Meet The French Founder Reframing Sustainability As The Ultimate Beauty Luxury
Nicolas Gerlier is creating the future of fine lipstick.
In a time of over consumption, wasted materials, and for many, a loss of luxury, one man and one brand are solving these concerns. Nicolas Gerlier, 43, is the founder of La Bouche Rouge, which translates to “red lips”. The six-year-old Parisian company — whose products are 100 percent organic, recyclable, refillable, and free of toxics, plastics and preservatives — is changing the look, feel and definition of lavishness.
La Bouche Rouge is brilliantly marrying luxury with sustainability. The company got its start thanks to a government grant for $100,000, among other funds. Everything is thoughtfully manufactured in their lab in Orléans, France. The brand’s signature upcycled Baranelle leather, a full-grain, smooth, calf leather, the kind Hermès uses, encases their high-pigmented beauty products and is produced by Tanneries du Puy, a local family run fabrication business.
Mr. Gerlier, a shy, soft spoken and humble Parisian, sat down for coffee, croissants and conversation at Les Trois Chevaux, another French gem, in New York’s West Village.
Why did you create La Bouche Rouge and what were you doing with your life beforehand?
I'd been working in the beauty industry for 15 years. Before starting La Bouche Rouge, I was a marketing and communication director at L’Oreal. In the beginning, I was proud and impressed by the quality of this industry and their commitment. Then that went away. We started producing products without any meaning, soul or aesthetics. Every time we launched something we were claiming, “It's a revolution. It's something new. It's going to make your wrinkle disappear.”
So true. Everyone always says, “It’s the it product. The must-have item.” Which is ridiculous. I must not have needed it yesterday, so I must not need it today.
True. We lost the meaning behind the products. In 2016 I placed my soul in this project. I wanted to create something real, a new desire and approach in beauty. To challenge the industry and avoid plastic from everything, which is nearly impossible because plastic is part of this industry. There is so much waste. It's extremely important to shift the way we consume. Luxury should lead the way. It’s a dream, a story to propose to clients. And if the story is fake, everything else is too: the quality, commitment, revolution, and results.
What were some goals?
Re-sync beauty from A-Z. Re-sync beauty without plastic. Make sure everything is refillable and recyclable. And to find ways to make something precious for life.
Something you created that no one else has is mascara that’s housed in glass. Was that the hardest product from your line to perfect?
Yes. I had to challenge myself and glass artisans in France. People are quick to say, ‘No.’ But with craftsmanship you can find a passion to make it happen, to invent something or reinvent something. Keeping mascara in glass is the best way to preserve the formula and the ingredients. Plus it's beautiful. The wand is revolutionary because it’s the first one made of caster oil fibers, which means it’s 100% recyclable.
What’s the biggest surprise to come out of this endeavor?
The capacity to transform an idea. That’s difficult when you have a very strange idea, which on paper seems impossible to develop. Rational people will say, “No, it's too complicated. You are going to fail.” But if you find people sharing the same passion, the same purpose, you have no limits.
Thanks to a special machine you can engrave initials to any of your upcycled leathers. It adds such personalization and specialness. Plus, if you’re at a party and lose it, someone is more apt to realize it’s yours and return it.
The initials make it yours. When you have something precious, when you have something personal, you are not going to throw it out. That's the psychology of it. It's a gift. There's an attachment. We need to recreate a bond with our objects in our daily life to re-transform our relationship with consumption.
Of the 40 lipsticks you offer, what color is most successful?
The La Rouge Rosie, which was developed by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as tribute to the brand. And the Nude Red, which was the first color we created, and was developed by Wendy Rowe, a famous makeup artist.
Did you launch with lipsticks because they’re an instant gratification and transformable experience?
A lipstick is special because it's personal. One goal was to reintroduce craftsmanship into ordinary life. We can also create your own lipstick color with a tailor-made service robot we have patented in our lab.
I love that because I can never find the right shade of brown or once I do, it’s suddenly discontinued. And if we’re being honest, because of this issue, I’m wearing a mix of eyeshadow, eye liner, and lip gloss that I cobbled together this morning.
Some people come with their favorite lipstick and saying, “I need this color, but I want it clean.” Others say, “I would like to find the perfect brown,” and our color advisor at the lab will help you.
That sounds fancy and therapeutic.
She is like a color therapist. She will ask about your feelings, what you like, how do you want to wear this lipstick, how you want to feel when you do, and will try to understand what your life with this lipstick and a specific color will be like. Some people wear lipstick every day. Some only wear red to parties. We have a book with over 1000 colors to choose from. This is the beginning of the process. After three weeks it’s ready. The color will be named after you and will become part of your lipstick library.
A lipstick library sounds extensive. How many lipsticks does the average person have?
30. Not in La Bouche Rouge, but it's what I’ve heard. Some they bought and are not satisfied; others are buying new ones. The idea of the lipstick and the refilling is to invite you to try, but do not create waste.
Is there a trick to extending a product’s life on your face?
Once a week use a scrub which cleans your lips, erases dead skin and prepares the shape of your lips. That extends the length of time the color stays on your lips, and how your lips receive the color.
What’s up next for the brand?
For the first time we will launch five fragrances. Fragrance is very intimate. You’re wearing it on your skin every day. It's your smell. I really had an overdose of beauty when I was in L'Oreal. I love fragrance, but I didn't wear it for six years because of this overdose. Now I’m able to reintroduce it to myself and others.
What’s a beauty prediction a year from now?
We are going to return to intimacy in beauty. Covid is challenging the rules of the market. You can no longer test or try products like you used to. That affects distribution and the number of releases or size of a collection brands will be offering.
Do you have a beauty mantra?
Never forget the priority or the consumer.