Buly 1803: cult Paris beauty destination has a reverence for tradition

Beauty boutique stocks products inspired by formulas its 19th century founder used, with couple who run it sourcing ingredients from producers whose farms in India and Africa they’ve personally visited

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 12:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 30 December, 2015, 3:26pm

Walking into Buly 1803 in Paris’ artsy Saint-Germain-des-Près district on the Left Bank is like stepping back in time. The oak shelves are lined with dozens of glass bottles containing rare ingredients, each one labelled carefully in calligraphy. Below them, marble countertops are littered with perfume bottles and candles decorated with angels, while drawers open to reveal beauty tools from horn hairbrushes to toothbrushes. In the corner a saleswoman wraps a customer’s purchase using origami techniques.

The entire experience couldn’t be further removed from the cookie-cutter beauty counters found in modern malls and department stores around the world.

“These days everybody is doing the same thing in cosmetics and it’s become boring for the customer. The industry has become so globalised that we have forgotten about the basics, which include building a personal relationship with the customer and respecting the products you work with. We are into the details, and it’s important when people step into the store that they feel like they are entering another dimension,” says Buly 1803 co-founder Victoire de Taillac Touhami.

De Taillac Touhami and her husband Ramdane are the brains behind Buly 1803, which has become a cult beauty destination since opening in 2014. The Touhamis stumbled upon the brand a few years ago when Ramdane, who is credited with revamping popular candle brand Cire Trudon, was looking for a new project.

“We wanted to find a historic brand we could revamp together, one with a real identity and strengths we could develop. We hired a historian to search the period from the 19th century and we found Bully,” says de Taillac Touhami.

Buly 1803‘s illustrious past made it an ideal choice. The pharmacy, which many have compared to Florence’s Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, was founded by cosmetician and perfumer Jean-Vincent Bully in the early 19th century (the name back then was spelled with two Ls). Bully was a prominent figure in society and made a name for himself among the French aristocracy thanks to his innovative formulas, including vinegar perfumes. He left behind an extensive catalogue of products, providing the Touhamis with a solid foundation on which to build their new and improved version.

“I like to say that we have one foot in the past and one in the future. We respect what we have learned from the brand, and still carry old-school products that have been used for generations. At the same time we want to do the best product for now, products that we can improve with technology,” she says.

Indeed much of Buly’s in-house line pays homage to its founder’s original formulas, including a water-based perfumethat is available in eight scents. It applies easily onto the skin and provides a longer lasting scent. It is also free of nasty chemicals such as parabens, phenoxyethanol and silicones.

The collection also includes hydrating body creams, balms, moisturisers and the bestselling vegetable wax candles, housed in stunning white and green marble containers that look like objets d’art (scented matches are also available). A selection of them were recently launched at Lane Crawford.

Buly 1803 also offers a selection of rare oils and raw ingredients, including vegetable oils, clays, dried herbs and flowers to make your own concoctions. The Touhamis go to great lengths to source only the best products and suppliers – the shea butter for example comes from a small farm in Africa while the argan oil can only be found in Morocco.

“When we work with someone, we go and meet them, whether it’s in Africa or India. And we are so particular about quality. Take, for example, our shea butter. People don’t know that the plant only blooms once a year. Now that it has become a popular product, people are harvesting it more times a year, resulting in an inferior quality. We are a small company so we can decide what we want and where we get,” she says.

If Buly’s current success is anything to go by, it won’t be long before the concept reaches all corners of the globe. Although there are plans to open another store in Taipei in 2016, the Touhamis are adamant that the experience remains as intimate as possible.

“People have been overusing the word luxury, it’s no longer meaningful. For us, it’s offering an experience that’s all about the quality of the products and giving our customers time to enjoy and discover them. That will never change,” she says.