When Didier Guillon visit Switzerland for the first time he fell in love with the country and he fell in love with luxury cosmetic company Valmont.
After discovering more about the brand Guillon decided to purchase the brand and since 1990 he has led the company as President and Artistic Director, alongside his wife Sophie who is CEO. With a background in art, Guillon sees Valmont as more than just a beauty company, he believes that the worlds of art and beauty can be combined to create a unique experience for customers. Over the last two decades he has put this theory into practice at Valmont, collaborating with artists, bringing artworks into the brand’s boutiques and stores, and even founding Foundation Valmont; an institution that is dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art by supporting young artists.
But now Guillon is focusing on the next generation and wondering what the next steps are to ensure that Valmont stays relevant and appealing to young customers, both through its beauty products and its connection with the art world. A father of three, Guillon plans to extend the family business to his children, beginning with his son Maxence who will join Valmont to take over the Foundation in 2022. A new generation of family means a new chapter for the brand and this is only just the beginning. Here we discover more about the future of Valmont and its plans to expand further in the Middle East.
Tell us about the world of Valmont currently and your vision for it moving forward.
The cosmetic industry can be separated into two sections. You have customers who want products with full efficiency no matter the ingredients, and you have people who are looking for more products with specific components. Valmont can be categorised under the first as our objective is to bring to the market the most efficient products. To convince and gain the loyalty of our customers we first need to have a good presence in department stores. Then we need to have a beautiful spa where we offer treatments and ensure we provide the best service so that our customers will come back. We will soon be opening a spa in The Dorchester Residences in Dubai when it opens in 2022. The next step will be to open a standalone boutique in the region as we have a great collection of assets. With our boutiques, it’s important that when our customers come they are not bothered by having too many new products each week or month. We need to offer consistency so they don’t lose interest. When you have a boutique and a spa you have the perfect recipe and it’s very interesting to communicate with your clients to understand their needs and to share experiences with them and touch their emotions. We are sure that if we do this, our customers will be loyal.
What made you decide to purchase the company and what first attracted your attention to it?
In 1989 I visited Switzerland for the first time. When I arrived I saw this beautiful lake and the weather was incredible and I instantly knew it was a nice country. Then I discovered all the information about the brand and I visited the Valmont Clinic, and all the potential parts of Switzerland from where we could bring elements to the products and for me it was perfect. In Switzerland, you have all the elements you need for a cosmetic company. The water comes directly from the mountains. You have nature, you have plants. We started to grow our own plants. We have glaciers, so we are collecting the water from there and it’s very rich in minerals so it’s great for the skin. We are completely crazy because we do things that a multi-national company would never do because it costs a lot. For me, Switzerland is the most sustainable country in Europe. Swiss people love walking, going to the mountains, it’s all about nature for them. When we invite people to visit Switzerland we take them to each of these places to show them where we grow the plants and where we source the ingredients. People don’t always see what is behind the brand and we want to welcome them to discover what the brand is all about. I would say our strategy is closer to that of a watchmaker as we want a very selective distribution. Why? Because it’s more interesting to invest in your customers if you understand what they need and to keep them returning for a long time it’s not about constantly promoting new products.
How is Valmont appealing to a new generation of customers?
That is exactly why we are investing in art and exhibitions everywhere in the world. From New York to Tokyo. This is the best way to capture the interest of a new generation of customers who are very fascinated by art. For us, it’s a very nice tool. My son will join in January 2022 as the new President of the Foundation and he has like myself, a passion for art. We are visiting exhibitions together and discovering ways that we can bring these two worlds together. I am very happy to have him on board because he will bring me his new, fresh vision and help me to see the world in terms of art, differently.
What can you tell us about the brand in the Middle East?
We have three objectives. The first is to have a good distribution in department stores. The second is to open a beautiful spa in a beautiful location. We have spas in five Dorchester hotels around the world so it makes sense for us to be there when it opens in Dubai. And at the same time, we want to find a place where we can collaborate. It can be a gallery, a shopping mall, somewhere where we can exhibit. Why? Because we need to do here what we are doing in other parts of the world and use art as a tool to bring an emotional experience to our customers. Apart from this, we are a family business which I hope will continue for many generations and I hope will resonate with people in the Middle East.
