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PARIS — Jacques Courtin-Clarins, who died Thursday in his home in a Paris suburb at age 86, was a pioneer in natural beauty products and practices who promoted the philosophy that feeling good is tantamount to feeling beautiful.
This story first appeared in the March 26, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The impact of Courtin-Clarins, the founder of Group Clarins, reverberated across the industry.
“I’ve known and admired Jacques Courtin-Clarins ever since Clarins emerged on the scene,” said Leonard Lauder, chairman of the board of the Estée Lauder Cos. “He was a remarkable visionary and was able to create a whole new mode of selling that others have tried to replicate and never succeeded. We will all miss him.”
“This gentleman was one of the leaders of the industry,” said Chantal Roos, president and chief executive officer of YSL Beauté. “He created from scratch one of the most beautiful brands,” she added, explaining Courtin-Clarins was a pioneer on two fronts — one was natural products and the other was an unusual adherence to consumers’ wishes.
“He made consumer satisfaction a priority,” said Roos.
She recalled how, in the early days of his business, Courtin-Clarins would develop products by polling long lists of customers to find out what they were thinking. His company was also among the first to include questionnaires in each of its product’s packaging so that, when filled out and returned to Clarins, they gave direct consumer feedback.
Roos expressed sadness at Courtin-Clarins’ passing, but said she is sure that his sons — Christian, who is the company’s president and chief executive officer, and Olivier, vice president of research and development — will “continue this successful story.”
Indeed, Courtin-Clarins’ story was one of hard work and perseverance. He studied medicine up until the outbreak of World War II, when he worked in hospitals helping the wounded. Once the war was over, Courtin-Clarins became a chiropractor and started learning about his patients’ skin-care needs. In 1954, he opened the first Clarins beauty institute, in Paris, where Courtin-Clarins introduced an innovative massage technique, plus oils and creams with formulas based on pure plant-based extracts.
“He seriously believed that a woman who feels good is a powerful woman,” said Jonathan Zrihen, ceo and president of Clarins USA.
In the Seventies, Clarins broadened its distribution outside of pharmacies to department stores and beauty clinics. The company went public on the Paris Bourse in 1984.
“I remember when Clarins was put on the stock market, [Courtin-Clarins] gave shares to every employee, including those working in the factory,” said Eric Henry, chief operating officer of Beauté Prestige International, who had worked at Clarins for almost 17 years, including as its senior vice president for international. “He paid great respect to people.”
Alain Grangé Cabane, president of the French Federation des Industries de la Parfumerie, said of Courtin-Clarins: “I found him very warm and mischievous. He was always very attentive to others, had a nice smile and success never went to his head. He was a great figure in our industry.”
Many — including Zrihen — consider Courtin-Clarins a visionary.
“Jacques never asked about sales and P&L sheets,” said Zrihen. “He only wanted to know about the consumer and how she was being treated. He always said that in our work, we shouldn’t try to see the consumer in the woman, but the woman in the consumer. He asked us to devote attention to the service side of the business — training for him was as important product development. He had a passion for listening to and respecting the consumer. He always said, ‘Don’t promise miracles, promise results.’
“His key to success was simple: Listen to what women want, and give it to them,” continued Zrihen. “He loved listening, he loved beauty and he loved sharing that. He was such an inspiration to me personally. I think he left this world very happy. He stayed involved with the company up until the end. A week ago, he was meeting with Christian and Olivier about new product innovations. They will keep Clarins as a strong global family company and a tribute to Jacques. This is a very sad day for the company.”
A colleague of Courtin-Clarins’ for about 20 years, Joe Horowitz, former president and ceo of Clarins in the U.S., reminisced, “He was one of the earliest people who understood that the customer is king. He recognized that people want to feel special.
“Although he produced products in large quantities, he was one of the first people to prescribe remedies for the specific needs of consumers,” Horowitz said. “He also recognized the importance of naturals, and the core active ingredients in his products have always been naturals. Today, that sounds old hat, but it certainly wasn’t 40 years ago. He always had an intuitive realization of what consumers wanted. Today, his two sons are running the business and they have a real interest in carrying on his philosophy — that would make him proud.”
Henry said Courtin-Clarins “was for me a kind of genius, who started the company by himself. He was a genius not just for product, but for how he talked to people. He was totally dedicated to beauty for women.”
Henry remembered Courtin-Clarins as being involved in every aspect of his business, from marketing to product development to staff training.
“He followed up on everything,” Henry said. “He was in direct contact with consumers. His is one of the most beautiful stories in the industry.”
Courtin-Clarins was also committed to philanthropy.
“Jacques, he had a passion for giving back, as well,” said Zrihen. “After his wife passed away two years ago, he created a foundation in her honor, and with Christian, he founded the Most Dynamic Women program, which honors women who make a difference in children’s lives. We operate that program in every country we’re in.”
Last year, Courtin-Clarins mapped out the history of his company in a book, “Une Réussite en Beauté ou la Fabuleuse Aventure de Clarins,” (“A Beautiful Success or The Fabulous Adventure of Clarins”). Indeed, his was a spectacular story. In an industry where family-run companies are rare, his continues to make a mark.
Clarins’ business, which counts more than 6,000 employees worldwide, includes all beauty categories — treatment, makeup and fragrance. It generated sales last year of 967.2 million euros, or $1.22 billion at the average yearly exchange rate. Clarins’ skin care products are the best-selling in Europe, and Angel, the women’s fragrance introduced by Clarins’ licensee Thierry Mugler Parfums in 1992, remains a perennial bestseller, sometimes taking top slot in France — to name a few company highlights.
Courtin-Clarins’ vision of beauty, which he described in his book, remains the keystone of Clarins’ philosophy. He wrote, “In my first beauty clinic, I was involved with aesthetic treatments related to health problems — scars from burns, operations, edemas [and] bedsores. I understood more and more that beauty had an influence on life, happiness, self-confidence…. Women want to be beautiful.”
— With contributions from Julie Naughton and Pete Born, New York