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La Bouche Rouge: a make-up house is born

February 12 2019

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La Bouche Rouge is challenging industry standards and our consumption habits with a lipstick range full of beauty and promise. - Lily Templeton, Paris.

After spending a decade in L'Oréal Luxe's marketing department, Nicolas Gerlier wanted to offer a sustainable lip product that would not only challenge the industry to do better but also question the very history of this iconic product that was once made from bio-toxic ingredients and that is so popular that a billion units are thrown away each year-finished or not

Along with co-founder and artistic director Ezra Petronio, he wanted to shine a spotlight on this object so familiar it is nigh on invisible. And rather than making sustainability a heavy-handed marketing ploy, he made it into an intrinsic quality at the heart of this French house that is also an innovative start-up (see more in ALL I C #1, page 121).

Exciting cosmetic developments are hidden in the depths of this metal container wrapped in leather that has been worked in an artisanal fashion for centuries in France's Alsace region. The refills come from Brittany and are the first to be fully free of micro-plastics and therefore truly sustainable. The formula has done without endocrine disruptors, preservatives, allergens or even water. Pigments are infused in oil. Patented processes allow for small-batch production to reduce any waste.

Even as innovation and tradition continue to go forth hand in hand, and while units are flying off the shelves at the best department stores around the world or on the internet, the house is working towards ensuring that a healthy life is not only a luxury for the rich. Part of its profits have been turned over to an NGO, Eau Vive International, and has already resulted in the construction of a well in Togo.

Lily Templeton: How was La Bouche Rouge born?
Nicolas Gerlier: The basic idea of ​​the project was to reconcile luxury, eco-responsibility and equity. My job was exciting but I no longer felt the alignment between this job, the requirement that I wanted to give and the quality of the products. I wanted to be authentic, to do something rather radical but true. What resonates strongly with clients today is the desire to have beautiful objects and formulas of good quality, for which we are now ready to pay. Looking at the lipstick formulas, I realized that this is the only product that can be worn on the lips and that many of its ingredients could be toxic. Trying to pull everything out was a challenge that needed to be addressed.

But it's also using a lipstick to talk about a cause. I'm not a rebel, I just wanted to make sense of what I'm doing. I am not against money, business, luxury. We just have to keep in mind that what we do must make sense, that a job must evolve. The two main messages when I started the project were to make things that last a lifetime, and to offer a product with real benefits.

So why start with lipstick?
After winning the 2016 Start in Cosmetic contest, I envisioned several tracks, including vegan. But by comparing its interest and the eco-responsible dimension, I am convinced that the great challenge of tomorrow remains the plastic - even if I understand the stakes of the animal cause. I have 3 kids, so I wonder what we will do in 30 years. I think our generation has this responsibility. Plastic is a drama that pollutes 83% of the world's waters. The angle of attack was to create a revolution by making cosmetics differently, on our scale and keeping our course in terms of commitment and authenticity. The heart of the project is this more pointed vision to say that we stop this bazaar that was set up after the second world war with the mass industries where the more plastic we put, the better because is fast and cheap. I could not sell dreams with a nightmare behind. We are an informed society today, demanding too. Doing things right also means respecting the people who make them, creating a value chain.

Why call the brand a "make-up house"?
Our philosophy is to take great care in every last detail, to give meaning and create an attachment to people, be they our customer, our producers or our staff. For La Bouche Rouge, we have the will to do things well and also respect tradition. I want to invent the future of tradition, which doesn't mean throwing away everything that we learn in the past. It's about being nurtured by it, to appreciate it and therefore give tradition more strength and meaning. I think that's what customers are looking for in luxury. The future of tradition is about taking care not to do just anything and everything. Before using a logo or a brand, using the know-how. Looking at the product but also at how it is made. There has long been a trend of covering up the reality [of the cosmetic industry].

For example?
Take the styrax that we use in our lip balms. It's a sap that is harvested in the Laotian highlands and that can't be found in France. It's used in high-end perfumery. It was important for us to be involved in local initiatives that invest in the community-creating clean sanitary installations, educational programs-because it was unthinkable for me to exploit poverty under the pretense that our ingredients come from afar. In this too, it has to be high quality but also have real benefits to anyone who touches it, from producer to end-consumer. We're also a "house" because it's a human experience. I started on my own; then we were three, four and now six… Some left cushy jobs to join the company. We have a workshop in Paris. What makes me happy is having created a growing company.

What is on the cards for 2019?
We are launching a custom color service, including an application that will scan an object, or a photo to match the chosen color, satin matte. Thanks to a particular and patented technology, we can create customized colors on demand. We do not give ourselves any limits today, and we do not refrain from thinking more widely about the development of other rechargeable objects, how will develop this make-up house. The only red line we will ever cross is plastic.

This interview has been edited and condensed.