Ramdane Touhami on design in the reinvention of Buly 1803
In an exclusive interview, Ramdane Touhami shares the story behind his redesign of the historic brand, Officine Universelle Buly 1803
Ramdane Touhami is one of the most innovative designers working in the beauty industry today, spearheading the rebrand of Cire Trudon before recalibrating the aesthetic identity of Officine Universelle Buly 1803, the brand he relaunched in 2014 along with Victoire de Taillac.
Under Touhami and de Taillac’s guidance, the 19th-century pharmacy has turned into a veritable Wunderkammer of strange and dazzling products from around the world. Think volcanic stone from Sicily that is used to remove calluses, precious perfume vials from the oldest porcelain manufacturer in Japan, Brazilian Tucuma seed oil for preserving your tan, and more.
The brand is also a purveyor of innovative skincare that revives the use of age-old products such as multipurpose clays and natural powders for hair, mouth, and face. It also boasts a fragrance range that features a collaboration with the Louvre; and has created scented stickers that serve to perfume your face mask.
Now, Touhami is launching The Beauty of Time Travel: Officine Universelle Buly and the Work of Ramdane Touhami, a brilliant 400-page book that takes readers through his reinvention of the historic brand, spanning everything from his management philosophy to the typeface used on their Buly 1803 products.
Here, Touhami breaks down some of the guiding principles of the book and shares his thoughts on successful design.
Ramdane Touhami on the fight against aesthetic globalisation
Each of Buly 1803’s shops is unique, reflecting in some way the aesthetic heritage of the city in which it is located. For Touhami, this is an essential element of creating a successful retail empire.
‘Any retail operation should necessarily take into account the specificity of the cities and regions in which the brand is located,’ says Touhami. ‘This intellectual effort, as much as graphic, is essential to feel a marketing success. Would it not be a proof of intelligence to look around, to incorporate the existing?
‘Following this path anchors the Officine Universelle Buly in people’s consciousness. If we set up in Toulouse or a certain district of Tokyo, it seems pragmatic to me to use red brick, like that found in the city. If I go to London, I will incorporate Victorian [influences]. Art deco in New York. Globalised stores as we know them should take into account this element of regional decor in their international strategies.’
Typography is fundamental to brand identity
For Touhami, every element of Buly 1803’s identity has to be considered, right down to the typography, which he designs specifically for the brand.
‘[People] have only been relying on standardised graphic elements for 50 years. Back in 1929, when Mies Van der Rohe designed his Barcelona Pavilion, all the furniture was conceived. Look at Perriand or Le Corbusier – the concept was total, from A to Z, as brand identities should be. Typography, graphic elements, furniture, lighting, all thought out and developed with one goal in mind: to beat the competition and assert its own identity,’ says Touhami.
’You have to be careful never to fall into a typographic routine. I have always tried to surprise in a particular style (1930s, 1950s), while maintaining a semblance of consistency. The art of adjustment! One should not remain fixed on one’s achievements; permanent evolution remains the key.’
The past is necessary for innovation in the present
’My motto is: one foot in the future, one foot in the past. You have to go in search of the right balance. Copying and pasting is never very attractive. You have to give the impression that the brand has gone through different times, different eras,’ says Touhami.
’A brand from the 19th century has inevitably evolved over time. You have to be able to feel the history in your products, and especially when you see them.’
Successful design is...
’Popular. It must appeal to the greatest number of people. Especially in terms of sales. It is a balance between aesthetic success and commercial success.’
’But above all, the person who makes it must be happy, as well as the person who sells it and the person who distributes it. It is a pledge of authenticity and truth, which are the basis of a Japanese philosophy of life called honmono. It definitely produces good design!’
Touhami’s most surprising discovery was...
Touhami regularly travels around the world in search of little known beauty rituals and ingredients. His discoveries are the key to Buly 1803’s vast and fascinating product range. Of all his findings, he says, his most surprising was powdered nightingale droppings in Japan.
‘[It has] healing and anti-wrinkle properties for the epidermis,’ he says of the use of the unusual and traditional ingredient. ‘It is urgent to promote these beauty treasures, which naturally [work] for our benefit.’ §