Caudalie Founder Mathilde Thomas is Blending European and Asian Skincare Practices

As far as world beauty philosophies go, there is perhaps no greater divide than the one between the pared-down French approach to primping and the rigorous South Korean double-digit skincare-step regimen. Most women’s bathroom cabinets don’t reflect this dichotomy, but snoop the top shelf of any serious skincare enthusiast and you’re likely to find a mix of cult-favourite French pharmacy labels and inventive K-beauty products.

French brand Caudalie is merging the two approaches to beauty with its glycolic-acid-infused Vinoperfect brightening essence, a South Korean-inspired tonic (applied after toner to hydrate skin and prep it for serum) that founder Mathilde Thomas developed after she and her family relocated to Hong Kong nearly two years ago so she could grow her business. “For beauty, Korea is the most fascinating of the Asian countries,” she says over a plate of tuna tartare at Sant Ambroeus, her favourite Upper East Side haunt in New York. The restaurant also happens to be a few blocks away from the brand new L’appartement Caudalie Spa, which is designed to look and feel as intimate as a Parisian pied-à-terre.

Now that she lives in Asia, Thomas makes monthly trips to Seoul to suss out brands like Too Cool for School (“the packaging is hilarious”) and Sulwhasoo (“they are very innovative”). She also opened La Maison Caudalie—a boutique spa where she has learned about South Korean beauty culture from its clients, including layering skincare and the merits of the double cleanse.

“First, they clean with oil,” she explains. “Then, they clean with foam. It’s better!” Thomas says she has embraced the more thorough two-step face wash because of Hong Kong’s smog, adding that it inspired Caudalie’s VineActiv antioxidant-infused anti-pollution range. While in Manhattan Thomas’s clients want retinol and peels, her clients in South Korea have different beauty goals. “They don’t care about firming or removing wrinkles,” she says. “What they want to achieve is skin [that is like the lychee]: watery and translucent.”

In addition to Korean trends, Thomas is inspired by her nine- and 13-year-old daughters’ beauty obsessions. “They love Kylie Jenner,” she laments. “It breaks my heart. It’s a school of bad taste.” Thomas is working on a cosmetics line herself and will launch a top-secret product later this year. And while it’s safe to assume that it isn’t targeting Gen-Z, it just might quell her daughters’ Kardashian obsession. “I hope they’ll love it,” she says. “It smells good, it looks good—but I’m not Kylie Jenner.”