As Boucheron celebrates its 160th anniversary, we talk to chairwoman and CEO Hélène Poulit-Duquesne on the future of the high jewellery house and why she has embraced the free spirit of the Maison.
This January, Boucheron unveiled a complete re-design of its historic boutique at 26 Place Vendôme in Paris. The project was managed by Hélène Poulit-Duquesne, Chairwoman and CEO of Boucheron.
Built in 1717, this historic building – The Hôtel de Nocé – became much more than just a store to the Boucheron brand that celebrated its 160th-anniversary last year. The aim was to revive the original spirit of the iconic building through a renovation respecting its history and heritage.
Michel Goutal, Chief Architect of Historic Monuments, was commissioned to reconquer this unique place, to strip back 300 years of history and restore its former glory. To accomplish this, he surrounded himself with the finest French craftsmen, proud representatives of specialist métiers across art and architecture.
The décor of 26 Place Vendôme was entrusted to Pierre-Yves Rochon, the internationally renowned French interior designer. Inspired by the spirit of freedom, he set out to challenge the codes of traditional jewellery stores in order to give this historic address the character of a modern family home.
The décor of each room is a carefully curated blend of contemporary design, works of art and vintage finds, as if each generation had left its own imprint on the house.
No one feels more at home at the store than Hélène Poulit-Duquesne. She joined Boucheron as CEO in 2015 and set out to pursue the growth of Boucheron international and preserve its long-lasting legacy, strengthening its position in the high jewellery market, as well as finding a fitting way to celebrate the landmark anniversary last year.
Poulit-Duquesne has a background in international development as well as extensive knowledge of the watchmaking and jewellery industries.
Here we talk to Hélène about the latest collections, the renovation of the store and preserving the legacy of this iconic brand.
What is your vision and direction for Boucheron?
I think you will see in what we have been doing that it is not classic in the sense that we don’t have a pure retail vision. We have been doing things differently and I think this is something that’s very strong at Boucheron. All of this comes from our DNA and how the clients are buying. It took time for me to put a word on what this was but I think it’s free spirit, in the way that creativity or strategies are coming from inside. Meaning that we have never followed trends, we’re just doing what we feel are the right things to do and we stick to it.
Frédéric Boucheron used to say “I do not impose, I propose”. He never followed the trends and was always very innovative, pushing the boundaries of jewellery and it’s still the same in the way we are envisioning the brand today.
For me, it’s totally different from other brands because there is always a twist. We’re not doing it differently because we want to be different, but because we think that it has to be like this.
I also notice this in the way that our clients behave. We have a lot of creativity, so they have a wide band of designs to choose from. It’s typical of our creativity to have a large offering but we do not impose what you have to wear. I think jewellery helps to reveal part of your personality so it is very personal and needs to be a personal choice.
How hard was it for Boucheron to embrace the new generation and extend the offering while keeping the existing clientele?
I think we have such an offering that it’s not that difficult. I think we are very creative compared to other brands in the high jewellery segment, so we can fit the needs of many different types of clients. Today we see them coming from many different nationalities and ages and each one finds something moving for her.
So I think in high jewellery it’s not that difficult for us. We don’t have a specific strategy towards the younger generation because in our portfolio a lot of our jewellery is sold to millionaires. And it’s linked to the fact that the young generation comes to understand jewellery when they get married. So basically when you’re a jeweller you have a large amount of your turnover with people between 20 and 30 when they get married. Then they come to understand the brand and you follow them.
Claire Choisne loves to work with diamonds and she loves to design rings. But for this brief, I said to her ‘Claire I will not allow you to design a ring or use any diamonds.’ I wanted jewellery in full gold and it’s very difficult to do. When you design something you put diamonds everywhere and it’s always beautiful because of the diamonds, but if you tackle that, the success is much more difficult.
So she went back to the office and she came back with the Jack de Boucheron collection, which was a total surprise because it’s so playful and totally new. I think because it’s new in the market that it is going to appeal to the younger generation. Surprisingly the brief was not specifically that she had to design jewellery for young people. And this relates to what I was saying before – we don’t do things because we want to follow trends, we do things because we believe we have to do that, and then it happens.
What are the challenges you face today as a high jeweller?
In the high jewellery segment, it is becoming more and more difficult to find stones. I am passionate about stones so I love finding them. I think another difficulty we have is to be at the right level of value for money.
