The global rise of a “middle class” over the last fifty years has fostered the emergence of several economic sectors that have become symbols: automobiles, household appliances, cosmetics.


Cosmetics, symbol of liberty and empowerment

Without going back very far in time, let’s remember these striking images of East German women during the winter of 1989. The “Berlin Wall” had just fallen, bringing with it the rapid collapse of the communist bloc. East Berliners rushed to West Berlin and discovered with joy and envy the store front windows and the abundance of consumer goods that they had been denied for so long.

At that time, the West German government had given a sum of money to all East Germans who crossed the no-man’s-land of the Brandenburg Gate so that they could buy a few things, a few “trinkets” one might say, if one did not respect the suffering endured by the East Germans for almost 45 years. One hundred deutschemarks, if my memory serves me right.

The East German women had literally raided the stores and the cosmetic shelves. To buy a lipstick or a beauty cream was really the symbol of freedom and emancipation.

Cosmetic brands have been surfing on this boom in demand for cosmetics. In all “emerging” countries, the rise of an affluent class allowed the commercial explosion of cosmetic brands and distribution networks.

Cosmetics, that’s France

Without being exclusive to France, luxury, perfumery and cosmetics sectors are the prerogative of the French. Some brands are well known throughout the world. Let’s mention a few of them, just for fun: Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dior, Chanel, Clarins, Yves Saint Laurent, Guerlain or L’Oréal.

They are all part of these “global” brands.

Other brands, more recent or focused on niche markets, are also global references: Nuxe, l’Occitane, Caudalie, Yves Rocher, La Roche Posay or Jean-Paul Gautier.

The dynamism of this sector can be summarized as follows: the French cosmetics sector is the second largest export sector after the aeronautics sector.

French cosmetic companies are helped in their conquest of the world by French history (the first royal perfumers go back a long way), the beauty of the southern Provence county landscape, where historically all perfumers (and therefore, by extension, cosmetics) were based, and last but not least by the French capital city, Paris. The world famous capital city of beauty and fashion remains the world reference, even if Asian tourists are also starting to remember the dirt, the rats and the devastating youngster barbarians that plunder the holds of the coaches lost in the suburbs (but that’s another subject).

A vibrant and innovative ecosystem

From these perfumery and cosmetics brands and their dynamism, a whole ecosystem of companies was born. From the most traditional services to the most high-tech industries: bottles, dermatological tests (such as Phenocell), fragrances, packaging, logistics, marketing, distribution networks (Sephora, Nocibé, Beauty Success or Marionnaud, for example, all French companies), duty-free and associated services. These companies are mainly concentrated in Provence county and in the “Cosmetic Valley” which runs from Normandy to the Centre region, with Chartres as its capital place. It is here, an hour from Paris, that most of the trade shows in this sector are held, such as Pharmatch, Cosmetech or Comet (Cosmetic measurement and testing).

The future of global cosmetics is before our eyes

To conclude, let’s note the proliferation of new cosmetic brands in France. These companies and brands often have an ethnic or ethical positioning (or both, naturally). Ethnic: their creams and cosmetic products are aimed at a particular type of skin, for example black or brown skin (Patyka, for example). Ethical, they adopt a vegan or low-carbon or deep recycling positioning, often from the very conception of the company, and which encompasses all facets of their activity (products as well as their production or recruitment, communication, packaging, distribution, etc.).

There is no doubt that some of these start-ups will be able to make a place for themselves in the sun in this sector in the coming years and will become the “world” brands of tomorrow’s French cosmetics.