15 February 2021

In the name of the rose, Lancôme

by Eugénie Rousak

While some revolutionize codes by simplifying their names, others proudly remain attached to the details that imbue them with French charm. Lancôme is definitely part of the second category.

If today the House is at the top of the table of French haute perfumery, beauty products and cosmetics, Lancôme has not always occupied this prime position on the neck and wrists. We are at the beginning of the 20th century and the market is strongly dominated by American brands. To dethrone them is the primary objective of a certain Armand Petitjean. Ambitious isn’t he? However, this dream of creating French beauty is not a naive adolescent naivety. Quite the contrary! This man from Franche-Comté has already built up a reputation in the field, working for François Coty, the father of modern perfumery. Having just passed his fifties, Armand Petitjean decided to launch the House, which would be distinguished by an elitist approach, while at the same time ensuring sustained production to seduce the international market. He immediately surrounded himself with a team of experts and set out to find the name of the brand that would seduce thousands of customers. At first, the perfumer thought of his native village, Saint-Loup, but this name does not reveal all the elegance and bewitchment of the future emblem. Visionary and ambitious, he wants a very Frenchy connotation, which however would be pronounced in the same way in all languages. Brantôme, Vendôme? When he discovered the Château Lancosme in the Indre, it was a revelation. By removing a silent “s” and covering the “o” with a graceful circumflex, the entrepreneur gave birth to the new giant of industry: Lancôme.


The five senses

“The perfume is the prestige, the flower in the buttonhole. But beauty products are our daily bread”.

Lancôme entered the world of perfumery in 1935. And what a theatrical entrance! Armand Petitjean directly presents five first flagrances at the Brussels World Fair. Still unknown the day before, Tropiques, with its pungent and exotic spices, Conquête, to leave a pink and chypre veil on a social outing, Bocages, a delicate nuance of lily of the valley and lilac for chilly times, Kypre, as amber and musk as a good vintage, and Tendres Nuits, whose rose and magnolia notes invite themselves into a bedroom, become icons of French luxury. These elixirs in Art-deco bottles pour their delicate nectars into more than thirty countries in just six months!
While a graphic rose symbolizes Lancôme perfumery, the House’s floral bouquet quickly expanded in the mid-1930s with the arrival of the lotus flower for beauty products and the cherub for make-up. In these cosmetic jewels, the innovation of the components rubbed shoulders with the revolutionary vision of the entrepreneur.

Beyond the rules of the industry, Lancôme wanted to go beyond codes and present a new way of producing luxury. The rose revolution! Alongside chemist Pierre Velon, Armand Petitjean, for example, introduced the glycerin and nutritive oil formula of La Nutrix night cream. Used as well after bites as against droughts and even recommended in case of nuclear war, this regenerating pudding has been a women’s ally for 85 years. In any case for the first two. This desire to heal in order to beautify has also spread to the make-up department. Protagonist of the indelible lipsticks, Armand Petitjean wants to give again the brilliance and flexibility with the lips. And what better than a colored balm, the Rose de France. A name that represents so well the whole ideology of Lancôme.

The Trésor of the belle vie 

The beginning of the Second World War leaves a strong mark on the House, with Armand Petitjean emerging victorious. The slackening of privations led to the rebirth of the beauty industry and the production of some 30,000 bottles in 1939 was multiplied by 25 in 1946! After grandiose fragrances, the Fifties were illuminated by the Treasure! With the perfection of its floral bouquet, this art deco crystal diamond was presented at the Parisian Palais de Chaillot. Huge success! But, even if this perfume was revisited with touches of wadded violet in 1990, it did not succeed in dethroning La vie est belle. Five percent of the French market in 2014, can you imagine? Moreover, its history is surprising. While its gourmet and floral essence is the fruit of the work of three famous contemporary noses, Anne Flipo, Olivier Polge and Dominique Ropion, its bottle dates from another century. Conceived in 1949 by Georges Delhomme, this little crystal delicacy had to wait more than 60 years before finding the right shoe, sorry, the scent at its base in the shape of a smile!

But let’s go back a bit. If Armand Petitjean was very picky about the innovation of his products, he refused to follow the trend of the time and turn to disposable makeup. His cosmetics are true joyful ornaments! Unfortunately, they ended up plummeting the company. Gradually, Lancôme lost its position and major financial investments were definitively sinking the home of fragrances. The founder then gave the reins of the family business to his grandson, Armand Marcel Petitjean, but his reign would be short. Finally, in 1964, Lancôme became the new treasure of the L’Oréal group, a few years before the death of its perfumer. Since then, the rose, cherub and lotus flower have blossomed again, cradling French delicacy and charm. Between the hypnotic novelties and the revisited grands crus, the House accounts for a third of the Group’s luxury sales!

©Campaigns for Lancôme 1947, 1959, Anti-aging serum , La vie est belle and Trésor

The rosettes of Lancôme

If Armand Petitjean was a fervent opponent of all forms of marketing, he brought word-of-mouth to its apogee. Taking advantage of production slowdowns due to the Second World War, he created the Lancôme School, a new way of training brand ambassadors. This elegant battalion of charm was parachuted into France and abroad to wrap the whole world in their sweet floral fragrance. They know everything about Lancôme: from technical compositions to sales strategy, make-up and massage. In fact, the latter has been specially developed for the House. Gradually the “technicians” are becoming muses. Who doesn’t remember the elegant Julia Roberts wandering the streets of Paris, the sumptuous Penelope Cruz in her black flounced dress at a social gathering, or the stunning urban Amazon Zendaya on her white stallion?

Celebrating its uranium wedding anniversary this year, Lancôme has been able to resist political conflicts, denounce copies of its flagrances and overcome the death of its founder, keeping its circumflex hypnotic. In the end, life is beautiful, isn’t it?

Genetic Sensitive, Lancôme

Ô de Lancôme, Lancôme

Mascara Idôle, Lancôme

Hydra-Zen treatment, Lancôme

Subtle Blush, Lancôme

La vie est belle Perfume, Lancôme

The Absolu Rouge, Lancôme

Idôle Perfume, Lancôme

Multi-Lift Treatment, Lancôme