MILAN — Early April marks a lucky time of the year for Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami, founders of the prestige perfume and cosmetics brand Officine Universelle Buly 1803, which was acquired last year by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton.
The founders of the French brand opened their first store in Paris in April 2014 and that month, three years later, launched a successful unit in Tokyo. After cutting the ribbon for other doors across Asia over the past five years, they are planting the Buly flag in Italy this week, unveiling a store in Milan.
“We love Italy, of course, but my husband really has a particular preference for Milan, so it’s been three years since we dreamed of opening a store here,” de Taillac said in a pre-launch interview.
The co-founder recalled how several locations were scouted before the COVID-19 outbreak put retail plans on hold. “We could have opened three years ago, it was a matter of things that sometimes don’t go as planned. This is why when he [Touhami] found the store last summer and loved the location, it was obvious that the first Italian store would always have been in Milan… There really was no other option,” said de Taillac.
The unit is nestled in Via Brera, which connects the famous Teatro alla Scala to the artistic district of Brera and is a prime destination for buyers interested in art as well as niche beauty brands, with a concentration of perfume and cosmetics retailers such as Campomarzio70, Montale Parfums, Olfatorio Bar à Parfums and Acca Kappa, among others.
The Buly store is expected to stand out with its signature aesthetic that evokes an old-fashioned apothecary shop, here modified to “pay homage to Milan and what we love about local architecture,” said de Taillac.
A warm palette of beige and mahogany tones dominate the space, while the lacquered wood of the furniture is meant to recall Riva’s signature luxury boats, de Taillac said. Wooden displays are complemented by arched niches covered in plush beige velvet, dark marble panels with gold trim letters or countertops, and enamel nameplates with Latin product names on the drawers.
On the floor, beige and black travertine tiles create a graphic pattern, while diamond shapes painted in shades of blue and gray create a geometric pattern on the ceiling, from which hang opaline glass chandeliers and wooden fans.
“The painted ceiling is a bit inspired by Gio Ponti in a way,” continued de Taillac, emphasizing the importance of not having the same interior concept in every city. “Otherwise you could be anywhere in the world… and not know when you walk into the store if you’re in New York or Paris, which is something we don’t like… Of course you know I’m in a Buly store, but I think here you know you’re in an Italian Buly store, and that’s very important. The same anti-standardization ethos is applied to all Buly doors worldwide, with the boldest and most striking solutions realized in the Tokyo units juxtaposing modern design with 19th century inspired aesthetics.
The product assortment remains the same worldwide. The Milan store will carry Buly’s entire portfolio of 800 stock units, including water-based fragrances, hand and body creams, oils, powders, clays, scented candles and matches, incense as well as high-end accessories such as brushes, handmade acetate combs. and bristle toothbrushes.
“Even though the aspiration for beauty is universal…every taste is very personal and very particular and that’s why we want to offer options to our customers,” said de Taillac.
Asked which categories she thinks will resonate best with Italian customers, de Taillac said she wasn’t sure yet. “It’s nice to be surprised. From what I understand of the city, [the Milanese] is a very sophisticated customer,” she said, predicting that perfumes and body care products would be popular.
The same will apply to Buly’s personalization services, which are an important part of the brand experience. These include people’s names written on products in calligraphy, initials engraved on items such as lip balms and soaps, and a range of special packaging solutions.
“The Italian team came to Paris to take long-term calligraphy lessons,” de Taillac confirmed, adding that a sales assistant typically spends two to six months practicing calligraphy. She credited the competence of the commercial team and the range of services offered as assets which contribute to the success of the brand as well as the quality of the products, pointing out that this trifecta attracts a wide range of customers in terms of age and nationality.
The Milan store’s location is expected to attract both local shoppers and tourists. The entire area surrounding the Buly store is a retail hub for niche beauty brands including Diptyque, Le Labo, Dr. Vranjes Firenze and Aesop. Also present is the 800-year-old Florentine brand Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, which could represent a direct competitor to Buly given its common interest in natural ingredients, attention to service, retro charm and whimsical packaging design.
Yet de Taillac sees differences between the two labels. “It’s a beautiful brand and its store in Florence – well, nothing can compete [with it]she said of the flagship Santa Maria Novella, known for its 14th-century frescoed ceilings, bronze angels and the lingering aromas of potpourri made from local herbs in the air. . But de Taillac pointed to the difference in aesthetics – with Buly radiating a French aura – and product, highlighting Buly’s wider selection, more focused focus on skincare as well as a bolder approach to skincare. ‘innovation.
To this effect, the latest product launches include the Scented Lantern, “a lamp under which you place your candle and the scent will be diffused thanks to the heat coming from the bulb”, and the Eau Gymnastique scented spray for sneakers.
All Buly products are made in France, without parabens, phenoxyethanol or silicone. Bestsellers include water-based fragrances – which generate around 30% of the brand’s revenue – scented body oils and hand creams. A new olfactory collection of six botanical fragrances will debut at the end of September.
As noted, de Taillac and Touhami decided to sell Buly with the aim of continuing to grow the business with the support of a larger partner. LVMH backed and supported Buly for nearly four years through its minority investment fund Luxury Ventures, before taking over the business in 2021.
After the acquisition, de Taillac remained director of product strategy, image and communications for Buly, while Touhami remained focused on the artistic direction of the brand’s stores and products through his design agency Art. Recherche Industrie, leaving his position as Chief Executive Officer. Anne-Véronique Bruel has been named CEO, joining the company from LVMH-owned beauty label Fresh.
At the time of Luxury Ventures’ investment in October 2017, there were only two Buly stores in the world, whereas now the brand has several doors in cities like Paris, London, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Hong Kong , Seoul and Taipei.
After Milan, Buly will enter Germany with a store in Munich, and expand further to Osaka, Kobe – where the retail format will include a café as one of the units in Paris – and Nagoya Parco in Japan, which since the pandemic has become the biggest market for the brand, followed by South Korea and France. Thus, other store openings are also underway in South Korea, as well as in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.
E-commerce is another key channel for the company, not just in terms of sales, but also as “a way for us to see where we could go if we wanted to,” de Taillac said. For example, she said 30-40% of customers buying online are from the United States “where we don’t have any business”, and there are no plans to open any stores yet.
Sharing a love for travel and exploration, de Taillac and Touhami met in the early 2000s, the former previously being a public relations manager for Colette and the latter an entrepreneur, designer and art collector.
Before Buly, in 2002 the couple launched Parfumerie Générale, their first concept store dedicated to niche cosmetics and perfumery, while in 2006 they orchestrated the relaunch of the French chandelier Cire Trudon. Seven years later, they designed and published Corpus, a semi-annual, bilingual glossy magazine dedicated to the beauty of body and mind, before founding Buly in 2014.
The brand has a fictional quotient: its idea came in part from reading the novel “César Birotteau” by Honoré de Balzac in 1837, inspired by a late 18th century perfumer named Jean-Vincent Bully, whose iconic brand helped establish French perfumery.
The couple’s beauty and business experience has been transformed into various publications, including the 2017 encyclopedia “An Atlas of Natural Beauty” in which they compiled natural ingredients as well as recipes for self-care. Last year, Touhami published the book “Beauty of Time Travel” in which he explains his artistic and philosophical mindset towards Buly and how to revamp a heritage brand.
“Now we’re focusing more on Buly because it’s been a very busy year for us, but my husband has a lot of plans design-wise,” teased de Taillac, hinting that one of Touhami’s initiatives could be fashion oriented.