Brand New

Ram­dane Touhami’s new Euro­pean lux­ury group Hon­mono is off to a light­ning start, with thirty L’of­ficine Uni­verselle Buly boutiques set to open world­wide in the next year and a chain of French cafés due to roll out across Asia – he’s the manic master­mind b

Bespoke - - FASHIONISM -

Try to ac­com­plish a task in Paris be­yond be­ing a tourist, and you will likely con­front a favoured French phrase: ce n’est pas pos­si­ble. The ever-en­er­getic 42-year-old Ram­dane Touhami, how­ever, is ab­so­lutely deaf to it. “Ce n’est pas pos­si­ble? It’s not true, ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble,” he quips with a cheeky smile. “You just have to be crazy. Et voilà. Noth­ing stops me. When I say it’s pos­si­ble, it’s pos­si­ble.” I have fi­nally man­aged to catch up with Touhami on a sti­flingly hot day in a Paris. We have found so­lace in a café in the up­per Marais district, where he is fit­ting out the in­te­rior of his se­cond Buly bou­tique in the city, a cult 19th cen­tury French phar­ma­cist’s brand beloved for its aro­matic po­tions, pow­ders, soaps and perfumes, which he has re­vived. The 185-square-me­tre space per­fectly il­lus­trates Touhami’s any­thing is pos­si­ble mind­set for it won’t just house Buly but also a Ja­panese florist spe­cial­is­ing in del­i­cate dried ar­range­ments and Café Tor­toni, a re­vival of the famed Belle Époque cof­fee­house on the Boule­vard des Ital­iens. Along with his aris­to­cratic wife, Vic­toire de Tail­lac, the self-de­scribed ‘”cos­meto-geek duo” travel the world in search of beauty se­crets, in their own flavour of ‘gypset-chic’ (an oxy­moronic con­trac­tion of gypsy and jet-set). Ap­par­ently, an at­las of their ex­cep­tional find­ings will be com­ing out in Septem­ber, pub­lished by Pen­guin Ran­dom House, but the fruit of their labours is ac­tu­ally al­ready avail­able in Buly’s var­i­ous stores in Paris, Taipei, Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Lon­don, through prod­ucts like the very finest Ja­panese rice pow­der, a se­lect col­lec­tion of wa­ter-based perfumes, and a Minebari comb used by Ja­panese Em­per­ors that’s made of 300-year old trees, dried for 100 years then soft­ened in camel­lia oil for three years with a price tag to prove it. A lot of con­nois­seurs of Parisian lux­ury might not have heard of Touhami, or de Tail­lac for that mat­ter, but they’ll def­i­nitely be fa­mil­iar with Cire

Trudon, the world’s old­est can­dle­maker. Founded by the Trudon fam­ily in 1643, it once pro­vided can­dles to France’s cathe­drals, no­bil­ity and, most fa­mously, the royal court, sup­ply­ing Ver­sailles on a daily ba­sis dur­ing the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Well, it was Touhami and his wife who re­vived and re­vamped Trudon in 2007, de­spite the fact it had been dor­mant for over 120 years. They were in­stru­men­tal in help­ing it re­gain a cult fol­low­ing, es­pe­cially among A-lis­ters and de­sign­ers, some of whom even col­lab­o­rated with the brand. But in 2011 they moved on, sell­ing their stake to their part­ner Olivier Blon­deau. A French­man of Moroccan ori­gin, Touhami’s story is a colour­ful one, es­pe­cially the way he tells it – with the al­lure, grit and tim­ing of a stand-up comic. Touhami is the grand­son of a Moroccan hero and son of an ap­ple picker from France’s con­ser­va­tive deep south. A trou­bled kid, he was kicked out of one school af­ter an­other in the Tarn-et-garonne re­gion of France but with a rev­o­lu­tion­ary spirit and com­mu­nist bent, he ar­rived in Paris at the age of 19. He lived for a year on the streets be­fore even­tu­ally launch­ing a se­ries of sub­ver­sive t-shirt and fash­ion brands and mak­ing a name for him­self in the Parisian cre­ative class. “I know Paris by heart be­cause I walked it en­tirely by foot.” I ask him what he loves about the city de­spite, or per­haps be­cause of, his dif­fi­cult start. His two-word re­sponse tells the tale of his tal­ent: “The de­tails,” he re­sponds be­fore pro­ceed­ing to take out his mo­bile and show me just the pho­tos he’s taken within the last 20 min­utes: wooden forms carved above door­ways, mar­ble en­grav­ing, a tinted blue win­dow. De­tails are ev­ery­thing to this man. I then dis­cover how ev­ery sales­per­son at Buly must learn cal­lig­ra­phy from the brand’s in­house master cal­lig­ra­pher, so that they can han­dad­dress cus­tomers their ac­quired prod­ucts. The head of pro­to­col for the Ja­panese em­peror even works with them, di­rect­ing their in-house ‘Art of Gift­ing’. Go to the newly ren­o­vated Hô­tel Cril­lon in Paris, and you’ll find Buly ameni­ties in the rooms, with its soaps en­graved with guests’ ini­tial – and not in any old font – one un­cov­ered from an 18th cen­tury book used at the court of Louis XIV. Touhami then hired some­one to vec­tor­ize it into dig­i­tal for­mat over the course of a year, “And then we had to en­grave it on a soap. A ma­chine that en­graves on soap didn’t ex­ist, so we in­vented one.” Clearly, if Touhami has an idea, c’est pos­si­ble. His magic is a unique mix of orig­i­nal, au­then­tic prod­uct and icon­o­clas­tic artis­tic di­rec­tion. “I be­lieve you have to start from the prod­uct, not from the im­age of the prod­uct.” His track record of tak­ing her­itage brands and adding a rev­o­lu­tion­ary com­bi­na­tion of per­fec­tion­ism and reinvention is far from your av­er­age brand re­launch. He sees her­itage brands as just a perime­ter for work, a bound­ary in which to struc­ture his es­sen­tially cre­ative drive and around which he forms a set of rules. Th­ese rules not only help (and com­pli­cate) his work, but they are also ex­actly what craft an iron­clad brand iden­tity. At Buly 1803, for ex­am­ple, there is no plas­tic – any­where – along with hun­dreds of other rules re­gard­ing pack­ag­ing and ty­pog­ra­phy that con­trol ev­ery as­pect of a client’s ex­pe­ri­ence. A rev­o­lu­tion­ary spirit meets sleepy oldFrench her­itage brands? Os­car Wilde had some­thing to say to this ef­fect: "It is only the mod­ern that ever be­comes old-fash­ioned." Is this ob­ses­sion with old made anew have some­thing to do with nos­tal­gia? “I don’t care about nos­tal­gia. The 18th cen­tury? I wasn’t there. The 19th? Wasn’t there ei­ther,” says Touhami at his typ­i­cal fast pace. “Cu­ri­ous – yes – not nos­tal­gic. It’s not the same. I’m in­ter­ested in a mo­ment, fas­ci­nated and cu­ri­ous but I have very lit­tle nos­tal­gia. You know why? Be­cause I think the best is yet to come.”

Above: Buly 1803's perfumes are based on wa­ter and not al­co­hol be­cause they feel the lat­ter is too harsh on the skin and ac­tu­ally de­grades the last­ing power of the scent it­self.

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