The global beauty industry (worth US$532b) is seeing an upheaval. Where makeup once ruled the roost, cosmetic sales are reportedly lagging now — even for big brands and large conglomerates. Skincare sales, on the other hand, are surging exponentially.
Legacy names — a few of which have undergone complete overhauls and rebranding — are going head-to-head with new indie, digital-born brands well-versed in catering to the millennials who now prefer transparency and using products made from sustainable means.
While this shift in consumer attitudes spells a big transition for many brands, it seems that the move has worked in favour for Clarins. The French luxury beauty group is doing remarkably well, having enjoyed its best year in terms of sales, growth and profitability. Much of this could be attributed to the appointment of Christophe De Pous as the president of APAC and North America of the Clarins Group, where he also played a key leadership role in the brand’s digital transformation.
De Pous brings with him a wealth of experience to Clarins, harnessed from spending decades in the luxury retail sector. He spent a considerable amount of time at Pierre Fabre, stints at Sisley as Asia Pacific Director as well as serving as President and Representative Director at Bluebell Japan. It was at Bluebell that De Pous leapt to his most notable role as President and CEO of Gucci Japan, later helming the North America sector. This prominent position saw him relaunching the Italian label under the creative directorship of Alessandro Michele.
So what brought him to Clarins?In a nutshell, it was Clarins’ reputation. “I asked everyone in New York [where I was living then] including editors-in-chief as well as top sales people of other brands, and all of them said good things. That was unique.” He cites his meeting with brothers Christian and Olivier Courtin-Clarins as the affirmation he needed to make that leap.”Fashion brands can go high and low [with their moods], and have impossible egos at times. We don’t have that here at Clarins.”
Old is gold
In an industry that is now driven by hype and heavily dependent on social media marketing, many legacy brands are struggling to keep up with the newer players. De Pous says that while keeping ahead of the competition remains a challenge, the efficacy of Clarins products is the number one reason why consumers return.
“Often, customers come back to concepts we invented,” he continues. “Many new brands say they’re 100 percent natural but we’ve been doing that since the ‘50s. We might lose on the short term because these [young] brands deploy a unique strategy when talking to people and engaging with them but I think after trying the new products, people eventually still go back to the brands they can trust… A lot of these [new] brands claim a lot of things but sometimes they don’t deliver,” says De Pous.
He also cites Clarins’ extensive sourcing methods as an example. “We test over 1,200 plant extracts every year but only keep one to three in our own R&D lab.” he says. “For most of these upcoming brands, they are limited with their research teams or work with a sub-contractor. These brands don’t really know where the ingredients come from, and they launch a product within a short period of time. Our research and development stage is a much longer process but we do proper testing with a better selection of real active ingredients.”
Not just face value
Consumers are now more fastidious about nourishing their skin, a reflection of today’s seismic cultural shifts towards wellness and self-care. In fact, today’s consumers are also invested in the beauty products they use and are particular about the brand values.
“Generation Z and the millennials are coming back to nature,” says De Pous. “For me, nature is genuinely important. It’s not just a marketing concept.”
While using natural ingredients and sourcing for sustainable means are inherent in Clarins’ DNA, De Pous admits that these initiatives need a publicity push. “What we should work on is to communicate effectively to the consumers on how we source our ingredients”.
Clarins’ research department has spent more than 60 years traversing the globe for powerful plant ingredients — all of which are only favoured if locally grown, are organic, and sourced according to fair trade practices. It also adheres strictly to international guidelines on environmental protection, and works with local grassroots initiatives across different continents. This commitment to the earth is echoed in its use of recyclable packaging materials, and efforts in environmental impact reduction at its industrial sites.
Clarins’ social responsibility initiatives are aplenty. Its FEED programme, for example, has given out more than 27 million school lunches to children in underdeveloped countries. Clarins has also built educational gardens in Madagascar and Burkina Faso, to “not only protect biodiversity but help the communities build a sustainable future,” highlights De Pous. It also fully finances the operating expenses of the Medical Research with the Fondation Arthritis.
Up close and personal
Echoing the narrative of the Clarins pop-up earlier this month, De Pous tells us that the brand is “going back to authenticity and who they are”. The message was clear as the pop-up venue took visitors through a journey of the brand’s foundation. Other highlights included an exploration of the products’ ingredients as well as a hand massage, and a thorough consultation based on the visitor’s skin type, because according to De Pous: “Clarins is all about personalised care.”
Besides the main line, Clarins also has my Clarins, a skincare range targeted for the younger crowd using potent but gentler plant-based formulas and made available at a lower price point. Also, it reintroduced the iconic Lip Comfort Oil together with The Kooples, a chic Parisian fashion retailer. The formula, originally created by founder Jacques Courtin-Clarins, remains the same but comes in new shades and marble designs. “Clarins was used by your mother’s generation, and even my mother’s generation. They learnt about beauty through the innovation of Clarins and lived through its [evolution],” says De Pous. “We just need to modernise the image a bit.”