Ramdane Touhami, the man behind the resurrection of the Parisian beauty brand, reveals the perfectionism which has found stockists in Dover Street Market and Net-a-Porter alike
Who? Originally founded in 1803, L’Officine Universelle Buly is the latest cosmetic venture by serial entrepreneur Ramdane Touhami, formerly responsible for revitalising heritage candlemaker Cire Trudon and designing at Liberty (among myriad other endeavours). Once renowned for its “vinaigre de Bully” – an “aromatic lotion to perform ablutions and preserve skin tone” – under Touhami’s direction the brand now creates the sort of products that are as effective as they are aesthetically covetable, ranging from (organic) nail polishes to (orange-scented) toothpastes and (more than 50 different) combs. Quite brilliantly, Touhami discovered Buly when the French Minister of Economics told him that he reminded him of César Birotteau, one of the characters in Honoré de Balzac’s La Comédie Humaine and the original founder of Buly, so Touhami investigated further. He discovered that the brand was, by that point, only retailed in Colombia – where apparently the hair pomade went down a treat – and decided to revitalise it: now, it is a cult range which has recently extended its presence into Dover Street Market (Touhami is a long-time friend of Rei Kawakubo and Adrian Joffe) and onto the pages of Net-a-Porter.
What? Everything about Buly is remarkable: the metal tubes that lotions are packaged in are practically objets d’art (and formed in metal because that reduces the chance of bacteria making their way inside), and their Parisian store is a haven of sheer delight; when you purchase a product, a calligrapher writes your name upon a label to attach to its packaging. “You have to think about everything,” says Touhami, “the way of writing, the way of talking, the way of making the product – everything has to be perfect” – and actually, it is. In fact, it has only taken Buly so long to arrive at DSM because just one man could create the sort of pink ceramic that they wanted to perfect their space there, and he fell sick: "I suggested the idea, Rei said, 'I love it', and then I thought, fuck, I have to make this happen," laughs Touhami.
Particularly enchanting Buly products include the toothpastes in brilliant flavours, scented matches in covetable boxes and the lusciously thick hand cream, but most important to Buly is – surprisingly, for such a historied company – using new techniques to create their cosmetics. Case in point: they do not use alcohol to stabilise their fragrances, instead going for a water-based approach that took two years to develop – as Tohami states, "I'm very logical, and what's better for you: alcohol or water? Also, the perception of perfume right now is that it's always for others. If you see an ad, it's of a woman putting on perfume for a man, or for other people to notice her, not for herself. When you make perfume with water, the perfume is only for your skin, you're the only one that smells it, so perfume is only for you. It's more selfish, but it's about you."
Why? Because everyone ought be a little selfish when it comes to their beauty products – plus, because nothing is going to make your bathroom look quite as decadent as it will when filled with ceramic Buly bottles and metal tubes. Anyone with a fringe or a moustache is aware of needing a comb specifically designed for that purpose, and, as soon as you've tried their orange blossom soap, you'll be sold. But also because Buly searches the world for the greatest global solutions to all of your cosmetic problems: vetiver root brushes from India to soften calluses, Grecian marine sponges for luxuriant bathing, and the Berber favourite, Aker Fassi, to pigment your lips, to name but a few. Nowhere else has such a brilliant breadth of bounty – and certainly not one so beautifully packaged.