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Olivier Courtin-Clarins on Beautician Secrets

Clarins has grown from a modest Parisian spa into a billion-dollar beauty business. Its secret? Keeping things simple.

For most of us, lying back and undergoing a facial by an aesthetician is a pampering experience to be savoured. For Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins, it’s just another day at work. But, when you are the president of one of the biggest beauty brands in the world – not to mention a son of its founder – it’s not surprising that your workweek includes getting treatments for the face and body several times.

Speaking to The Peak at Clarins Skin Spa at Wheelock Place when he was recently in town, he explained with a laugh: “Each time we develop and experiment with a treatment, I undergo the treatments in my office. I also test all the products before they are launched.”

Not that the 58-year-old was ever a stranger to skincare and wellness. His father, Jacques Courtin- Clarins, was a masseur who opened a modest 24-room spa in Paris in 1954, offering beauty treatments. Twelve years later, he began selling skincare products as well. A trained orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Courtin-Clarins joined the business in 1995, and now runs the privately owned company with his elder brother, Christian. Today, Clarins is distributed in more than 150 countries. In 2011, it chalked up reported revenues of US$1.6 billion (S$2 billion).

But, even with such impressive numbers, there is still plenty to be done. Dr Courtin-Clarins does not mince words when it comes to the brand’s ambitions: “We want to be No. 1 in the world in skincare. We are already No. 1 in premium bodycare, but the bodycare market is small, compared to face care.”

The Clarins Skin Spa plays a vital role in these plans. He adds: “Clarins was born in a spa. It continues to be a part of our philosophy. Whenever we enter a new country, we will have a spa. This lets us communicate with our customers. After each treatment, a beauty therapist speaks to the customer, so we know what products and treatments the customer wants. We don’t want to do a product that is about marketing, we want to listen to our clients.”

True to its origins yet constantly improving through research and development, the back-to- basics approach that Clarins was founded on has proven successful with generations of customers. For one thing, plant-derived ingredients have always been at the heart of Clarins products. Last year, it launched the seventh generation of its best-selling Double Serum, featuring plant extracts of katafray, kiwi and green banana. Complementing this focus on all things natural, the spa distinguishes itself not with the latest spa gizmos, but with its therapists’ hands.

Each treatment features a different set of hand movements, which varies depending on the treatment’s goals. Dr Courtin-Clarins, who plays a key role in developing the spa’s massage techniques, says: “With hand movements, we can adapt the pressure to reach different parts of the epidermis. For (improving) circulation and reducing fatigue, the strokes are quicker. For (boosting) blood circulation, the strokes are slower. Also, we can adapt to customers’ wishes – if they want more pressure, we can use more pressure. That’s not possible with machines, which can also damage the skin if the force is too strong.”

This might well be especially important in Asia, where spa-goers apparently have a taste for “stronger massages” – along with whitening, lifting and firming facial treatments. Currently, the Clarins Skin Spa in Singapore offers only facial treatments for male patrons, who are mostly in their late 20s to 40s, and form a small part of its clientele.

For now, the spa has chosen not to apply for a licence that would let it carry out body treatments for men, says Brenda Loke, marketing manager of Clarins Singapore. She adds: “Currently, the spa is always fully booked, two to three months ahead, for women. Eventually, if we were to have a bigger area, or a second Clarins Skin Spa, there’s always the possibility that we will incorporate men’s body treatments.”

Men account for a modest 5 per cent of the Clarins Skin Spa customer base worldwide – but it is a figure that is undoubtedly rising. Says Dr Courtin- Clarins with a laugh: “There are more and more metrosexual men now, and they are taking care of their skin. About 20 years ago, men started buying sun protection. Before that, they didn’t use sun protection – they preferred to be red.”

Going beyond sunblock, men have become savvier about what they need to keep their skin in decent shape. In Singapore, the bestsellers in the Clarins Men range are a face wash, a moisturiser and an eye serum, products which make for a relatively unfussy regimen.

Dr Courtin-Clarins observes: “The men, they are always simple. They want something that is quick and has results.”