The president who pursued perfection and gave the world a brave new face

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 09 May, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 09 May, 1993, 12:00am

MR CHRISTIAN Courtin-Clarins is clearly proud of the fact the skincare company that bears his family name sells more jars of cream than any other in Europe.

''When I joined Clarins in 1970, we sold in one year what we sell in half a day today,'' he said.

Mr Clarins is president of the French beauty house, which is now the biggest skincare company in Europe. Annually, Clarins sells about $3 billion worth of its hi-tech lotions and potions worldwide - a figure about to increase as the firm expands into China.

''That's a lot of little jars,'' Mr Courtin-Clarins said.

The president was in Hongkong recently to oversee the opening of the Clarins subsidiary. While the brand has been available in the territory for more than 15 years, the company wanted more control over its distribution.

''We decided to have our own company in Hongkong, which will also help us have a closer look at what is happening in China. We need that type of organisation to be ready to go into the Chinese market,'' he said.

''There are a lot of retailers from Hongkong, Japan and France who want to go into China, so we will go with them. It is a huge market for everyone now.'' There are also plans to expand into the cosmetics and perfume line; a make-up range has been launched in Europe, and this will come to Hongkong soon.

''We are investigating the possibilities of developing perfumes. In France, we are the main shareholder in [designer] Thierry Mugler - 38 per cent of the fashion and 66 per cent of the fragrance line.

''It was a big investment for us, but these new ventures are rarely profitable in the beginning. But we see a lot of potential.'' The Clarins cosmetics line is unusual in that it is made to protect the skin from pollution.

''Because make-up has to stay on the surface of the skin it should also act as a shield or barrier. This is more difficult to do in skincare than in make-up. But Clarins has exclusively developed the anti-pollution concept,'' Mr Courtin-Clarins said.

Certain vitamin elements are used in the cosmetics to reduce harmful environmental pollutants.

''We know more and more every day about skin and new developments in skincare. We have built a new research centre just outside Paris, which at HK$50 million is a big investment for us, but this is the price you have to pay to be up-to-date on technologyand new developments on plant extracts,'' he said.

''We do no animal testing at our new facilities.'' The biggest seller for the company is the multi-action day cream, which brings in some six per cent of sales annually.

Mr Clarins is well-versed in the competitiveness of the luxury consumer market. After gaining a degree in trade and management from San Diego University, he began working for Veuve Cliquot champagne as European area manager.

When he joined Clarins, he immediately began research into cosmetics and skincare, particularly in the effectiveness of active ingredients of natural, vegetal origin.

''Perfection is my goal. I am committed to the Clarins philosophy of doing more, doing it better and enjoying doing so.

''I am also constantly seeking women's opinions and their comments regarding our products, and actually spend time interviewing as many foreign clients as possible.'' Mr Courtin-Clarins' father remains the main creative force behind the firm, while the younger Clarins is described as the ''more international one''.

''I opened 134 countries for Clarins. The company was started in 1954, but at the time was only a skincare institute. We started to sell our products in 1968, and we haven't looked back since,'' he said.

Opening the beauty institute was a critical step, he said.

''Nobody can claim to manufacture skincare products if they do not have the experience of running an institute. My father had extensive medical research experience and developed the line, and my brother is a doctor, so that helped,'' he said.

In Hongkong, Clarins treatments are given at better-known salons; there are no plans to open a beauty institute in the territory. Any salon which wants to start giving Clarins treatments has to send employees to the firm's headquarters in Paris for extensive training.

Thirty per cent of Clarins' equity is listed publicly. All employees hold shares in the company.

In his 13 years in the fiercely competitive skincare industry, Mr Courtin-Clarins has noticed that consumer demands have changed.

''They are buying less and less for the sake of the name, and more because of the quality and a reasonable price. Certainly, there is still a market where people only want expensive products, as they believe that because the price is high, it must be thebest.

''But more people are making the differentiation between the price and the quality of the product. This is linked to circumstances around the world. But still, everyone is fighting the process of ageing, some of whom have been very successful at it.

''Today, we can postpone the process by at least 10 years; many women of 40 these days only look 30 if they take care of themselves.''