The first thing everyone notices about CLE products is the design. That’s beautiful, my friends murmur when they catch a glimpse of packaging on my shelf, running their fingers over the debossed letters on the thick white boxes. Once you get to know Lauren Jin, CLE’s founder, it becomes clear why her creations are some of the most beautifully-designed skincare products in the world — she went to Parsons.
Well, it’s not just where she studied, though Jin pursued an undergraduate degree at the prestigious New York design school and even continued her design education in graduate school at the Royal College of Art in London, it’s that she brought that fashion designer mindset into the beauty world. “I studied six years, I poured my heart, finances, and emotions into it,” Jin said. “And fashion school is not nice, for a year I got told I was shit. But it’s that mentality and that training which is great. I was very focused on that one dream, so after it became something completely different… I think it happened for a good reason.”
Growing up in Torrance, California, Jin knew from a young age that art and design was going to be her focus. As early as middle school she began prioritizing art classes over the rest of her education, carrying that mindset into high school and setting her sights on Parsons for college. “I was like, ‘It’s number one in the nation? Okay, I’m going there,’” she remembered. After Parsons, she took a year off and resumed her studies in London, and that’s when her priorities really began to shift.
“At RCA I learned to brand, not design,” Jin explained. “And it led to this internal conflict of what I was actually doing, and whether it was something fulfilling. That was the turning point where I realized I had this concept of the modern woman that I truly loved, that I’d been carrying since my Parsons days. So this idea of the modern woman was five years deep, and every year it was changing and getting deeper and more complicated. For me, I realized that maybe it’s not clothing, maybe it’s something else. I ultimately realized: If I do this, I can’t go to fashion. Not for a while at least.
Returning home to California from London, Lauren began to travel back and forth to Korea to meet with vendors and learn how to formulate makeup and skincare. As a lifelong beauty junkie, she already had a sense of the landscape, and had spent years looking for products that worked with her own sensitive skin from “personal consumerism.” Slowly but surely, the CLE world began to come together, a reflection of the modern woman Jin wanted to prioritize.
“I wanted to be more intimate and get in deeper with my customers,” she said. “Clothing is great, and it’s a great sense of showing your identity, but it’s not as intimate as makeup and skincare. There’s something very ritualistic about applying something on your face every day. And there’s more sensory elements to it.”
In 2015 she officially launched CLE Cosmetics with her first product, the Melting Lip Powder in Red Cherry ($20), a pigmented powder with a matte finish that worked on eyes, lips, and cheeks. Making it a powder with a doe foot applicator — most commonly used for lip gloss — was a counterintuitive move that introduced how CLE would revolutionize and update traditional makeup and skincare products. Some of CLE’s most popular products now include Dry Masks ($15) used with a Lifting Mist Facial Toner ($21), the Oxygen Foam Cleanser ($28), and a new Vitamin C Elixir ($45) that combines an oil layer, from Western skincare practices, and a serum layer, from Korean beauty techniques.
“Growing up, I would kind of Frankenstein my own culture,” Jin laughed. “I would take bits that I liked from Korean culture and I would take bits from American culture that I really liked, and it was kind of my personal policy. I think that really applied to CLE in the sense that I would find certain technologies or bits of products and combine them. Every product has different ways that Korean culture is mixed in.”
Now four years in, CLE offers nine products total, though some items, like the Melting Lip Powder or Essence Moonlighter Cushion ($30) come in multiple shades and colors. Though she plans to add more products eventually, her mantra is “never rush,” and Jin does her due diligence designing each and every item with an actual need in mind. Additionally, all of the ingredients in CLE products are vegan and cruelty free, though they’re not all organic, a line of thinking Jin doesn’t necessarily ascribe to when it comes to skincare.
“Compared to an organic product, I feel personally that a really well-balanced product is better,” she said. “And when I say well-balanced it’s more about the ratio of water to bamboo to hyaluronic acid. They must all be balanced so that it makes a really good product that works for your skin. It doesn’t have to be organic, but it’s more about being very aware of what the ingredients are, how the balance of the ingredients is.”
CLE’s emphasis on the modern woman, the multi-hyphenate, the one balancing family and her career, embarking on a second career, or making mindful changes throughout her life is reflected in Lauren’s own story. In the end, Lauren thinks the point of skincare and makeup isn’t about fixing flaws or hiding blemishes, but finding something to love within yourself.
“Yes it’s to look beautiful — because who doesn’t want to look beautiful, let’s get real here — but it’s about bringing out the natural beauty that you already possess,” Jin said. “We’re simply here to finesse it. It’s really not about disguising yourself or hiding things, it’s more about the self-care and self-love part of makeup, that I think is the most beautiful part.”
Well, that, and the packaging.
Shop CLE Cosmetics here.