NEW YORK — Amid the rustling gowns of Monday night’s gala celebration of “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, one beauty dignitary stood out from the star-laden, superlative-driven hubbub. Quietly moving through the landmark exhibit was Liliane Bettencourt and her husband Andre.
She is the daughter of Eugene Schueller, the French chemist who invented an innovative hair coloring formula in 1907 called Aureole that became L’Oreal, the largest beauty company in the world, and she is the largest single stockholder of that giant.
Bettencourt was attending the gala as part of L’Oreal’s sponsorship of the exhibit. Lindsay Owen-Jones, L’Oreal chairman and chief executive officer, also flew in from France with his wife Cristina. As co-chairman of the event, he stood at the head of the receiving line along with Guy Peyrelongue, who will retire on Dec. 31 after 14 years as president and ceo of what is now called L’Oreal USA.
Peyrelongue later sat at dinner, chatting with Bettencourt, who recalled visiting New York in the early Fifties with her father when L’Oreal was just taking root in America. Things were tough then, she told him, not like now. L’Oreal’s U.S. sales passed the $3 billion mark last year.
The dinner, which drew 850 guests, seemed to have a poignancy for Peyrelongue, as one of the capstones of his tenure. “In a way, it was a great moment, and a great moment for L’Oreal to be the corporate sponsor of the exhibition,” he said, noting that the exhibit encapsulates what Peyrelongue sees as “the golden age,” not only for the U.S ,but for American-Franco relations.
He recalled the warm rapport that the Kennedys struck up with the French people during a state visit to Paris in the summer of 1961.
“It was a major factor in the bond between the two countries,” he said of the visit, “and she played a major role.”