Nicolas Gerlier on La Bouche Rouge, Sustainable Beauty And The Old-World Art Of Lipstick Making
“Complicated, timeless and touched by an artisans’ hands. This is an aesthetic I brought to La Bouche Rouge.”
“It’s impossible to not link sustainability to beauty or even to link a respect for your customers and women.”
Nicolas Gerlier offers a warm handshake, a smile and then he looks you up and down quickly. This isn’t because he’s rude or judgemental. It’s because he has taken that short fleeting moment to observe you: the way you pair a bag with your shoes, the makeup you’ve applied or even the way your hair falls that day.
It is perhaps that keen sense of observation that he has completely revamped the relationship we have with our lipsticks. One part the way we use it (as a weapon against the world) and one part, the sustainable practices that can and should be enforced today.
As part of our Paris Fashion Week adventures, we speak to the enigmatic man on his La Bouche Rouge lipsticks— sustainable, artisanally-crafted and it’s return to an old-world glamour.
Hi Nicolas! What were you doing before La Bouche Rouge and what was your first motive to start the business?
I have spent more than 10 years at the L’Oréal group with a focus on the Giorgio Armani brand. I have experienced so much under Mr Armani where we used to do meetings every month and he explained the same message constantly: to simplify the brand’s core message and to provide a less-is-more experience for the customer.
He has influenced a big part of my vision in the approach of cosmetics but it’s true: I was not comfortable with what I’ve proposed to him in the past. It was luxury-focused but not so luxurious at the same time.
We provided customers with the brand’s DNA and a core luxury but it wasn’t aligned with the brand’s branding in terms of materials used.
I started getting more uncomfortable with what we perceived as “luxury” in makeup and then decided to create my own brand for a new market segment. It’s a statement where I can create something with Frederic Malle: a man who first created a niche brand for a niche market. We have a lot of niche market brands but in terms of makeup, we had nothing.
In the world of luxury French makeup, we had no options because there were only big brands. I thought about my own brand for 7 years with thoughts of it being transparent coupled with a new approach to objects and sustainability.
I started it in 2014 and it came to fruition in 2016: a new vision, a Maison and a dream. That is the conviction I had for this company: a conviction to not just create a product but instead, a conviction to engage a new vision for the planet and my customers.
This is a new declaration of beauty that’s committed to responsibility that was born out of a lack of choice. I don’t understand how beauty brands are not founded with it. For me, this is strange.
Customers are no longer blinded by “fake-luxury”. They want a true-luxury that makes them feel as good as they look.
How difficult was it to remove plastic from the formula of your lipsticks?
We decided to completely overhaul a lipstick’s general formula. This was a big risk we took it’s extremely difficult to do so otherwise. It would be easier for me to purchase an organic formula or a supplier-derived one but my conviction was to use a clean one that was transparent to our customers.
Did you know that before I founded La Bouche Rouge, there were no lipstick formulas without plastic? Who wants to eat plastic?
We did not want to create lipstick as they did in the ‘50s where there was the usage of harmful ingredients. We spent two years developing a formula, went through over 440 formulations and had a hyper-focus on luxury before we launched the first La Bouche Rouge lipstick.
It was a challenge because the usage of plastic in lipsticks is actually an important one: it creates a glide on the lips while giving it shine. There’s a saying in the ‘80s — plastic fantastic — but it doesn’t work in our modern times.
We have successfully erased plastic, fragrance and synthetics in our fragrance which is why even pregnant women are able to use our products.
The next step was for us to develop a skincare serum with the formula: La Serum Rouge (SGD113). It was a way for us to link skincare and makeup with the common link being the usage of an anti-ageing antioxidant.
You have 32 lipstick shades and counting. So what’s next?
I could answer you but this is exclusive information (laughs). I have a vision to develop a full cosmetics line that might even include shampoo.
The key priority for me for the face are the eyes and lips. If you have to know, we’re launching an eyeliner in September.
Pick your three favourite shades and tell us why.
1. Le Rouge Anja (SGD56) — a shade we developed with model, Anja Rubik. It’s me and my wife’s favourite shade.
2. Le Rouge Chloë (SGD56) — a shade we developed with Chloë Sevigny that’s a cool orange-y red. We were inspired by an old Indian jewel, which we scanned to develop the precise colour. She actually wears it every day and she’s pregnant! She’s a committed woman and the shade is perfect.
3. Le Rowe — a shade we developed with beauty consultant, Wendy Rowe. It’s a fantastic colour that’s between a brown and red that’s for everybody.
Do your lipsticks last in humid weather?
Yes! We will be developing a pencil and a lip brush in May that enhances the longevity of our products in specific temperatures.
How far back did you look when you were creating La Bouche Rouge?
We love the heritage that a Maison brings; especially one that is a maquillage Maison with a startup spirit. We don’t want to be egocentric and hence, we watch the competition and observe designs of the past and future.
One century ago; we had the opportunity to purchase lipsticks that have been created by artisans. It wasn’t just a product you can buy. It was a product for life that had been created by French excellence and craftsmanship.
They were gifts you could gift to your female loved ones; my grandmother had one in gold with her initials on it. It was something really precious and a part of every elegant French woman’s routine.
Can you perhaps explain the design of the case and the box? The typography is wonderful.
We have designed an object for life and would like to keep this design which celebrates simplicity and luxury forever.
It’s something we’re going to carry forward to the next few objects. An object that ages with you and gets more beautiful with time. Just imagine you giving your La Bouche Rouge lipstick to your daughter tomorrow. You’re not just giving her just an object because you’re giving her the memories of your life.
Fill in the blank: Red Lips Go Best With ___.
The power of red lipstick is that it turns your lips into the jewel of the face. I like when women have no makeup on with just a nice lipstick shade. It’s not a common look but I personally fancy it.
But sometimes, you can do your eyebrows too or put on some mascara. Why not?