Botanicals skincare house Darphin – an increasingly key brand for The Estée Lauder Companies – is set to make a bigger splash in travel retail.

From its current 23 doors – exclusively in Asia Pacific airports, online pre-order sites and downtown stores – the plan from Darphin Global General Manager and Senior Vice President, Anne Troussicot is to continue expanding in the region, as she explained to The Moodie Davitt Report in an extended interview available in our bumper 332-page May print issue.

Intral is among the three franchises that are now being promoted in travel retail.

The brand’s expansion into travel retail makes sense for ELC from both a strategic expansion and portfolio perspective. Demand for botanicals – and natural beauty in general – is strong. But unlike many houses in the natural market, Darphin offers a combination of refined elegance and scientific know-how that plays well to travel retailers looking for a high-end brand in this segment rather than one at a prestige or mid-priced level.

Within the ELC portfolio, Darphin has a positioning firmly in the classic premium/luxury space where the only other skincare brand is La Mer (see chart below). Deploying Darphin in travel retail therefore builds ELC’s premium positioning further at a time when skincare is booming in Asia.

Where Darphin fits into the ELC portfolio. [Click to enlarge]

The company remains “solely focused on prestige beauty” and claims to have “consistently outpaced the industry” with 7% growth from 2012-2017 versus 5% for premium skincare, make-up and fragrances in the same period (source: ELC and Euromonitor). Darphin therefore has a potentially big role at this end of the market in premiumising the natural skincare segment.

Pioneer: Pierre Darphin’s picture has a prominent place at L’Institut Darphin.

A story of willpower

In April, The Moodie Davitt Report visited Paris to discover more about the brand. The story behind the house is intriguing and combines science, art, and the sheer determination of French botanist, formulator and kinesiotherapist, Pierre Darphin.

He set out to find the purest, most concentrated plant essences that could be combined with kinesio-facial massage techniques to deliver their active ingredients to the skin. In 1958, he established L’Institut Darphin, not situated in the secluded courtyard of a mansion in central Paris where he brought these two areas of interest together in a luxurious world of pampered treatments.

Darphin’s quest to find plants with rejuvenating powers lives on in a dedicated laboratory in La Garenne-Colombes on the outskirts of Paris. Here an all-female team of chemists is led by Director of Research & Development Laurence Cassereau who has been with the brand for more than two decades.

Director of Research & Development Laurence Cassereau (second right) with her team of chemists.

She and her lab team review close to 500 raw materials sourced from across the globe from which the botanicals are derived. They isolate those that can provide skincare solutions and then formulate new lines that can be introduced within Darphin’s ten franchises. Among these ten, the Essential Oil Elixirs, Intral (for sensitive, irritation-prone skin) and Stimulskin Plus (an anti-ageing line) are the initial focus for travel retail.

8-Flower Nectar is a hero product.

Active delivery is paramount

According to Cassereau, these formulations are complex because each active ingredient is meticulously paired with a carrier to ensure the activity is preserved until the moment of contact. “We do a lot of trials because we have a lot of material to play with,” she said. Natural ingredients represent a high percentage of the ingredients in all of Darphin’s botanicals products (in the case of Elixirs they make up at least 99%).

Darphin encourages a three-step ritual: a serum (morning and night), an essential oil (night) and a cream (morning and night) designed to hydrate and firm, rebalance and replenish skin over a 24-hour period.

The skin application process is a fundamental element of the brand as perfected by L’Institut Darphin where Training Manager Catherine Corcoran is an evangelist of the techniques involved. She says: “We apply products with the lightest textures first, hence the serum, oil and then cream. But it’s important that the skin is well prepared for these products so we stimulate the blood circulation to do this.”

Stimulskin Plus, an anti-ageing line, is in demand among Asian Millennials.

The massage techniques used at L’Institut Darphin have been adapted for use by consumers at home to achieve this. “Gliding movements are not enough. Percussion (or tapping) vibrations are much better at stimulating the circulation,” explains Corcoran. “Other movements are used for draining impurities through the lymphatic system. With the creams we use kinesio muscle massage.”

The age demographic varies significantly between regions for Darphin products. For example, Stimulskin Plus is used more by middle-aged women in Europe – as one might expect, but in South Korea and China “it is the younger Millennials who are buying it”, notes Darphin’s Digital Marketing and Social Media Manager Marine Issautier.

This partly reflects the distribution channels. In Europe the brand is focused on the pharmacy channel, in the US and UK it is more in speciality stores, while in Asia prestige department stores are key. “We launched in China in March last year – and also online with Tmall, and having been in South Korea for a number of years, now is a good time to expand in travel retail. Asian consumers are really attracted to natural skincare brands,” said Issautier.

While Darphin has a comprehensive assortment for travel retail based on its bestsellers such as 8 Flower Nectar Oil or Intral Redness Relief Serum, it has also added channel-exclusive products and duo sets and will add a 100ml version of Intral next year.

Darphin has a big presence at the Hyundai Department Store Duty Free store in Seoul.

For now, Europe is off the travel retail agenda, even with the increasing numbers of Chinese coming to the continent. “But that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t happen in the future,” says an ELC spokesperson. Anne Troussicot has already told The Moodie Davitt Reportthat our investment in the China market will enable us to unlock the power of travelling Chinese consumers”. That suggests Darphin’s ambitions will not be confined to Asia – and that key hub airports in Europe could be a target very soon.

Hidden gem: L’Institut Darphin in the heart of Paris.