PARIS — Apollonia Poilâne is your typical French teenager, insofar as she sometimes lounges at home in front of the television and occasionally whoops it up in nightclubs.
But the strong-willed 19-year-old is also chief executive of her family business, the Poilâne bakery founded in 1932 by her grandfather, Pierre, and made famous worldwide by her late father, Lionel, a charismatic man who perished with his wife, Ibu, in a tragic helicopter crash last November that made front-page news in France.
This story first appeared in the June 9, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“My dad used to say, ‘One day Apollonia may take over the business,’ and I would correct him: ‘One day, I will take over the business,’” she says during an interview at the bakery’s original tiny outlet on Rue du Cherche-Midi. “This is what I have been wanting to do all my life. I am honored to come down here every morning and greet Felix, who taught me everything about making bread.”
But it’s not only Felix Ferreira, the master baker, Poilâne has to contend with. She oversees a company with 137 employees who produce some 3 million loaves a year, with 10 percent exported to more than a dozen countries. Gourmet recipients in the U.S. include Balducci’s and Dean & Deluca in New York, as well as Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise and Lauren Bacall, who rely on Poilâne for their daily bread.
“I have to face huge responsibilities,” says Poilâne, dressed primly in a crisp white shirt and pinstriped trousers. “But I know I also need time to myself. I still go to my classical dance class twice a week and I go horseback riding every chance I get.”
Poilâne had plans to go to college in the U.S. to study management and economics, but for now she is content to learn at the helm of a company she describes as healthy and growing. Sales last year totaled $14 million.
Somehow, Poilâne also has made time to manage her late mother’s design business. Ibu Poilâne made furniture and home objects and designed jewelry, including pieces for a Chanel couture collection.
Not surprisingly, her parents’ refined taste has rubbed off. The young Poilâne has an eye for Alberta Ferretti, Issey Miyake and Jil Sander. “I remember my mother and I would try on a Jil Sander jacket and it would fit perfectly,” she says.
But don’t expect to find this fashion lover clamoring for show tickets anytime soon. She’s not the type to seek the limelight — not that the teenage bread heiress shuns the growing media attention. “It doesn’t bother me,” she says with a shrug. “It comes with the job.”