How important is it for you to keep the company in the family?
As a family company, we have several missions. The first one is that we need to focus on the quality of the product. The second is that our mission is not only to profit through what we sell but we want to connect with clients through art. We don’t charge people to come to our exhibition in Venice. When we sell an artwork, we donate 100 per cent of the funds to charities that are important to us throughout the world. So the focus is firstly on the product, secondly on the art and thirdly on charity because it’s also a connection to family and the idea of generosity is very important and this is a message we want to transmit to future generations.
What would you say is the biggest challenge that you face currently?
The mission moving forward is the biggest challenge. My son will take the lead on the art side of things, but my oldest daughter is supposed to take the lead on the products. These are two very different categories. My daughter will not join the company for seven or eight years as she will need to work elsewhere first. So it’s not easy, there is a lot of planning involved. A lot of companies fail at transmitting to the new generations and we want to get it right. So for my wife Sophie and me, this is the biggest challenge because we need passion and we know it’s going to take time to manage this process. If one day we realise that one of our children is not interested, we are not going to force them. But so far they are so we are hopeful that we can keep it in the family.
We know you are very passionate about art – how do you think the worlds of art and beauty are closely intertwined?
When I bought the company I was faced with a difficult question: how can we differentiate the communication of Valmont from its competitors? Was I going to pay a model or a famous actress to be the face of the brand? No, because after five years I would have to change her for someone else. That’s not logical. If you have a very efficient anti-ageing product, you should keep the same model throughout the life of the brand. Similarly, art is eternal. You see a Picasso today, in 100 years the next generation will see the same piece of art. It’s timeless. Secondly, art doesn’t create tension between people, instead, it brings harmony. Our boutiques around the world will feature a unique concept that brings together the worlds of cosmetics and art. It is a whole 360 experience.
Tell us about the Valmont Foundation and what you are currently working on there?
The Foundation was created five years ago when we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Valmont. The marketing team asked me to design a collection of artworks to be displayed in hotels and malls around the world. So I asked nine artists to create pieces specifically for Valmont. After this I said; “why shouldn’t we have one location to exhibit where we can invite artists to join me in imagining a specific concept?” I wanted to create something that people love so they will keep coming back to see the next one. So we chose to have the exhibition space in Venice because it is the perfect destination. The concept is simple: we use a fairy-tale and we ask artists to transform the story in their own way. The last one was “Hansel and Gretel”. The next exhibition which starts in May will be called “Alice In Doom.” And next year it will feature Peter Pan but I don’t know yet what the twist will be. For “Alice in Doom” we have already started working on the installation and I am very excited to see the final concept come to life. So the overall idea for the Foundation is to imagine the world of art which is accessible and easy to understand for the customer and take parts of the exhibition in Venice and bring them to our standalone boutiques. And then we link the exhibition and the business. For example, at the Alice in Doom exhibition guests will have to open some boxes. In those boxes, there will be a challenge. Some of the challenges will be personal, some will be universal, but when they go into our standalone boutiques we change the boxes to include something that relates to our products. So that is how we found a link between the two and it’s something interactive that I hope my sons will repeat moving forward as we work with a new generation of artists.
This past year has been challenging for all, what are the biggest challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?
Last year was very, very different. But this year, we are starting to see that everything is slowly recovering step by step. Depending on the country. China is doing very well, the United States is starting to recover. Europe is still in trouble. What is going to change for me is that I hope we will work more on the emotions and the experience and less on having to sell products in a way that is not interesting.
What’s the professional motto you live by?
Be sincere. Because if you’re not sincere people won’t trust you.
Can you tell us about a moment in your life that had a big impact on your career?
It would be meeting my wife Sophie. She is the artist behind Valmont. People ask me who my favourite artist is and while there are a lot I love, the one who is most important for me is Sophie. She is an artist through what she is doing and it is fantastic for her to be part of the company.
What is the message you would send to your clients and friends in the Middle East?
Valmont is a brand that is open and modern and we want to contribute to the evolution of consumer needs. We want to drive this movement going forward. We don’t just want to sell products, we want to welcome you into an emotional experience and that’s why we are dreaming to have the opportunity to have an exhibition in Dubai.