‘Roots and wings’

International Marketing and Communication Director Margerie Barbès-Petit discusses brand-building and consumer awareness in today’s market.

The ‘DNA’ and values of Guerlain retain strong notes through the generations, but how the company communicates with consumers and how it tells its story have changed.

International Marketing and Communication Director Margerie Barbès-Petit puts it neatly when she talks of Guerlain’s evolution as a story of “roots and wings”.

“There are changes of course in the way we communicate and in the technology behind the formulas, but Guerlain is built on a system of roots and wings. The roots are the 190-year legacy, the mythical creations and the savoir-faire that are always there. The wings are the new creations that enable us to offer consumers objects of desire, new experiences with personalisation and therefore new emotions and new memories.”

She highlights the innovative spirit that has transferred from generation to generation in the product offer. This includes Cold Cream of Roses in 1828, Crème à la Fraise in 1840 (the first Brightening Cream), L’Eau de Cologne Impériale in 1853, the first bullet-shaped lipstick in 1870, and also Shalimar, Terracotta, Orchidée Impériale, Abeille Royale, Rouge G and more recently La Petite Robe Noire and Mon Guerlain, with many ground-breaking launches in between.

It’s not only a story of new product ideas. The company’s campaigns through the years have often been ground-breaking, but have always been encapsulated in the “Parisian elegance, pioneering spirit and the artistic character and value of the brand,” says Barbès-Petit. That’s partly down to the strong connections the company has made with artists and designers of each era – from bottlings by Baccarat to more recent collaborations with artists Lorenz Bäumer, Kuntzel & Deygas, to the original Champs Elysées building by architect Charles Mewès (who designed The Ritz Hotel) and decorated by Jean-Michel Frank, Christian Bérard and Alberto Giacometti or the refurbished modern-day Champs Elysées store by Peter Marino.

The past offers “a richness” to the brand’s messaging today, she notes. And ultimately, sales success is about telling a good story well.

“What makes a difference at Guerlain is that for 190 years, five generations of in-house creators have been imagining fragrances, skincare and make-up with amazing formulas and exceptional designs. They have all been guided by stories, such as Shalimar and a 400-year-old love story between the Emperor Shah Jahan and his Princess Mumtaz Mahal, which inspired Jacques Guerlain; Shalimar still features the Taj Mahal codes on the bottle.

“Our mission is to transmit the brand values onwards through our new creations, new storytelling to develop Guerlain as a love brand, engaging with our consumers and brand ambassadors, making them aware of this savoir-faire, and develop Guerlain on a global scale in the name of beauty with sustainable commitment.”

Today’s marketing relies heavily on the power of the Muse to build awareness. Here, Natalia Vodianova – a collaborator for a decade – is a key figure, as is Angelina Jolie for blockbuster launch Mon Guerlain in 2017.

Showcasing the Guerlain spirit

Since the first Guerlain boutique was opened on the rue de Rivoli in 1828, the company’s own stores have been at the heart of its conversation with the consumer. As CEO Laurent Boillot notes in his keynote interview, building distribution through its own stores in future is a core strategy platform.

Recent investments in Paris have underlined that commitment. In 2017 Guerlain reimagined and redesigned its original Place Vendôme boutique, paying homage to the 1930s Art Deco movement. Located close to the original store at 356, rue Saint-Honoré, the new boutique presented an opportunity for a complete restoration. Many artisans reworked the Roman travertine marble, straw marquetry and parchment, following in the footsteps of the architectural trio Jean-Michel Frank, Christian Bérard and Alberto Giacometti.

The other iconic location in Paris is 68 Champs Elysées, opened in 1914 and also recently upgraded. Here, the “Collection du 68” was designed like a cabinet of curiosities, the upstairs beauty institute carries out personalised treatments, while the store is also home to cultural events on a regular basis. With extended space, it’s a striking evocation of the world of Guerlain – and its rich history (the Guerlain family lived here too) – in Paris’ most prestigious shopping street.

Beyond these, Guerlain is accelerating plans to develop the Guerlain Parfumeur network, with its Paris stores the template for new boutiques in major cities and in selected travel retail locations.

Barbès-Petit says: “Mon Guerlain was created in 2017 to establish an iconic feminine pillar alongside La Petite Robe Noire. Mon Guerlain is a brand manifesto of Guerlain as a Perfumer since 1828. Mon Guerlain embodies roots and wings well – the shape is inspired by the Jicky bottle; the fragrance is a new creation, imagined by Thierry Wasser with Delphine Jelk. The communication embodies an accomplished femininity in line with today’s women’s aspirations. Angelina Jolie embodies that powerful femininity, showing that you can be a mother, a working woman, a committed woman, and manage and combine all of the various roles even in moments of challenge. We have featured her in a contemporary and artistic way, in a way that stands out from other celebrity portraits. So it’s a campaign that embodies sophisticated femininity, savoir-faire and artistry but enhances our business position around the world. Now we are renewing aspects of the visual campaign to drive further awareness, and extending the portfolio to edp florale, edt and other lines.

“What makes our collaboration with Angelina Jolie unique is that she not only embodies the femininity of today, but that she had an affinity already with the brand from her childhood. Her mother used a powder, Ladies in all Climate, that was very precious to her. The powder, container and scent carried powerful memories.”

That transmission from the past to today’s women echoes across the portfolio, she adds.

“Even with, say, Terracotta, you hear grand-daughters saying that this was the first make-up passed on by their mother or grand-mother. It’s still the first one used by many teenagers and transmits that culture of beauty.”

Météorites and Terracotta: Passing skincare knowledge down the generations

There is consistency in beauty rituals and culture, but the marketplace and the consumer is changing fast, creating a challenge for all luxury brands.

Barbès-Petitsays: “The consumer can have instant information and expects answers very quickly. How we communicate with them and create a connection and then engagement is vital, whether it’s in our Paris stores, travel retail or social networks. It is about working hard to create and develop constantly this precious link to the consumer with our House.

“Like other brands, we have a journey to go to communicate with the consumer in the digital age, creating new consumers and preserving links with loyal consumers.”

And that applies equally to travellers. “The consumer is becoming more and more global,” notes Barbès-Petit. “This is a big opportunity because when you travel, your purchase might be different. That opens doors to new consumers that you may not meet in other markets. Also it enables you to connect with consumers that are first engaged through travel and that you can keep once they return home.

“There is a wider opportunity. If we take say the Chinese who buy 30% of luxury purchases outside China, we have to prepare the ground before they leave home to make them brand-aware of what they can find in France or in other markets. That means creating something unique for the global traveller who wants to find something different. It can mean specific seasonal products or limited editions for gifting destinations or different experiences with the brand.”

Adapting to those needs means remaining agile and constantly creating surprise.

“The House has always been able to offer mythical creations within our culture of beauty, and with that Made in France stamp, which is also an asset. We also need to enable the consumer to have the emotion of a beautiful product while respecting each person’s beauty and the beauty of the world.

“The challenge is to play global while offering the consumer a unique and personal experience each time.

“Our goal is to develop international awareness on all three product axes. That awareness is not yet where it should be. We are the number three brand in France but there is still progress to be made in many countries even in those where we’re known as a great French House.”

Made in France

Since the beginning, Guerlain has made its products in its own workshops in France. Today, two production sites lead its manufacturing: at Orphin, west of Paris, and La Ruche, Chartres for skincare and makeup. These combine artisanship and savoir-faire with state-of-the-art technology.

La Ruche (meaning bee hive) is the most recent unit to open, cementing the brand’s French production for the next generation. It blends vast capacity and performance capability with high-quality innovation, and knowledge passed through the generations with environmental and employee responsibility.