Prisca & Olivier Courtin-Clarins: word for word

Father and daughter enjoy a relationship based on sensitive dialogue and perfect harmony. Two generations in charge of Clarins probe each other to find agreement.

Salon du château de La Colle Noire, demeure de Christian Dior dans les années 1950, restaurée aujourd’hui à l’identique.

Drawing room in La Colle Noire château, Christian Dior’s home in the 1950s, restored to its original condition by the luxury house.

What sometimes unites Prisca Courtin-Clarins and her father, Olivier, is their diction. They share the same gentle way of speaking, the same delight in the textures of sounds. This filiation, this closeness, is most evident in the way they pronounce certain words, sometimes placing more emphasis on some than others. Indeed, that very morning Prisca, when talking about her father, adopted the same timbre as him. Olivier Courtin-Clarins used to talk about his own father with the same clear enunciation: “My father was very hard-working, a perfectionist. He liked to choose his words. All of his sentences meant something.” This was no doubt what he most envied about himthat and his mother’s cooking skills. If he had any reservations, it was that they were homebodies to a certain extent. And yet this self-confident, highly successful man (CEO of a company with 10,000 employees) walks on eggshells when it comes to the question of passing it down. He was never a prisoner of his inheritance, but after studying medicine and surgery, deliberately chose to join the family business. Managing it has not been an easy task: “We cut ourselves off from lots of thingsfrom our family and friends. It takes everything you have.”

Prisca Courtin-Clarins, Strategic Projects Director for Spa Activities, does not seem to be paying this price; the “burden” is still being shouldered by her father and her uncle. She possesses, it would seem, the lightness of her generation, a certain fluidity associated with digital media and the virtual world, a knack for being ahead of the curve. She simply rummaged through the family toolbox and forged ahead, staying true to the family motto: “Respect, commitment, collaboration, audacity and passion.” It’s like having a Swiss army knife. There is a solution to everything, the world is analyzed and dissectedeven the beams in the building housing the headquarters: health and safety standards are adhered to and everything right down to the last bolt is as environmentally friendly as possible. Sometimes, father and daughter make you think of those galaxies which, in their parabola, are moving closer together, before moving apart again metronomically. Their get-togethers take place during vacations, in the south of France, with sporty activities in the sun. Apart from that, it’s work and more work, lunches with folders and exchanges of memos.

They watch each other and listen, examining their shared values. They sometimes have the same windshield wipers, sorting through all that is modern to reject what they don’t like: tablets, arrogant people, private jets and, for Olivier, the general impatience of the world today. For Prisca, it’s wrinkle-reducing machines or tools, and slimming devices: “Nothing beats touch,” she says. “It’s all about communicating, listening to the client.” In this exchange between cultures, this to-and-fro, Olivier envies their lightness and fluidity. “This generation is less selfish,” he agrees, as if he could see himself in his long solitary runs. “I cycle and swim. I run and go for long walks, and I do it without music. At such times, I can explore my ideas and dreams in depth.” Sometimes, when he’s talking, Olivier pauses and then becomes indignant: “Arrogant people get on my nerves.” Really. “And another thing, I hate the whole strategy of very expensive products. It’s a deceptive culture that plays on the gullibility of customers and I find it quite shocking.” In this world of appearances, both nevertheless succeed in seeing through fake charm: “I look only for the good in everyone.” Prisca responds to this in a different way: “Charm helps me when I’m trying to persuade a sales director to open more shops in his country.”

Father and daughter seem to agree on everything. Says Prisca: “He is experienced and regularly makes me change my mind. By devoting myself to Clarins’ spas, the weight of the house has been taken off me. I can look farther ahead: the shops (there are 60 and the aim is to triple that number), the 100 spas, the Spa & Lunch in Lille.

That said, when dad asked his daughters (Jenna, Prisca’s twin, is general manager of the family-run holding company) if he had to choose between an Aston Martin DB9 and a Smart for getting around town, both opted for the Aston. Since then it has been slumbering in a garage, struggling to do 200 km in a year.

Olivier and Prisca still find time to cultivate their paradoxes (ties for him; a future life as a mother for her) and in this generational backwash nurture a curiosity about details, perspectives, including cuisine (with the Spa & Lunch” that she has created, his recently published cookbook), and this axiom shared by both: massage out the toxins and make life smooth.

Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins, éditions du Cherche-Midi.

Open spa clarins
128, rue de la Pompe, Paris. Ouverture le 19 mai.

Spa by clarins
à l’hôtel La Badira, Hammamet (Tunisie). Ouverture le 18 mai.


Camilla Frances