Felicia Soh has given 158-year-old Crème Simon a new lease of life. In addition to its famous beauty creams, the natural brand now offers teas and supplements for a holistic lifestyle

SINGAPORE (Apr 9): Felicia Soh was a high-flying executive with a property development company when she made a life-changing decision. She had to travel extensively for work and was based in China at one point. Weary of the stresses and strains of her job, Soh wanted to strike out on her own.

Crème Universelle is great to soothe sunburn, itch, dry skin, and chapped lips

“We all want to find a part of ourselves in what we do. I truly enjoyed what I did working in China, helping to launch and run projects under Ascott serviced residences, but when the opportunity to own and relaunch an iconic heritage French brand came about, it was very hard not to say yes and give it my best shot,” she says.

Soh: When the opportunity to own and relaunch an iconic heritage French brand came about, it was very hard not to say yes

Soh was introduced to Crème Simon by her French husband, Sebastien Guillaud. The founder of Singapore-based private equity firm Hera Capital, Guillaud recognised the potential of relaunching Crème Simon internationally from Singapore.

Soh, now its managing director, adds: “My husband comes from generations of doctors and pharmacists. Thanks to him, I discovered an iconic skincare brand that many French were familiar with and grew up with. And it has such an amazing history and story to tell.”

Crème Simon was founded by apothecary Joseph Simon in 1860. Simon not only created the first beauty cream, but also the first brightening cream. Crème Simon marked the birth of modern cosmetology with its first natural healing cream.

Not many brands today can lay claim to a heritage like Crème Simon’s. According to Soh, it was the No 1 skincare brand in France before World War II and was widely sought after by customers in the US, South America, the Middle East and the Far East. It is said that even during the war, WWII pilots would stop over in Iceland, a neutral country, to obtain pots of Crème Simon for their wives.

“If you think about it, it is quite amazing how a humble brand started by an apothecary turned out to be the most popular skincare brand, well-loved by celebrities, with songs, poems, artwork and films dedicated in praise of the brand. We wanted to be part of that story,” Soh says.

The Singapore chapter of that story began a few years prior to her starting Crème Simon in 2012. Soh says the brand was languishing when her company bought it over. To rejuvenate it, she had to undertake R&D and update the packaging and design, among other things. Crème Simon established an online presence in 2015 and, in 2016, opened a counter at Robinsons. Last July, the brand opened its first flagship store at OUE Downtown.

The brand is available at retail stores in only Singapore at the moment but there are plans to expand. “We are looking to expand further in the region now with interested distributors in Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan.”

Looking at her today, one cannot imagine her struggles over the last few years. In addition to getting her business off the ground, Soh — who has two young daughters — was diagnosed with thyroid cancer about a year ago. Nonetheless, she knew her decision to give up her previous job to concentrate on the beauty and wellness industry was the right one.

Her cancer is under control now with the help of medication and when Options met with Soh at the store, she had just returned from a wellness retreat in Bali. She talks about her passion for the brand and her plans to take it to the next level.

What is it about Crème Simon that resonates with you?

First and foremost, I know Crème Simon truly works. Being prone to eczema since I was 10 years old, I became a true convert to the brand when I realised the difference it made to my sensitive skin. Secondly, I feel strongly about Crème Simon’s philosophy to steer away from controversial ingredients with potential health risks such as common, cheap preservatives like parabens and phenoxyethanol. Being a cancer survivor and having lost those dear and near to me to this disease, I can’t tell you how important it is to me that more people come to know the true importance of educating ourselves on our consumer and lifestyle choices.

Why do you think there is a shift in people’s mindset to move to a holistic way of life?

I believe with the prevalence of the internet comes greater consciousness of our health and living standards. And I suppose there may be many, like me, who have been touched by similar personal health episodes. When life throws you a curveball like that, it tends to consequently trigger a shift in mindset towards a more reflective attitude about our way of life. I like to think that we, as consumers, are also getting smarter and more selective. We no longer mindlessly take at face value what brands are being pushed to us. The marketing hype can only get you this far; we should by now know that no skincare can stop ageing, especially if we don’t take any responsibility for our own health. A great skincare product can [only] do so much, but not everything. After all, the health of your skin is also dependent on how you eat, sleep, manage stress and live.

What is your business model?

We have recently launched our Crème Simon flagship store at Downtown OUE, in addition to our counter at Robinsons Raffles City. We have also relaunched cremesimon.com, offering free delivery in Singapore. Although e-commerce sales have been growing month to month, we still believe that bricks-and-mortar has a part to play, albeit a different one from in the past. It is with this intention that we have built a concept store where we can connect with our fans and the public, where we could provide interesting content and workshops with well-being practitioners [to share] more lifestyle advice and tips [to obtain] the optimal condition for our skin.

