Targeting Korea’s middle-class womenFor Pascal Paoli, the president of Bourjois Korea, it’s been an exciting year since he took the helm of the company.
As a single Frenchman ― a Corsican at heart, he attests ― engaged in the cosmetics industry, Mr. Paoli jets between Paris and Korea to oversee women’s trends and fashion. One of his latest projects is a collaboration between Max Herlant, the international makeup artist at Bourjois, and Han Song, who introduced his haute couture line in Paris earlier this year.
For Han Song’s Paris collection, Mr. Herlant created a look that worked for the designer’s famously gothic line of clothes. “I’m trying to express elements of the sexy and feminine aspect of his clothes,” said Mr. Herlant, who recently visited Seoul to discuss his makeup plan for the fashion show.
Bourjois’s worldwide theme for the new season can be summed up as Twiggy-style ’60s mod, a look that Mr. Herlant says is prevalent on Paris runways. But for Han Song’s presentation in Seoul, he says, “I have tried some different techniques for Asian women.”
The IHT-JoongAng Daily caught up with Mr. Paoli, who put this collaboration together.
How did you get to be involved with a French cosmetics company in South Korea?
I came to Korea in 1980 to do my civil service duty in the French Embassy. When my request to work in South America or Afghanistan didn’t come through, instead I chose South Korea. I met with one of my relatives who had served in the Korean War. He told me that Korea was very cold in the winter, and that Korean women were fine. I was 23 when I arrived one cold November day at Gimpo Airport. The embassy in the ’80s played an important role as communicator as well as mediator, and was much more actively involved in political and economic matters than it is today. When I felt that the days of embassies were coming to a close, I went into the financial sector. I worked for a major French insurance company and lived in China and Japan before I joined Bourjois Korea last October.
I had known Bourjois people for years, and they asked me if I wanted to work in Korea again. I’ve always been fascinated with the way women perceive themselves through makeup. For example, a 13-year-old girl already begins to imagine that she’s 25 ― physically, she may be a teenager, but inside she’s already a grown-up woman.
Bourjois has a long history.
As far as I know, Bourjois is one of the oldest cosmetics companies in the world. It was founded in 1863 by Alexander Napoleon Bourjois. For the past 140 years, it has always gone along with social changes and women’s changing lifestyles in particular. Before makeup became popularized, it was primarily for royal families, prostitutes or movie actresses. The 19th century in Europe was full of social changes. Women gained the right to vote, and women worked, divorced, et cetera. Women declared liberation in the ’60s; that was when we saw most changes and challenges women faced. Which means, economically speaking, women became part of the consumer market.
Bourjois has been favored by women of this emerging middle class. In France, Bourjois is mostly distributed through Monoprix and Sephora. Women who began with Bourjois products in their teens still use Bourjois because the image still means practical yet elegant beauty today. Bourjois is not a listed company; it is owned by the same person who owns Chanel Group.
How does the concept of Bourjois work in Korea?
Korea is the sixth-largest market in the world, but it’s a tricky thing to say, because the market is considered to be strong but not yet mature. Which means the Korean market is still volatile ― it is definitely growing, but with certain risk factors. Korea has an emerging middle-class market, but you don’t see an actual market that targets the middle class. So stores like Sephora don’t exist here, for example, and most cosmetic brands are sold in high-end department stores. In Korea, Bourjois was launched through an agent in the mid-’90s, and then in 1998 we came in as a subsidiary. Korea is the only country that has Bourjois’ presence in duty-free shops.
Why did you choose to work with the Korean designer Han Song?
When I wanted to work with Korean designers, I met with several. I liked Han Song a lot ― it’s that simple, how I got to work with him. I also liked his mother, Troa Cho, who has designed elegant clothes for years. After working on Han Song’s haute couture fashion show in Paris last July, we just hung out in Cafe de Flora and drank champagne all night! I want to continue that great feeling of a good life. I’m sure a famous designer like him can get offers from “better” companies, and often the makeup and the designer deal is done once and finished, but we’re not like that.
by Ines Cho