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Dior Milestone: Beauty Chief

“Yesterday’s truth is not tomorrow’s” in beauty, according to Claude Martinez.

PARIS — “The story of Dior began by intimately mixing fashion and beauty,” said Claude Martinez, president and chief executive officer of Parfums Christian Dior.

That’s because Dior’s beauty company was incorporated practically at the same time the house launched its fashion collection.

Christian Dior, the designer, even went so far as to say, “Perfume is the indispensable complement to the personality of women, the finishing touch of a dress, the rose with which Lancret signed his canvases.”

“Right away he had this homogenous vision,” said Martinez, for whom the house’s past serves as a firm foundation and springboard for the brand’s future.

Dior’s history helps inform Parfums Christian Dior’s current beauty business. Take the example of makeup creation.

“When you look at Dior’s fashion books, two things strike me — first, the silhouette, tight at the waist…and the colors,” said Martinez. “Dior always dared and his successors — Marc Bohan, John Galliano — dared with color. Therefore, this DNA belongs to us, too.

“There is a reason that Dior is among the leaders — if not the leader — in colors, in lipstick,” said Martinez. “Dior knew very quickly that there are an infinite number of reds inside a red. There are 100,000 possible pink colors. So this dream of colors — in the plural — is part of who we are.”

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That puts Dior in a good position today, as the color cosmetics market booms, notably due to its play on digital, he explained. “We are completely at ease [with] this flood. It’s something that suits us very well and doesn’t frighten us — on the contrary,” said Martinez.

The young generation of consumers also inspires Dior’s beauty business. “They are freer and wiser than we were at their age,” said the executive. “They have fewer constraints.”

That demographic mixes brands with ease. “We know they love to change, are very versatile…and independent-spirited. This world, which favors creativity, impassions us,” continued Martinez.

Speaking to Millennials is different than to preceding generations. To wit: the house just launched an online charitable initiative, called the Dior Love Chain. In a spot, various high-profile people, including beauty brand ambassadors Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lawrence and Johnny Depp, respond to the question: “And you, what would you do for love?”

Individuals are meant to post their video answers, which can come in any creative form, with the hashtag #diorlove chain. They are also supposed to nominate others in their personal circle to answer the question. For each post put online, Dior donates $1 to the WE Charity, specifically its WE Schools program in Kenya, which aims to give education to young girls there. It’s an initiative backed by Portman.

Dior’s affiliation with brand ambassadors, which also include Charlize Theron, is like a marriage or a partnership, according to Martinez, who emphasized the importance of such long-term relationships, which help fuel a brand’s longevity.

“The future of communication is about sharing,” he said, adding those people who are in sync with Dior’s values and visions of femininity, audacity, creativity and color, like those who contribute to the Love Chain, are also brand ambassadors.

Asia — including China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia — is very much in Parfums Christian Dior’s sights, as well. “It’s really the new beauty center,” said Martinez. “We go there very often now.”

Recently, the executive was in Vietnam, where he was struck by the strength of digital. “That’s also what’s transforming the world — there are no more geographic, political or financial boundaries,” he said.

Simultaneously, Dior is going back to its roots by investing in heritage sites. The company purchased its founding designer’s house, the Château de la Colle Noire, and the creative workshops of perfumers François Demachy of Dior and Jacques Cavallier Belletrud of Louis Vuitton in the South of France, near and in Grasse.

Not only were the investments made because Dior himself loved the region, but also in light of today’s fragrance market that’s become somewhat discredited due in part to the glut of rapidly produced celebrity and fashion fragrances, according to Martinez.

“There was this belief, in the 2000s…that it was easy to make a perfume and that everyone could do it,” he said. “So people are suspicious. That’s why we wanted to integrate our perfumer and our savoir-faire internally, to have a signature and to be sure of the creativity and quality — of ingredients, as well.”

Martinez was referring to partnerships with local producers to purchase crops in the quest to assure know-how and cull the highest-quality, sustainable raw materials.

Dior is also working with the Grassoise region to replant surrounding fields with flowers, such as rose and jasmine — prime perfume-making ingredients.

Martinez said Dior executives ponder how best to keep the rising generation of consumers interested in fragrance, a category that generates about half of Dior’s beauty sales.

“So this is a problem that’s being addressed,” he said, adding the perfume sector might take a cue from the makeup category, which is in full expansion because of its creativity, its ability to serve a large swathe of the world’s population, its wide offering that’s renewed endlessly and how it straddles various price segments.

While Dior executives would not discuss sales figures, industry sources estimate the brand’s beauty division generates annual wholesale revenues of 2.5 billion euros, with makeup ringing up 30 percent and skin care, 20 percent.

Top markets for Dior beauty — which is considered to be ranked a close second behind Chanel in the category — are China (number one for two years), the U.S., France, Japan and the U.K.

Among Dior’s best-selling products are J’Adore, Miss Dior and Sauvage in fragrance; lipstick — as a category — and Diorshow Pump ’n’ Volume mascara in makeup, and Hydra Life skin care.

All product groups are gearing up for developments at Dior. “Makeup still has beautiful years ahead of it,” said Martinez, forecasting lighter and more natural textures, and revamped pigments.

In skin care, there’s a project afoot, linked with anticipative medicine, to address women in their 30s — the average age of the Dior skin-care consumer in Asia, in fact.

Today, the company has freestanding beauty boutiques primarily in Asia, where the retail channel is developing. “[They] allow us to express the brand [fully] in the three categories,” said Martinez. “We are very pleased with the results.

“I think the world of tomorrow — and maybe it’s already [here] today — will be made of numerous types of retail,” he continued, referring to wholly owned locations, plus multibrand boutiques and department stores.

E-commerce is also ramping up for Dior. “Our own site is our first door in China, for instance,” he explained.

Martinez described the atmosphere at Dior, in today’s challenging beauty marketplace, as “studious.”

“It’s a market where no one ever gets bored,” he said. “It is extremely competitive, extremely versatile and moves a lot. Yesterday’s truth is not tomorrow’s. It is therefore necessary to have a lot of humility, strength and resistance, and to be confident in what you do.”

During this anniversary year, there is pride in Dior’s heritage and a focus on what’s to come, continued Martinez, who said the brand “is always dancing between its past and its future.”