For L’Occitane, it’s back to the future.
This story first appeared in the November 11, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The company has opened its first Heritage Store, located at 180 East 86th Street in Manhattan, as an homage to the brand’s history. It is filled with personal touches from the company’s past, including a full-size lime green Citroën 2CV, a replica of brand founder Olivier Baussan’s first vehicle, which he drove around the fields of Provence, France, and used to distribute soaps and essential oils.
“In the back of the car — which I modified in order to travel into the fields — is a machine used for distillation,” said Baussan, whose 23-year-old face smiles from a blown-up Polaroid hanging behind the vintage vehicle. “Here, I had rosemary essential oil in the back seat.” The precious juice was contained in a bottle usually used for wine.
Industry sources estimate the 2,500-square-foot outpost — about three times the size of most L’Occitane stores — could generate more than $3 million in its first year. The company did not break out figures.
“This store tells the comprehensive story of what we are from A to Z,” said Baussan, who first introduced the company in 1976. “It brings you into the brand.”
In addition to offering the full range of L’Occitane products, the Heritage Store also features signature services, like skin and hair consultations, hand massages, mini facials and barber shaving. There are also sections on the floor that focus on self-service and “quick picks,” like cheerily packaged lip gloss and hand cream duos as well as sweet tooth-stimulating bar soaps.
“People in this neighborhood were hungry for a L’Occitane,” said Christina Polychroni, senior director of marketing and brand communication for L’Occitane USA. “This store mimics the way we work with the earth. It is built with hands as well as heart. There are meaningful details everywhere you look.”
Throughout the expansive outpost, which was designed to remind customers of a greenhouse, are hand-picked vintage furniture and fixtures, fresh French lavender and oversize hand-painted tapestries. Colors used within the boutique give a nod to the French countryside, while images and information about the harvesting process and traditional distillation methods can be found throughout the floor.
Despite the larger size, Baussan said the goal was to maintain an intimate feeling.
“This store proves we can do a bigger space and still tell our story and feel intimate,” said Baussan, who became inspired to work with natural ingredients, with a focus on sustainability and accessibility, since his days as a student at the University of Aix-en-Provence.
“I started thinking about ecology and started to think about what would be the future for us if we did not,” he said. “There are many more traditions I still want to bring in and stories I want to tell.”
To that end, Baussan said he is proud to have worked with local farmers in places like Africa and the island of Corsica to help create jobs by interpreting traditional processing techniques and focusing on education.
“The goal is to stimulate local economies,” said Baussan, whose company currently employs more than 12,000 women in Africa through the harvesting of brand staple shea butter. “Every single product we have was made with a sense of respect for cultures, ingredients, nature and methods. ”
The new store, which officially opened its doors on Oct. 25 and drew a line of people around the block, is the brand’s 12th New York City outlet. Another 2,500-square-foot store, dubbed the brand’s flagship, is set to open in December in the Flatiron area. It will be L’Occitane’s 13th store in the city.