Correction to This Article
Earlier electronic versions of this story and today's print editions referred to Jacques Courtin-Clarins as a masseuse.

Cosmetics Executive Jacques Courtin-Clarins

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 2, 2007

Jacques Courtin-Clarins, 85, a French masseur who founded one of Europe's largest skin-care product companies and whose name became synonymous with luxury cosmetics, died March 22 at his home in Paris. No cause of death was reported.

Born Jacques Courtin, he added Clarins to his name in 1978 as the company he started in 1954 was becoming an international success. The business, which now has annual sales around $1 billion, includes spas and salons worldwide that feature his plant-based oils, creams and fragrances.

Clarins started as a Parisian salon where clients received massages with non-greasy oils and creams. His rubbing technique, marketed as the "Paris method," emphasized firming and slimming as the goal. Mr. Courtin-Clarins persuaded celebrities of the era, including ballerina Ludmila Tcherina and screen sex symbol Martine Carol, to endorse his skin treatments.

The company expanded its array of skin-care products, including Eau Dynamisante body spray and Lotus Oil body cream. It acquired perfumes of fashion designers Loris Azzaro and Thierry Mugler. Clarins worked with Mugler to create the Angel fragrance in 1992. It was a huge hit and emerged as competition to Chanel No. 5.

Despite outside offers to buy the business, Mr. Courtin-Clarins took Clarins public, although his family maintained a majority share. He gave his sons, Christian and Olivier, ranking positions within the company. Because Mr. Courtin-Clarins spoke only French, his older, jet-setting son, Christian, was credited with charting Clarins's growth worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s.

As chairman, Mr. Courtin-Clarins remained devoted to company operations. He spoke out on what he considered one of his favorite achievements in the beauty business:

"Now, beauty has become an important element in a woman's psychological make-up, if she has a beauty problem, it affects her," he told the New Straits Times of Malaysia in 1996. "Before, doctors neglect this part of a woman's problems, they neglected the beauty aspect. When a woman was sick, the doctor treated the sickness and no more."

Clarins, which marketed itself as a high-end product, attracted skeptics who found more hype than substance in its product line.

Paula Begoun, author of consumer guides to the beauty industry, wrote in her book "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me" that the "plant-based, natural-extract rhetoric is still intact and so thick you may want to bring along a machete to cut through it.

"Never wavering from its original marketing angle," Begoun added, "Clarins has steadfastly held on to the belief that whatever grows from the ground and smells nice must be the cure for every skin ailment from breakouts to the dreaded 'sponginess' of cellulite."

Mr. Courtin-Clarins was born Aug. 6, 1921, and raised in Paris. During World War II, he worked with the wounded in hospitals. Afterward, he trained in massage to treat circulatory problems and devised his own line of treatment oils.

"From a very young age, I was exposed to the curative effects of plants by my mother and relatives who used herbs for medicine and treatment," he told the Malaysian newspaper. "Ever since, I looked to plants for answers. I cannot conceive a product without plants."

On bike, he made his way around Paris, giving product demonstrations via massage. When he started the company, he named it for a sympathetic character he once played in a school production set during ancient Rome. He said he saw the name as a "good luck charm."

In the mid-1960s, Mr. Courtin-Clarins began retailing his beauty products to neighboring countries. Twenty years later, the company went public on the Paris stock market and began operations in Asia and the United States.

He had resisted entering the U.S. cosmetic field for years because, as he told the Toronto Globe and Mail in 1983, "American women are not so skin-care-minded. They are more makeup minded. They will try to cover the problem." Clarins waited until 1991 to began its own makeup line, Le Maquillage.

Mr. Courtin-Clarins's wife, Malou, died in 2005.

Last year, he wrote a memoir, "Une Réussite en Beauté" ("A Beauty Success"). He said in 1996: "Before, I like all women. Now, I'm liked by all women."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company