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 CliniqueWho’s the dream team behind the brand?

Chemistry set Janet Pardo, senior vice-president, Product Development Worldwide
•”Every six weeks, my team brainstorms; we look at everything: folklore, NASA research, nothing is too far-out. For example, we’re working with a Dupont fibre that helps wick away moisture. It’s for a new foundation that will look perfect even in humid conditions, such as at the gym.”
•”During the Exxon Valdez oil spill, marine biologists noticed that a type of algae were eating the oil, leaving behind clean water. When that type of algae became cosmetically available, we used it in Superbalanced Makeup.” •”The early lash-extender mascaras looked great, but when the fibres fell into your eyes they caused problems. We found an apple pectin that extends lashes, but it’s safe because it’s the same pH balance as your tears. That became Long Pretty Lashes.”

Picture-perfect Tim Convery, senior vice-president, Creative Worldwide
•”Irving Penn has been shooting the advertising since 1968. When Carol Phillips came on board from Vogue, she said he was the only photographer
she wanted to work with.”
•”Creating the ads is challenging because it’s not like we can just grab Scarlett Johansson, who might be in Paris, and do a ‘Clinique does Scarlett in Paris’ thing. We take a Zen approach to the advertising-elevating everyday products, like toothbrushes and soap, to art.”
•”It’s tough to do one ad that works everywhere. There was a nipple shot in a Turnaround Cream ad, and it caused an uproar in the Middle East.”
•”Sometimes ads are beautiful, but there’s a disconnect. I loved the one with lipsticks in a berry box. Unfortunately, in France they don’t have that kind of berry box, so it didn’t go over well there.”

Package deal Ted Owen, executive director, Package Design Worldwide
•”Green is our signature colour. We’re in the midst of redesigning some of the compact packaging and we’re testing different shades with focus groups. We’ll probably go with a lighter shade. How the product feels and sounds is really important. When that compact clicks shut, we want it to sound like the door of a Mercedes, not a Pinto.”
•”Clinique still uses real metal in their packaging. These days we use aluminum because it doesn’t oxidize.”
•”The most challenging project is redesigning the 3-Step Skin Care System. We can’t change it because it’s iconic. I’m creating a few enhancements, like pump dispensers, and now we use plastic instead of glass in case the containers are dropped.”

Counter-intelligence Heidi Guest, vice-president, Education (North America)
•”Next to the UPS uniform, the Clinique lab coat is the most recognized uniform in the United States.”
•”We have guidelines. We pretty much lay it out for our 16,000 consultants, right down to the number of earrings they can wear. In Canada, the consultants used to wear white hose, white shoes-very dermatological. But the weather is tough. Now you can wear slacks and a black turtleneck. You can look clinical but also fashionable because we’re in the image business after all.”
•”We work with a company called Talent Plus, who tests all of our North American staff at every level. The testing shows if a person has a propensity for sales and service. It’s amazing how hard-wired people are.”