Byline: Jennifer Weil

PARIS — Beatrice Dautresme examines a pile of reports in her top-floor office of the bustling L’Oreal headquarters here, a lit scented candle wafting fragrance on her desk.
Is she cool? Very. But, then again, it’s her job.
Dautresme was named cool hunter for the entire L’Oreal group in mid-September, making her head surveyor of consumer trends in the prestige and mass markets, plus the Internet. Her official title is managing director of strategic development for L’Oreal. And, with the promotion, she has also joined the inner sanctums of the company’s management committee, reporting directly to L’Oreal chairman and chief executive officer Lindsay Owen-Jones.
Dautresme is the first woman ever to reach that apex within the French beauty giant.
Her appointment comes six months after she became director of the company’s “prospective department,” where Dautresme follows consumer trends for L’Oreal’s high-end brands. Before that, she was 10 years with the company’s Helena Rubinstein subsidiary as president and general manager. Many credit her with having rejuvenated that brand with a street-savvy image.
The last person to run the unit was Robert Salmon, who, as vice president in charge of the unit, oversaw prospect development until 1997.
For a company like L’Oreal — that is relatively acquisition-shy compared with its competitors like LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton — trend hunters are becoming increasingly vital, meant to juice up brands already in the stable.
Although L’Oreal has recently acquired companies such as the salon hair care firm Matrix Essentials, “we believe innovation and massive investments in research and development are major ways of creating a difference with existing markets,” she explained, adding there is also an emphasis on global reach. “L’Oreal is present in 150 countries, but the 12 global brands [including Lancome, Giorgio Armani and Cacharel] are not yet in all those countries.”
In her new role, Dautresme is on the lookout for everything that could be useful to the group. She presently has two teams — one in Japan and the other in the U.S. — reporting directly to her on trends, but there is also an intranet service providing her with regional trends, for instance.
Without divulging secrets, she said divisions are shown “things they may not have looked at because their brands are in a certain type of distribution. Everything is becoming transversal; therefore, I look at businesses, ideas or concepts that might illustrate this idea of transversality and continuous change. [My job is to capture] everything that is circulating, and try to open doors and ideas.”
Dautresme explained that when she comes upon an interesting trend on her travels or in magazines, for instance, she shows it to the management committee, which includes 10 other L’Oreal executives, including Gilles Weil, vice president in charge of the luxury group.
“The prestige division usually gets the first technological breakthroughs,” she continued. “I think it is important for these brands to keep strong images as innovators.” But, that doesn’t mean the mass market won’t also benefit from the advances, she said. Dautresme added she can also flag possible acquisition targets. “We feel we can buy companies that are truly complementary to what we have existing — that will bring new consumers we may not have tackled yet. These might be present in geographical areas where we are not as strong as we need to be, or they might have an activity we are not necessarily in.”
In other words, nothing is impossible. “I will synthesize and summarize anything new that comes to my desk that might be of interest,” she said.