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Perhaps beauty was always in Christine Dagousset’s blood.
This story first appeared in the May 29, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“When I was three years old, I would take empty tubes of [body] creams and I would pretend to apply cream to my arms, and I would spend hours doing this,” said the Chanel executive, who also confessed to pinching her mother’s lipsticks as a makeup-loving teenager. “My mother and I were talking about this recently, and she said to me, ‘You’ve really found your way.’”
Dagousset, currently executive vice president of Fragrance and Beauté for Chanel in the U.S., was named in March as successor to Andrea d’Avack, who has served as Chanel’s global Fragrance and Beauté president since 1998. Dagousset will return to Paris by January as global deputy general manager for fragrance and beauté, working with d’Avack in a transition phase. In 2015, Dagousset will be named global president, Fragrance and Beauté, with global strategic authority for the division.
Dagousset’s new position with Chanel is widely seen by many as the beauty industry’s top job, and illustrates her rapidly rising stature in the industry.
“Christine is widely appreciated for her business acumen, as well as her keen vision for the Chanel image in fragrance and beauté,” said Maureen Chiquet, Chanel’s chief executive officer, in March. “She is recognized throughout Chanel and the beauty industry for building teams that take on big challenges fearlessly and for instilling the confidence to succeed across the organization.”
Dagousset began her career at the L’Oréal Group in Paris as a product manager in 1987, calling it “the best marketing school.”
After 11 years at L’Oréal, she joined Chanel in Paris as senior vice president of international skin care marketing. She has served in her current executive vice president role in the U.S. division since 2005.
“When you are a French girl and you grow up in Paris, Chanel is part of the culture,” she said. “It’s part of the world you live in. I had this idea that one day I would work for Chanel. When I got the call [offering me a job] I said yes immediately. It was the dream of my life — it’s the ultimate in everything.”
In addition to the company’s private ownership and resulting ability to make long-term decisions without shareholder input, Dagousset opined that serving women was one of the best parts of the job.
“There’s something very satisfying in thinking that you make a woman look beautiful — and more importantly, feel beautiful and confident,” she said. “There’s something very transformational about fragrance and beauty. They give you the ability to be yourself, but better. And I think there’s something very special in the Chanel brand. If you wear a Chanel jacket or if you wear Chanel lipstick, there’s something which gives you immediate self-confidence and feel better about yourself.”
Of her career thus far, what is she most proud of? “My team [at Chanel],” she immediately replied. “I think I’ve built a team of amazing people who are devoted to the brand and who are also devoted to the culture. I feel that I’m living in a really good place, with people who are going to be able to sustain what we’ve started to do together. I’m not leaving it thinking everything is going to fall apart. I feel like that’s a really great achievement.”
She’s also crushed several business goals along the way. “We managed to increase share of market while at the same time decreasing distribution,” she said.
Dagousset said she feels lucky to have spent the past eight years in the U.S. “I’ve learned so much,” she said. “[The U.S. is] such an amazing business school in so many ways. You have different tiers of distribution and you have growing retail [opportunities]. You have the different cultures, the specificities of each region. It’s a very complex market in a lot of ways. So when you work in this market, you learn so much. You get this feeling that you can work anywhere. I would recommend it to anyone.”
Speaking of recommendations, Dagousset had advice to offer for up-and-coming executives.
“Adaptability is the first word that comes to mind,” said Dagousset, who credits the skill for a large chunk of her success. “We live in a more complicated world [now] than it was 20 years ago. If you want to have a career anywhere, you have to really be adaptable and be extremely flexible with what comes up. It’s not about knowing the answer, because less and less are there ‘right answers.’”
Instead, she posits, it’s far more important to be open-minded and to adapt to what happens. And she doesn’t leave herself or her fellow executives out of that advice.
“It’s important in management, too,” said Dagousset. “I moved from France to the U.S. and I had to adapt to a new culture and management style, and I was able to do so by being adaptable.”