Clinique, c'est chic.

It's still 100 percent fragrance-and celebrity-free. What makes this beauty brand so popular?

Mar 10, 2005
Rita Silvan
Clinique, c'est chic.

What are the odds that one of the countless skin care stories published every year in women's magazines will become the genesis for a global beauty behemoth? In 1967, Vogue published the article "Can Great Skin Be Created?" featuring Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Norman Orentreich, who specialized in "refreshing" the faces of top models and socialites. Orentreich knew that good skin could be created through a simple at-home regimen. While this seems obvious today, in the '60s most people believed that good skin was a genetic jackpot.

Evelyn Lauder snapped up Orentreich and Carol Phillips, Vogue's beauty editor, to create Clinique. (Lauder had recently returned from a holiday in France, where she came across the word and liked the look and sound of it.) This dermatologist-guided program anticipated North American women's growing independence from Europe in beauty and fashion, as well as their faith in science and technology to improve the skin. Hence in 1968, the first allergy-tested, fragrance-free beauty line was born.

"What makes Clinique special is its customized offering," says Philip Shearer, group president of Estée Lauder Companies Inc., referring to the company's "computer" that divides people into one of four skin types. "We assume that our customer is an intelligent person. That's why we spend money on the formulas, not the packaging. I think we're perceived as being honest. When we come across an important skin care discovery, we pass it on. We were the first cosmetics company in 1991 that said ‘Hey, everyone should wear sun protection every day, not just at the beach.' We also spend a lot of money training our consultants, who learn how to customize a skin care program for each customer."

Today, Clinique is one of the best-selling cosmetics companies in the world-but how long can the good times last? Mid-level department store beauty brands are being squeezed by two trends: 1) more middle-class consumers are buying luxury products to escape stress; and 2) "masstige," where prestige products are developed for the mass market. Shearer says he isn't worried, though. "Competition is good for the industry as a whole. However, the keys to success will always be credibility and a brand's ongoing relationship with customers. And this needs to be earned."

Photography courtesy of Clinique


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