SAUJET’S ENTREPRENEURIAL ODYSSEY
Byline: Jennifer Weil
PARIS — Claude Saujet looks like the proud father he is.
Not only did he just fete the fifth birthday of his brainchild Parfums Hanae Mori, but he’s also glowing about his sons — Emmanuel, 33, and Thomas, 25 — who now oversee the family firm’s U.S. branch.
“They’re two wonderful guys, and I’m not just saying that because I am their dad,” he said. “I love young people: They are the future of the planet.”
Saujet has an endless wealth of sayings — similes, metaphors and quotes — to illustrate a point.
He sits in his new digs, a sleek, 2,030-square-foot office across from Notre Dame here. What once was a restaurant is a minimalist workspace with sand-colored stone walls, a marble floor, tall windows and wooden beams dating back hundreds of years.
In his white turtleneck and gray slacks, Saujet blends right in. It is, after all, his self-made domain, whose secret, he said, is aptly described by Elton John’s dictum: “In our business, there is no compromise.”
Persnickety? Maybe. But it seems to have paid off.
A rarity in Europe, Saujet has displayed an entrepreneurial zeal, successfully launching and building a luxury goods brand. “When you see the power of big groups, I am amazed none has created anything from scratch — there is a lack of new brands on the market,” he explained.
Saujet said Parfums Hanae Mori registered a more than 33 percent sales increase worldwide last calendar year. Within that, volume in the U.S. was up by almost 60 percent year-on-year with the same 187 doors.
Parfums Hanae Mori’s 24 stockkeeping units are produced by Cosmetique et Parfum International SA, Compagnie International du Luxe’s wholly owned subsidiary.
The Japanese designer’s beauty division was kicked off with the launch of the Butterfly fragrance in October 1995. Then, as now, what’s important for a project inspired by a ready-to-wear fashion collection are tiny details and maintaining a high-end image, like Butterfly’s glass cap on a glass bottle — a first for the industry.
Saujet said a carefully thought-out, long-term distribution plan is also key to running a prestige fragrance brand. “We identified which were potentially the biggest and most-important markets for perfumes and cosmetics,” he explained, naming the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere, France in Europe and Japan in the Far East. And in France, for example, Mori products are only sold in 650 of France’s more than 2,000 prestige doors; worldwide, they are in some 1,800. That — and concentrating on just a few markets — enables tight control over inventory, he said.
It also has the added advantage of allowing a brand to fully establish itself before launching elsewhere.
Saujet said customer service has also been a top priority, with one commercial representative per 40 doors in France, for example. His sons have divvied up the U.S. market, with one concentrating on the East and the other on the West Coast. And to keep things simple at the counter, Saujet has color-coded women’s products for easy identification. Boxes for parfums, for example, are red; those for eaux de parfum, blue; and eaux de toilette, pink.
Saujet has also stuck to an atypical pricing policy, where the customer pays the same for different references. “We know that when a consumer is psychologically prepped to buy something, she has a budget in mind,” he said, explaining why a 30-ml. parfum, a 50-ml. eau de parfum and a 100-ml. eau de toilette carry identical $80 price tags in the Butterfly line.
“Another way for us to show we are a luxury goods company is to have animated packaging,” explained Saujet.
Butterfly’s outer box, for example, was recently tweaked to be more eye-catching, with numerous brightly colored insects instead of just one. The textured butterfly stickers are applied by hand in differing places, so each box looks unique on the shelf.
Packaging for Mori’s other two lines — HM for men launched in 1997 and Haute Couture was introduced in 1999 — which together ring up 50 percent of the company’s sales, will also be revamped going forward.
Like Butterfly, Haute Couture has a custom-made feel, with a 30-ml. bottle packaged in one of eight boxes displaying a different dress from the current Hanae Mori fashion collection.
Saujet said he is looking to build on his distribution business. He currently owns the license for the Valentin Yudashkin scent outside of Russia. “We now have such a strong distribution structure, we are looking for other brands — with room for makeup, skin care and another fragrance brand,” he explained.
Saujet has remained fully hands-on since launch, something he’s able to do in a family-run outfit. And ownership definitely has other pluses. “You don’t get pressure from either shareholders or group management,” he said. “Every time you do something well, you get a reward. Every time you do something wrong, you pay with your own money. The rule of the game is now much crueler, but finally it gives an invaluable freedom.”
Saujet is no stranger to corporate pressure, however. He joined Sanofi in 1975 and was the first to head up its Parfums Van Cleef division, before eventually moving on in 1980 and becoming chairman at Cartier’s U.S. subsidiary. Later, he became president of Harry Winston for five years, until 1990, before returning to Sanofi. There, he was appointed chairman and chief executive officer of Sanofi Beaute SA and oversaw the integration of Parfums Yves Saint Laurent into the group. In 1994, he was reportedly forced out of company over strategic issues.
That incident and other alleged practices have made him a somewhat colorful industry figure. But Saujet shrugs it off, saying: “More and more often, a person comes under criticism when he becomes rich and succeeds [in his career]. If someone starts spreading rumors about this person, others might say they are untrue, but that there is no smoke without a fire. What can you do? That’s human nature.”
He believes it is best not to fight such rumors. “As the French saying goes: ‘Let the dog bark, the caravan will pass by.’ It is important that when you look in the mirror in the morning, you’re proud.”