least 5 ‑ 10 years ahead”, Christian says. “You don't judge a marathon every 100 metres. You can’t judge the success of a company every quarter. This is why we removed Clarins from the stock market, because with a quarterly approach, you put pressure on everybody to focus on the short term. For a luxury product, if you want to have the time to create, to do the proper research behind a high‑quality product, then you need time”.

Clarins has initiated many new directions in skincare due to its determination to break new ground and continually innovate. It was among the first brands to foresee the potential of plants for cosmetics, and now uses more than 250 different plant extracts in the formulation of its products, ranging from flowers, grasses, lichen, bark, algae and creepers. “We are always looking for something different, so we have been very innovative”, Christian says. “We were the first one to introduce UVA sun filters and anti-pollution protection within our products. We always say, "How can we be different?"”

In addition to launching a women’s makeup collection and a dedicated men’s skincare range, the Clarins Group also owns the French fashion and perfume brand, Thierry Mugler, which creates the top-selling Angel and Azzaro fragrances. 

Bringing a fresh-faced youthfulness to the company’s image, the daughters of Christian (Virginie and Claire) and Olivier (twins Jenna and Prisca) are now involved in the company as third-generation brand ambassadors and supervisory board members. “Today, my daughter Virginie and Olivier’s daughter, Prisca, work in our company", he says. "Virginie is the Director of Marketing and Communication at MUGLER Fashion, and Prisca is the Strategic Director for Clarins Spa activities. Our two other daughters, Claire and Jenna, are more artistic. I think it's very important to have an artistic mind frame to help you to see things differently”. Crowned Fashion "It" girls by Vogue, the glamorous cousins first captured the fashion world’s attention at the 2011 New York Fashion Week with their sophisticated French style and natural beauty, and have been revered in international fashion and society circles ever since.  

Respect also lies at the heart of the Clarins ethic. “I've been very involved in sustainable development since 1985”, Christian says. “In the beginning, I saw that we had to do it. Now, we need to do it. I'll use the famous quote of Saint-Exupéry: "We do not inherit the earth from our parents; we borrow it from our children.” So we have to give it back clean."

Interview: Enrique Nalda & Kimberley McLoughlin
Photography: Courtesy of Clarins

Interview first published in RedVisitor Magazine: Issue Two - Purchase Now

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