If we are to be honest, Clarins’ boutique in 1Utama Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya was, for the longest time, a nice enough space but a little forgettable. No one knew it was there unless they were actively seeking it out, and it suffered from a lack of visibility. This was a shame because Clarins’ strength lies in its impressive range of skincare products steeped in science and botanicals, and a team of beauty advisers who are expertly trained and have encyclopaedic knowledge of each product and its suitability for one’s skin type.
It was only when the family-owned company’s headquarters in Paris launched a worldwide effort to revamp the layout of its boutiques that things began to change. Pop by the Clarins boutiques in 1Utama and Mid Valley Megamall today and you will see that the change is monumental. The deep red-and-white colour theme remains, but both boutiques now look more open and welcoming.
A brighter lighting strategy puts more attention on its products, arranged helpfully by category — men, maternity, make-up, travel-sized treasures as well as a special section for new releases so customers can experience them properly. Valuable real estate right up front is reserved for featured products, or those that are particularly popular. The iconic Double Serum commanded pride of place when the new boutique in 1Utama opened, as did the new Water Lip Stain. Hidden from view is a spa area, with luxurious treatment rooms in calm and soothing colours.
“We listened to what our customers wanted, and that is what resulted in the new design,” says Jean Marie Le Roy, Clarins Group’s executive vice-president for North Asia and Southeast Asia. “Even I was not a very big fan of the way things were before, but I must say the boutique is incredible now.” We are seated in the spacious reception area of the spa, a haven of peace and solitude, at the 1Utama boutique. Here, Clarins beauty advisers conduct a detailed consultation before any treatment to ensure that it is perfectly tailored to each customer. The spa experience is central to Clarins’ offerings and is more than worth the two or so hours that the average session takes.
The Clarins story began in Paris on March 15, 1954, when medical student Jacques Courtin-Clarins opened his first institute with the pioneering belief that well-being and happiness are inextricably linked to beauty — a daring holistic vision that he was among the first to express and apply. Now Europe’s top premium skincare brand, Clarins’ growth is based on its pillars: everything is made in France to guarantee traceability and its optimal control over manufacturing processes and product development remains faithful to its original philosophy of listening, observing and analysing what women say to truly understand their needs.
“Although everything is made in France, the ingredients are sourced from all over the world,” Le Roy explains. “We have our own Indiana Jones who goes all over the world to find new elements that could work for our portfolio. We have almost 250 plants in our products. We have learnt a lot from the ancestral habits of many people from all over the world, for example, turmeric in India. All the sourcing of the products is in our website because we are aware that our customers want to know where our ingredients come from, and we are happy to share this information.”
The 1990s was a pivotal decade for Clarins as it expanded from skincare into makeup (in 1991) and dabbled in perfumes by acquiring a stake in couturier Thierry Mugler, and then Azzaro Perfumes. In 2002, it launched a dedicated skincare series for men — Le Roy is the best advertisement for it, as he looks much younger than his 48 years. “It is both my Clarins and my love for champagne,” the Singapore-based Brittany native laughs.
Le Roy has been with the company for more than two decades, and considers himself fortunate to have worked with Courtin-Clarins until his death in 2007. “Every day, Jacques would be in the spa to talk to our customers — what they liked or didn’t like, what textures and scents they liked and so on. A lot of what we do is developed because we listen to our customers,” he says. “He was also a huge proponent of quality. We are not a cost-driven company but we are quality-driven. In my 24 years at Clarins, the goal has always been to put quality first and profit second.
“Actually, we used to be listed on the stock exchange in the 1980s but the family opted to buy it back. Why? Because the family needed to report to the board every quarter — where the money was going and why we needed to put it back into research instead of declaring it as profit. We were tired of the dictatorship, so the brothers took out a loan and it is 100% family-owned again. Now, the company can be run according to what Jacques would have wanted and I think that makes a huge difference. We make long-term decisions in the name of quality and it feels good to be in a company like this,” Le Roy adds.
Clarins does extremely healthy business in Southeast Asia, with Thailand chalking up the highest profits at the moment. That being said, Le Roy has big plans for Malaysia as well. Indeed, Clarins’ already sizeable local footprint is set to grow — after the refurbished boutique in 1Utama and the opening of a flagship space in Mid Valley Megamall, the company is preparing to to build a presence in Suria KLCC and Pavilion KL. Smaller spaces are set to open in suburban malls to serve a younger clientele, with the spa offering the option of shorter and more affordable treatments. This is ideal for customers to get acquainted with the brand.
“We are putting all our means in this market to grow it to its full potential,” Le Roy says confidently. “The cost of doing business here is very encouraging and we are able to open in very good locations with good foot traffic. The new boutique concept has also worked very well because Malaysians love to explore new things and have felt very welcomed by the open nature of the boutique. Even before the official opening, we had registered very impressive sales numbers here.”
Run by Jacques’ children today, Clarins continues to apply its founder’s award-winning formula of integrity, quality and happiness, which has served the company very well in its 64 years of business. “In Clarins, there is a lot of love, a lot of care for each other and a lot of passion for what we all do, no matter what the role — right from the CEO to the beauty advisers in each and every boutique,” Le Roy says proudly, smiling. “That feeling is reflected in the products, and I think our customers also appreciate that.”
This article first appeared on Dec 10, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.