Nicolas Gerlier on Saving the World One Lipstick at a Time

It’s a revolution in red

From your lips to the landfill, each year, around the world, one billion lipsticks are thrown away. Motivated by this alarming statistic and the increasing number of harmful substances making their way into the luxury beauty market, industry veteran Nicolas Gerlier has created his brand-new lipstick company La Bouche Rouge with the sole mission to minimize the use of plastic and to ultimately change the way we interact with makeup.

As the first start-up to be funded by LVMH’s cosmetology research division, Gerlier’s La Bouche Rouge combats plastic-laden beauty counters with plastic-free packaging, complete with a refillable leather case and his innovative, eco-luxury formula – made entirely without allergens, endocrine disruptors, polyethylene, polymethacrylate from methyl, BHT and synthetic fragrances. Without these, what you have left is a beautifully pigmented range of small-batch lipsticks infused with nourishing grape seed extract.

Following his October launch, COOLS met up with founder Nicolas Gerlier in Paris to talk about this new line of eco-responsible lipsticks, his partnership with Eau Vive International, and the real meaning behind “La Bouche Rouge.”

COOLS: What does a lipstick mean to you?

Nicolas Gerlier: Lipstick, for me, it’s the manifesto. It’s the mark a woman – like a signature.

COOLS: And what makes La Bouche Rouge different than other lipsticks?

NG: First, it’s eco-friendly and luxury; nobody has ever done that before. We have no plastic or endocrine distributors in the formula; that’s the point of differentiation. And last but not least, we have a new way to produce colors – not in large batches but in very small batches – for longer-lasting comfort and more precise coloring with newer pigments. Normally when you are developing colors in the industry, you are developing 10,000 units for one color in a large metallic tank – that’s a lot of waste, a lot of water, and not a lot of precision. I decided to reduce everything and to have a very small yield to produce colors from 10 to 20 ml.

COOLS: Wow, that is a small batch.

NG: Yes, a very small batch. But it’s like when you are baking a cake: If it’s in your kitchen with a small batch, it usually tastes much better than if it is made in a factory with 1,000 other cakes; it’s not the same taste. That’s the same for our lipsticks. We are the only company in the world who are able to design and produce lipsticks with the newest pigments at unprecedented accuracy. It’s this true savoir-faire you can’t find in anywhere else; we are between future and tradition.

COOLS: Between future and tradition – I love that. Can you walk me through your debut collection?

NG: Let’s start with the object; I like to say we’re not making products, but refillable objects in the French tradition of excellent craftsmanship. For the launch, we decided to create a collection of reds: Six shades from the collaboration with Wendy Rowe and two shades with Anja Rubik, who created her two shades of red as a form of manifesto against plastic pollution and to support the work of Parley Association. And here you have a very nice, refillable object in metal and leather. The leather here is the same leather used by Hermès, from a very small tannery that’s been around since 1842 and in the same family; it’s very difficult to have access to this leather. They developed this leather with a specific know-how: They used wood barrels to develop their vegetable tanning, and I think they are the only one to develop this specific technique for leather. And you can still smell it; it’s a bit woody. But we wanted to avoid using plastic to the maximum, so there’s no plastic in the leather case. And the refill, it’s the first eco-responsible refill produced in France and without any micro-plastics. We used to say we are a humanist and eco-responsible house – because we are eco-responsible in the product but we are humanist in the way we develop it.

COOLS: Are all of your ingredients natural?

NG: No, not all of our ingredients are natural. For example, you can’t have natural iron oxides because that’s dangerous. For cosmetics, in order to be “organic,” you just need to have 30 percent of natural, organic ingredients. That’s why I’m not saying I’m organic, because I don’t want to be a part of that marketing story. For vegetables, it’s different; you have vegetables and organic vegetables, it’s true. But, for cosmetics, if it just 30 percent of the ingredients, you can just choose the right ingredients (and the easier ones to use) to introduce in the formula and that’s it. I’m certainly organic, but I don’t want to highlight that.