Who would be your closest competitor?

[Given that we are] French and natural, our closest mainstream competitors would be Clarins and Aesop. What we aspire to be here is to be a truly timeless and honest brand, with the legitimacy of an apothecary, and to once again become a multi-generational iconic brand that helps people have a better life, not only better skin.

Who is Crème Simon aimed at?

Our target customers would be the smart and conscious who are very engaged in their own well-being and health. The well-informed and savvy are knowledgeable about their purchases and are often sceptical of dream sellers and fluff. Another target would be gifters who would like to bring something that is truly good for someone they care for. As with our tagline “Caring for you since 1860”, we hope to inspire others to take care of their loved ones with products that are meaningful to their wellbeing, health and beauty.

What is your bestselling product?

Our bestselling SPF50 Daily Sun Protector has sold so well here that we are currently out of stock. We were overwhelmed by the popular response to our alcohol-free sunscreen that truly does not leave any greasy or white residue. We are expecting stock to return in May.

Our Dermo-Hydrating Toner Mist is our next top seller. It is alcohol-free and ultra hydrating, and there are a myriad of ways you can use it. By misting it over and applying your moisturiser while damp, hydration has been clinically proven to be boosted by 40%. And when used before makeup application, its rich botanical glycerin extracts help make-up stay fresh all day, as attested to by several make-up artistes during long photo shoots.

Sprayed at arm’s length after make-up application, it also helps cut through the overly powdery, cakey finish of makeup foundation for a more natural, dewy finish. It’s also great for soothing skin redness and blemishes without drying alcohol. You may also mist it over hair to tame frizzy hair ends, like I often do.

It may be unfair to ask you to choose, but which is your favourite product?

You know the feeling you get when you leave the house and forget something vital? I get that whenever I skip my exfoliating scrub routine. My skin just doesn’t feel as cleansed and as bright if I don’t use the scrub regularly. I swear by it and I know many who feel the same way as I do.

I also have a soft spot for our Crème Universelle, given my eczema skin condition that also runs genetically in my family. It does wonders each time my children and I use it. It’s also why I always have one in the car, in my bag or wherever I go. It’s great to soothe any sunburn, itch, dry skin, or even chapped lips. Its richer texture is also my goto for an inflight moisturiser.

As a consumer, what advice would you give when it comes to choosing a skincare product?

I would say learn to read the ingredient labels. Look out for controversial ingredients such as parabens. There have been some reports [which say] parabens have been found to stay in the bloodstream.

You may have noticed that, although many brands are claiming to be paraben-free these days, they often rely on another preservative called phenoxyethanol. This common ingredient has been linked to reproductive damage, with toxic effects seen to the brain and nervous system in studies, even at moderate concentration.

Another common ingredient we do not recommend, particularly for our hot and humid climate, is silicone. Silicone is commonly found in make-up and skincare as it not just mattifies skin, but also fills lines, giving the illusion of smoother skin without any treatment benefits. We do not, however, recommend silicone in skincare, as it leaves an occlusive layer over skin that does not allow skin to breathe.

As much as possible, we do encourage consumers to review the ingredients with names ending with paraben or cone.

Are you planning to expand the product categories or are you quite happy with what you have at the moment?

With the view that skin and health are part of a whole, we are looking at expanding new products within our skincare range, as well as possibly our sugar- and caffeine-free tea, and binder- and filler- free supplements, for true beauty inside out. It’s the only sustainable approach to beauty. Moving forward, with our focus on naturality free of controversial ingredients, we would like to explore a baby care range too.

What about opening more stores?

Why not? We are exploring the possibility of opening one more store downtown in the fourth quarter of this year. Do keep a lookout for us.

The Crème Simon experience

Entering Crème Simon’s boutique at OUE Downtown feels like you are stepping into an apothecary store of old, the kind seen in the movies. It is divided into sections: the Library, Workshop and Bathroom.

The Library is where history buffs can admire memorabilia such as vintage Crème Simon packaging, original posters and handwritten postcards from the past.

The Workshop features a selection of wellness teas. We tried four flavours — Purify, Beauty, Skin and Relax, which promote a variety of health benefits such as beauty and digestive health.

We had the most fun in the Bathroom as we tried as many products in the skincare range as possible. All are free of parabens, silicone, alcohol, oil, colouring and phenoxyethanol. There is a wide range to suit all needs, be it hydrating, brightening, detoxifying or regenerative.

The Crème Simon Flagship Boutique is at OUE Downtown Gallery 1, #01- 05, 6A Shenton Way

The brand is also available at Robinsons Departmental Store, L1 Raffles City Shopping Centre and