Olivier Echaudemaison, the make-up creative director at French perfume and cosmetics brand Guerlain, delivered the keynote speech on Thursday at arab luxury world, a leading two-day conference in Dubai on the business of luxury in the Middle East. The conference is organised by Mediaquest, the parent organisation of AMEinfo.
In his speech, Echaudemaison explained the positioning of cosmetics between fashion and fragrances, recalling the beginnings of his career and the market dynamics today.
“I started my career very young, when I was in school in the French Lycée,” he said. “I was passionate about fashion: it is interesting because there is always something new.”
Guerlain is one of the oldest firms in the industry, created back in the 1820s. Since then, despite its ups and downs, the firm is still in business and is one of the leading, specialised brands in the fashion industry.
“It is fascinating that it is so old, yet so trendy. It was an honour for me to work there,” Echaudemaison said.
He recalled how Guerlain created the first lipstick in the 19th century: “One of the family members had a candle factory, so they added some colour to the candle and tried it on the lips when it melted. So, what you have today was already done by Guerlain then… Of course, it was not so sophisticated, but the concept was created,” he said.
Another iconic product that Guerlain pioneered was the Terracotta – the first bronzing product, created in the 1980s.
“In the 1980s, it was trendy to be bronze, but we knew that the sun was not good for you. This is still a successful vertical and we have 60 per cent of the bronzer market today,” Echaudemaison said.
He went on to reveal that Guerlain sells a Terracotta product every 30 seconds.
The role of a creator
According to Echaudemaison, a “creator’s job is to be free”, but, being in a global competitive market, he understands the basics of business and the challenges the market faces in different regions.
He explained that it takes two years to create a cosmetic product, whereas, in the fashion industry, an entire collection can be created in six months.
According to Echaudemaison, fashion has a short lifecycle, as collections created today may be out of fashion in six months when a new season’s designs arrive.
However, the success of a fragrance can last for ten years or more, he said, giving examples of iconic products, such as Shalimar de Guerlain, Chanel No. 5 and Organza by Givenchy. Make-up falls in the middle, he added, saying that, while it does complement fashion in terms of colour and style, it has a longer lifespan – and it needs to, because cosmetics take longer to produce.
Despite the time it takes for research, development and production, Echaudemaison said he creates “six collections every year: Spring, Summer, Fall, Christmas and other capsule collections.”
The creative director also touched on how the make-up industry is getting more and more competitive, and is currently facing threats from brands that have been in the markets for less than five years, as well as from other brands that are creative and innovative, such as Bobbi Brown and MAC.