For me, this is really important because when you buy high jewellery you have two goals – one is to bring emotion, but it’s also an investment. The piece you buy is something that you will give to your daughter and she will give to her daughter etc. So we have to consider both creativity and value for money for client.
What is an objective that you haven’t yet achieved at Boucheron that you would like to achieve?
International development is not done yet, it takes years. When I joined the company the first objective I had was this, and for some areas it was quite easy but we are still weak in other areas of the world. So I said the first focus is Asia, and I think we have room to grow there.
For the time being I think we have the right image in the Middle East, and that has been because of historical reasons. It’s probably one of the only regions in the world where I feel clients today understand who we really are. And they very much understand jewellery and we have the right positioning. So a challenge is to upgrade the image so Japanese people for example, understand the brand.
In three words what do you think sets Boucheron apart from the rest of the jewellery Maisons?
1. Free spirit. 2. Innovation. 3. Generosity.
What is a professional challenge that you’ve had at Boucheron and you managed to overcome?
I think the first challenge is to be sure that everyone in the company understands your vision and where you’re going and that they want to follow.
What is in the pipeline for Boucheron this year?
You will have a very nice story in high jewellery. I think we’ve been doing plenty of things in 2018 as part of the celebration of our 160 year anniversary and what I’m going to tell my team in a few days is that now we have to go back to normal. Because we did so much in one year with the anniversary, now that we have all the seeds, it’s time to get the fruits.
Where do you stand on the debate of e-commerce vs retail?
What I believe is that the more you explore e-commerce the stronger you must be in retail. Before, there was a physical space, and you had to just sell products in this space, but today as you can have pretty much everything on digital.
When people come to the boutique their expectations are triple of what they were ten years ago. And that’s why I think they need to live experiences and emotions and that’s why I created this so people have a place where they can dream.
What inspires you professionally?
The traditions of Boucheron. Boucheron has existed for 160 years and I feel that it will still exist in 160 years but I will not be here! I’m very conscious of that, so I’m working hard to maintain and pass on the legacy and make it grow for the best. It’s something that’s linked to my personality and I have a sense of responsibility.
That’s why I took the Vendôme project directly because this building belongs to my family and it’s a legacy of four generations of Boucheron and because of that I wanted to be totally dedicated to the project.
The first source of inspiration for me is nature. I don’t know if it empowers me or if I take all my energy from it, but there is something linking me to nature that is very strong. There is something about that energy that I want to focus on and keep.
What makes you happy?
I’m happy pretty much every day and in pretty much everything I do. It’s very surprising but I am a very positive person and I have the chance to work in something that I’m very passionate about and have been doing so since I was 14 years old. I would have been an artist but I couldn’t because my family wanted me to go to school etc. But then I decided to work in a business where I could combine my passion and business. That’s why I never feel any pain in working and I’m working pretty much every day. I’m happy when I go to work.
Recently my son had to decide what he wants to do in school and he was totally lost so I told him this and he said ‘mummy you’re not an example because you’re not working you’re having fun!’ And it is so true! I told him to find something that he loves and he will never fail.
What is a challenge you faced as a person and how did you overcome it?
I think the most difficult part personally was to be a mother and to have a job. Because sometimes you feel guilty and I hate guilt. I will never know if I did the right thing – my kids will tell me in 20 years I’m sure.
But one thing I know is that if I’m not happy they can’t be happy. And if I’m not passionate about what I’m doing I will not be happy. So I think my work probably helps me to be a better mother. One of my principles is when you are with your kids, be totally there – it’s about quality not quantity.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t take so much time in trusting your instincts.
What is a motto that you live by?
Never give up.
What is a book you read recently that inspired you?
A very funny book about how you have to learn from cats in the way you’re living. I love cats – I have three. This book tells you to learn about a cat’s behaviour and I read this at night when I go to bed and laugh because it’s so true.
What is your morning routine?
Coffee! I cannot wake up until I have coffee.
How would you like the world to remember you?
Every one of my friends will say that I am very loyal and trustworthy.
You mentioned that you would have loved to have been an artist – what is it that fascinates you in that world?
I used to draw a lot. I used to write books as well. I began writing when I was twelve. When I was 14 I spent hours drawing and sketching fashion designs.
What do you promise yourself in 2019?
Go back to serenity.
In one word how would you describe Boucheron?