COOLS: I can tell it’s not simply a marketing ploy for you. So why the name “La Bouche Rouge?”

NG: Alors, “La Bouche Rouge.” It’s a very important name for me because “La Bouche,” it’s seduction but it’s the voice too, and “Rouge,” because it’s red, the color of revolution. It’s the red voice. It’s the voice of revolution. It’s the beginning of a new story. It’s the alert to say: “Hey, Red Alert: It’s important to change your habit, but you can have pleasure in changing your habits; let’s discover La Bouche Rouge.” Like the first statement we have in our manifesto, “Affirm your revolutionary spirit,” that is the essence of La Bouche Rouge.

COOLS: What motivated you to launch La Bouche Rouge?

NG: To be honest, I have three children, and I believe this generation cannot produce, or consume, like the previous ones have been. It’s not a luxury anymore – it’s a necessity. To find some meaning in the beauty industry, I had to develop a project aligned with this connection, and I decided to start with the lipstick because there are currently 1 billion lipsticks thrown away every year without any eco-responsible consideration. From my point of view, I thought it would be interesting to start with lipstick, because it is so visible. It’s interesting to associate this element to the start of a new adventure.

COOLS: For me, red is such a statement, a classic, and I love that. I know several women who, even though they don’t wear much makeup, they will always have on lipstick.

NG: Yes, exactly, it dresses up your life. At the end of the day, the only things a woman needs are lipstick and a smartphone.

COOLS: But La Bouche Rouge offers more than lipstick, doesn’t it?

NG: Yes, we also have three different balms. The orange one pops up naturally as the color of your skin.

COOLS: Do you think you will you expand your range of shades in the future?

NG: Yes, in the future we are going to develop a large range of shades. We’ll always have a specific attention toward red, but for spring I love the idea of being linked to fashion and to have collection linked to what will be [on the runway]. We are going to develop specific shades for the fashion week in New York with The Webster. We are going to develop something specific for the fashion week in Paris with Le Bon Marché, perhaps something in Milan too; it’s all a work in progress.

COOLS: So your next collection will come out in February?

NG: Yes, but I think this collection is going to stay too. It won’t be replaced totally, this collection. There will just be an evolution, where the collection of colors will be more and more important.

COOLS: You’ve also partnered with Eau Vive Internationale. What’s that about?

NG: It’s a very transparent partnership; for every lipstick we sell, we will provide 100 liters of safe drinking water to Eau Vive Internationale. Sometimes it’s more motivating to be involved in a cause than to just make some money.

COOLS: What do you see in the future of La Bouche Rouge?

NG: First of all, it’s to set up this new statement and to tell the story of the necessity to engage luxury eco-responsible beauty; that’s the first step with the lipstick, in the form of a manifesto, during one or two years, and after that to develop some new objects. I think people today realize we can’t do cosmetics – luxury cosmetics – the same way, with the same plastic cases and with the same pollution. It’s time to start showing it’s cool to be responsible; I think it’s cool to be responsible. And important, because we need to change things.

COOLS: After lipstick, what do you think the next object will be?

NG: Perhaps eye shadows.

COOLS: Finally, for your first collection, you brought on Anja Rubik and Wendy Rowe as ambassadors of the brand, as your “Bouches Rouges.” How would you describe the “Bouche Rouge” woman?

NG: She has a certain elegance, the Parisian spirit. For me, it could be a Japanese girl who has the same spirit of Parisian girls. I think it’s more of a spirit than just the origin, you know? It’s more a way of life. I really wanted to build a different face for the brand, but the common point of our different “Bouches Rouges” will always be to be smart, creative, and committed to a cause. I like the idea that Anya and Wendy are committed to different causes in their own lives; they find interest in developing lipsticks, but they also find interest to support different causes – it’s not just business for them.

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