Choices are proliferating in the beauty market. A new product is launched at least every month and sometimes every week. As one brand says it has discovered some rare ingredient, another says it is employing the latest science and almost all claim their concoctions are the most natural, the most organic.
L’Officine Universelle Buly 1803 stands out from the herd, having its origins in an entirely different time and place. The brand takes its name from Jean-Vincent Bully’s apothecary’s shop, which stood in Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris early in the 19th century. Victoire de Taillac and her husband and business partner, Ramdane Touhami, adapted the name for their brand in 2014.
De Taillac worked for Colette in public relations before immersing herself in Buly 1803. Touhami, ever the entrepreneur, had previously set up and run a series of enterprises in businesses ranging from retailing skateware to reality television production. He was behind Cire Trudon, a French candle maker, and L’Epicerie, a shop he opened with friend and designer Jeremy Scott.
Touhami and de Taillac met at a party in Paris in 1999 and married a decade later. They travelled the world, living in Jaipur, New York, Tangier and Tokyo. Everywhere they went, Touhami set up a business. In Morocco, he had a cafe and a donkey polo club. The couple moved back to Paris this year.
Touhami took the idea for Buly 1803 from a book. “We first learnt about Jean-Vincent Bully in a novel, César Birotteau, by Honoré de Balzac,” he says. The tale of a celebrated Parisian perfumer who lost his fortune captivated Touhami, who did some research and found that the central character was based on Bully the apothecary. Bully was famous in his day for his perfumes, lotions and scented vinegar, including a skin tonic called Vinaigre de Bully.
Having decided to establish the brand, de Taillac and Touhami set out to use natural ingredients and classic formulas to make their products, created through the application of the most modern techniques. They changed the spelling of Bully’s name to Buly. The packaging is quaint, bearing script written in a beautiful hand and illustrations with a retro look, making the products seem like the sort of thing you might find in a cabinet belonging to your grandmother.
Buly 1803 quickly became the best-kept secret in France. The brand remained little known elsewhere until the couple opened the first branch abroad last year, in Taipei. Other branches opened in Seoul, Tokyo, London, New York and Hong Kong, with each shop looking different from the next. Buly 1803 had captured the world’s attention.
Touhami and de Taillac offer more than 700 products, including botanical-based masks, body scrubs, water-based perfumes, salves and toothpastes, all without harmful ingredients such as parabens, phenoxyethanol or silicone. Touhami’s favourite product is the mint, coriander and cucumber toothpaste. De Taillac’s is Pommade Virginale, a cream infused with linden water and sweet almond oil to hydrate and soothe the skin.
The founders of Buly 1803 are scornful about the commercial trends of the modern age. “We do not share the same vision of beauty,” Touhami says. Yet the couple gladly apply avant-garde methods and concoct new formulas. They apply modern and classic formulas side by side. “Eau Triple is very modern. Pommade Concrète is an age-old recipe,” says Touhami.
The Eau Triple water-based perfumes are examples of Buly 1803 innovation. Touhami and de Taillac wished to make an unobtrusive scent that was subtle, yet clearly identifiable as a Buly 1803 creation. Water-based perfumes are mild enough to be applied to the skin or hair without drying either. With the exception of Eau Triple Mexican Tuberose, the perfumes will leave no stain on clothing. There are 12 Buly 1803 water-based perfumes, including Eau Triple Damask Rose, Eau Triple Al Kassir, Eau Triple English Honey and Eau Triple Scottish Lichen.
The Hong Kong branch of Buly 1803 is enchanting. The antique appearance of its wooden fittings and the floor tiles laid in a geometrical pattern, evoke a French apothecary’s shop of the 19th century, just like Bully’s. Glass-fronted display cases line the walls.
Next up, the founders of Buly 1803 are collaborating on a book, An Atlas of Natural Beauty, that is due to be published in Britain by the end of the month. It will offer perspectives from Touhami and de Taillac on beauty, and the part their products play in preserving and enhancing it. The book concentrates on natural ways to take care of your skin and hair.In advance of the book’s publication, de Taillac let #legend in on an arcane beauty secret. “The magic of rose powder; it gives a nice complexion.”
This article first appeared in the October 2017 print issue of #legend.