Interview with Mr. Laurent Boillot, President and CEO of the new LVMH cosmetics venture, CHA LING
Mr. Laurent Boillot, a graduate of the ESC French Business School in Rouen, began his career in 1988 at the Havas Advertising Group. In 1990 he joined Unilever, working in the Elida Fabergé division, where he held increasingly senior marketing roles. Prior to joining Guerlain, he held the position of European Marketing and Development Director for Haircare, and joined Guerlain in 2002 as Deputy Managing Director in charge of Marketing. In 2005 he is appointed Managing Director in charge of International Marketing and Guerlain’s Swiss Subsidiary. In October 2007, Laurent Boillot was appointed President and CEO of Guerlain. Since January 2014 he has also been Executive VP of Make Up For Ever and President and CEO of the new LVMH cosmetics venture, CHA LING.
In June 2017, a new LVMH cosmetics venture, CHA LING, which uses Pu’er tea as its main ingredient, opened its first store in mainland China, located at the Taikoo Hui Center in Shanghai, marking its official entrance to the mainland China market. Prior to this, CHA LING made its global debut at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, Paris in January 2017, followed by its first Asian store in Harbour City, Hong Kong. Without doubt, CHA LING lays special emphasis on the China market. With Pu’er tea as its major ingredient and USP, the brand has created an all-around beauty lifestyle. Mr. Laurent Boillot tells us that CHA LING is currently independently operated with all products manufactured by Guerlain and with LVMH’s strong support.
Though a French luxury brand, CHA LING predominantly features Chinese tea culture. The story dates back to the year 2000 when German biologist Josef Margraf first came to Xishuangbanna in Yunnan province of China and encountered an forest of ancient tea plants. Four years later, together with his wife, Josef began to revive the plant growth in the forest and meanwhile helped local minority residents to increase their income. Later he met Laurent Boillot, then the President and CEO of Guerlain, and they became close friends. After Josef Margraf passed away due to a sudden heart attack, Laurent decided to continue his friend’s lifework and therefore came up with the idea of making pu’er tea cosmetics.
LVMH, a luxury kingdom founded by French billionaire Bernard Arnault, has seen rapid and strong development with continual acquisitions and mergers since its foundation in 1987, making it the biggest luxury group in the world. LVMH has 70 sub-brands and is known as a “brand reaper”, yet it has never launched a brand of its own using independent research and development.
“While acquisition and expansion is our strong point, launching a new brand is more of an adventure,” said Laurent. But thanks to his persistence and continual tests, research and development, he has proved the powerful skincare benefits of pu’er tea including anti-wrinkle, anti-inflammation, anti-pollution and more, and finally got approval from LVMH to allocate budget and establish a professional team for the development of the products. SpaChina interviewed Laurent.
What was in your mind when you launched the CHA LING project six years ago?
This is surely the greatest adventure of my career. I am so glad that I can create and expand a new brand in my work. I have been the President of Guerlain since 2007 and I deeply understand the strong power of LVMH, for example its research and development capabilities. However, it’s not easy to create a completely new brand. In this age of severe competition, no one can depend on luck for long-term prosperity. Meanwhile, at that time, no luxury company was willing to bet on green recipes.
What is the sustainable and green concept of CHA LING?
The original concept of CHA LING is an integration of Chinese and French culture. We are very lucky because the sustainable and green approach we have taken has now become the hottest healthy lifestyle trend in the world. I have set a strict red line for CHA LING in terms of environmental protection, including protecting the ecological environment of the ancient forest, using only palm oil approved by RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), reducing paper printing materials and packaging as much as possible. In Paris, many of our products like serum are sold without packaging. In China, however, in order to avoid the direct labeling on the product bottle which may influence the appearance, we have used paper box packaging.
What is behind the rapid development of this China-France hybrid?
CHA LING covers a wide diversity of product categories such as cleansing, serum, cream, perfume and fragrance. This is an international test of Chinese tea culture. Customers on their first visits learn how to blend cleansing power with water until a fine foam is formed, quite like a tea ceremony course. From the product materials and usage methods to cosmetic theory, CHA LING gives Chinese customers a special experience that is both familiar and fresh.
At the same time, more and more Westerners are keen on knowing more about and trying Oriental health and beauty approaches. Traditional Chinese health wisdom like The Inner Canon of Huangdi and the Yin-Yang principle are incorporated in the various treatments of CHA LING. You can call it a China-France hybrid, but I’d rather interpret it as a conversation between China and France. A tea-based brand is undoubtedly easier to win the hearts of Chinese people, while its wellness concept and ancient Oriental culture unfailingly draws the attention of foreign customers. I think all these are reasons why the brand is thriving.
One year has passed since CHA LING’s open at HKRI Taikoo Hui Center in Shanghai. Are you satisfied with the feedback from the market?
We have now opened seven stores. HKRI Taikoo Hui Center which houses The CHA LING flagship and The Middle House where CHA LING products are presented are both located in the most golden area of Shanghai, integrating product retail and spa services. I am quite satisfied with the results over the year. Particularly, CHA LING is in perfect accord with the SPA at Middle House both in design and concept and therefore gains very positive feedback from the guests. We have plans to launch stores in Hangzhou, Beijing and Shenzhen. Besides, CHA LING is also active in e-business platforms and WeChat. We will never miss any chance of development and promotion. We have already set our 15-year development plan. We hope that CHA LING can take solid root in China and enjoy sustainable prosperity here.
How do you interpret the phrase “Luxury Brand”?
In my opinion, all luxury products must lay their foundation in culture. It is the culture that decides the value and content of the brand. Secondly, it is about rich imagination inspired by the culture, which is the most valuable, meaningful and thought-provoking thing in human beings, an art and a vision. After that, it is about continuous effort to fulfill that vision. I believe these three factors lie behind every successful luxury brand.