Lip service | Monocle

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Jérôme Touron’s favourite thing about makeup is that it offers a snapshot of a particular era. “If you look at old paintings, or movies from the 1930s or 1950s, beauty is really the expression of the time,” he says. “And it’s interesting how you can date a movie just with the look of the makeup – a bit like with fashion.” Cosmetics, though, are even more intimate than clothes because, he adds, “they are about creating colours that will be on the lips or skin of women”.

As creative director of Hermès Beauty, the Parisian house’s newest métier, Touron has a big role. The Frenchman, previously at Chanel and Dior, must create a line that feels like a fresh addition to the saturated beauty market and is on par with the offerings from the other 15 métiers in the Hermès universe. “It’s a blank page,” says Touron, speaking with an infectious energy in his book-lined office in the Ateliers Hermès in Pantin, a northeastern suburb of Paris. “It’s a unique chance to create this métier that is both a reflection of Hermès and an expression of beauty today.”

He’s started with lipstick. In early March, Hermès Beauty announced itself to shoppers with a collection of 24 lipsticks called Rouge Hermès. They have launched in 180 shops, 90 of them Hermès’s own stores, and online. They come in vivid pinks, reds and oranges, and in two finishes, matte and satin (slightly shiny). The starting point for the design was Hermès’s own archives. “We have more than 75,000 colours of silk so it’s like a profusion – but it’s a good source of inspiration. Then we had to edit and translate these colours,” says Touron. It was important that the lipsticks were “comfortable” for wearers: that the matte option didn’t dry the lips and the satin was so light that you almost couldn’t feel it. “A lot of people say that makeup is about confidence,” he says. “For me, at Hermès, I see it more as being about comfort,” he adds. “If you have the comfort, you have the confidence.”

A lipstick collection might not seem groundbreaking but it’s a notable step for Hermès, which had revenues of €6.9bn in 2019 and is one of the world’s biggest luxury brands. In recent years nearly every premium player, from Gucci to Marc Jacobs, has turned their gaze to beauty; Hermès was one of the few that had not. And lipstick is famously the ultimate entry-level luxury item. It will be one of Hermès’s most affordable products by some margin, retailing for €62. While certainly at the pointy end of its market category, it is a more accessible offering than a Birkin bag or silk scarf for those desperate to purchase a piece of Hermès. Soon shoppers will have other options too: Touron stays quiet on specifics but says that the métier will launch a new product every six months until it has a full cosmetics and skincare range.

“High margins and the potential for recruiting new consumers have turned beauty care into one of the fashion industry’s fiercest new battlegrounds,” says Fflur Roberts, head of global luxury goods at Euromonitor International, a market research provider. “Luxury consumers who might lack the cash to buy Hermès bags and accessories can nonetheless size up its more affordable cosmetic and fragrance ranges. Recruiting new consumers in this way is key because it breeds brand loyalty.” Touron hopes that it appeals to existing clients too, of course. “Lipstick is like the final touch,” he says. “It means that our current clients will choose a bag and then say, ‘Maybe there is a matching lipstick colour’.”

Touron is not alone in this endeavour. Since starting at Hermès in 2017 he’s been working with its top creatives – Pierre-Alexis Dumas, artistic director and member of the founding family, artistic director of the women’s universe Bali Barret, and creative director of jewellery and shoes, Pierre Hardy – on everything from the black bullet-like lipstick tubes (designed by Hardy) to accompanying leather accessories. The project has been in the Dumas family’s minds for some time: Pierre-Alexis first spoke to his father about a beauty line about 20 years ago. “At Hermès everything takes a long time,” says Touron. “We do it when we’re ready for it.”

Touron is also in close contact with the r&d lab that Hermès has set up in Normandy to develop the formulas and with the lipstick manufacturers in Italy. The process of perfecting each product is rigorous: he went through about 100 different variations of matte and satin formulas, testing them on a team of women at Hermès as well as consulting his friends. “It’s interesting to work with different kinds of girls, to see all the colours on different faces and in different lights and to hear their different perceptions,” he says. “We try, we try, we try. It could take a long time. But this is really the most fun part of the job. You have to get this connection with women, that’s key.” 

The point of all this is to propose a version of what beauty should be today. “There was a lot of bold makeup in the past,” he says. “But I think it’s easy to make a blue or green lipstick – that’s been done five years ago. Now the idea is to get this element of surprise and excitement. But it should not be like a costume.” The Hermès colour that best exemplifies this, he says, is “orange boîte” (the same tangerine as the brand’s shopping bags). It’s certainly unusual, a shade you don’t commonly see on mouths. But it’s not outrageous. “I think today it’s time for more subtlety – but that doesn’t mean shy and boring,” he says, grinning. “Well, that’s what I would look for if I were wearing makeup every day.”

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