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The Bells Of Paris

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Beauty heiresses Virginie and Claire Courtin – Clarins are becoming hugely fêted in fashion circles. But at home they keep a low profile, discovers Sarash Harris

Description: Beauty heiresses Virginie and Claire Courtin – Clarins are becoming hugely fêted in fashion circles

Virginie and Claire in the 16th arrondissement.

The penthouse apartment of a smart residential block on Avenue Foch, in Paris’s most prestigious neighborhood – Claire and Virginie Courtin-Clarins, all blonde with perfect posture on red canvas Clarins-branded director’s chairs being tended to by a hair and make-up team. The chairs are a nice touch, and I can’t help but wonder if they are a permanent fixture. “No!” laughs Claire, “Although, if you like, you can spread the rumor that we have make-up artists living with us-like how Karl Lagerfeld has someone to carry his Diet Coke.”

Description: The Clarins girls on the fashion circuit with their cousins, Jenna and Prisca

The Clarins girls on the fashion circuit with their cousins, Jenna and Prisca

The Courtin-Clarins girls are the granddaughters of Clarins founder Jacques Courtin-Clarins, and fashion’s latest crush. The sister, along with their cousins-slash-best friends, Jenna and Prisca, are heiresses to the skincare company’s multimillion-pound fortune, and there isn’t much that designers like more than an heiress – especially when they looks as good as these two.

Claire, dressed in a Stella McCartney jumpsuit suspended by the tiniest of spaghetti straps, and Virginie, wearing Acne skinny Jeans and an Isabel Marant T-shirt, are very tall and very blonde. (I ask if they are natural blondes. “Yes,” they smile. “Well,” Claire, 24, is a timeless beauty who looks like she has been carved out of Lalique frosted glass. Blessed with a soft, oval-shaped face and a long, graceful neck, hers is a look of Modigliani-style serenity. By comparison, older sister Virginie, 26, has one of those fashion faces of the moment: strikingly dark eyebrows, pale blue eyes and the sort of tousled hair that looks as if she’s spent her entire life on a beach. Of course, their dewy complexions primed on a life time of Clarins quickly lay that idea to rest. (Clarie admits to dabbing in other brands, but since anything other than Clarins gives her a rash – yes, really - she’s now given up.)

Virginie and Claire are part of a new breed of modern heiresses who do more than sit front row at the ready-to-wear Collections and hop about between the various family homes. These days, an heiress must multi-task like the rest of us, albeit probably dressed in better clothes. As well as charity projects (the pair recently hooked up with Lauren Bush for her Feed Foundation) there are their advisory roles for Clarins (as shareholders and members of the board), plus ambassadorial gigs for Louis Vuitton, all in addition to their day jobs.

Description: Two soeurs, with love

Two soeurs, with love: Virginie (top) and trained architect Claire (right), and their extensive collection of Clarins products

Claire works as an artist and recently set up her own design company. (Should anyone question her dedication to her profession, one need look no further than her living room, where she recently replaced her corner sofa and coffee table with three draughts man’s desks.) Virginie, on the other hand, is regarded as the more entrepreneurial one. After completing a degree in business, she worked at the French department store Printemps for 18 months before launching her own swimwear label, Luz, which she co-owns with a friend. She is also in the process of setting up her own beauty business, the details of which are under wraps, for now. Whatever it is, it’s unlikely to rival Clarins but will be a project that will hone her skills, making her an even worthier candidate to helm the company, as she hops she will. “I know for sure that I will end up working at Clarins; I want to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps,” says Virginie. “He always said that he never worked a day in his life, because his work was his passion. I love that sentiment.”

The only daughters of Clarins chairman Christian Courtin-Clarins and model Corinne Maine de Biran, Virginie and Claire grew up in Paris, a stone’s throw from their doting grandfather, who passed away in 2007 and whom they adored. Since they were four years old, every week without fail their grandfather would host Sunday lunches of exams or boyfriends. “He was our mentor and the head of the family. We loved him dearly and miss him every day,” says Claire, who, in addition to four other tattoos, has her grandfather’s initials stamped on the back of her neck. “Mostly I remember his hands,” she recalls. “He tested creams his whole life, so he had the softest hands in the world,” explains Virginie. “To look at them you would think he was 30 years old – no wrinkles, no dark spots they were incredible.”

The first time the sisters had any real awareness of the dynasty they were born into was as young children on the beach one year in the South of France. “We grew up with beauty samples everywhere, so when I was a child, I always thought my father and grandfather were making products just for us,” says Virginie. “Then one year on holiday I noticed Clarins sun cream everywhere on the beach and I was like, ‘Wait, that’s our cream! That person stole our cream!’ I had no idea until then, because you never see inside people’s bathroom cabinets, do you? But on the beach, I saw for the first time. My father had to take me aside and explain that they make products for some other people, too...”

Now, with fashion bloggers and street-style snappers chronicling their every move, the sisters are beginning to get recognized, more so in America, and it isn’t something either of them is entirely at ease with (although Claire will probably have to grow accustomed to it if she moves to New York later this year, as she plans to). They’ve chosen to live a fairly normal life in Paris (they don’t have drivers or bodyguards), made possible by the fact that they refuse to give interviews to the French press. “We don’t want to go into a restaurant here and be recognized. I want to be able to go to my local supermarket and do normal things,” says Virginie, before Claire adds, “We have to be careful with comparisons to It-girls – we’re not like that. Yes, we’re lucky to go to some beautiful events, but we don’t want to go to every single party every single night, and we don’t.” With so much else going on, a fuzzy head just doesn’t factor in to this cool sister act’s game plan.

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