AS THE SIXTH-GENERATION MEMBER OF THE ICONIC PERFUME AND COSMETICS COMPANY, MARIE GUERLAIN HAS GONE ON TO FORGE HER OWN ENTREPRENEURIAL PATH. SPEAKING TO SIR ERIC PEACOCK, SHE SHARES THE INSPIRATION BEHIND HER COOKWARE BRAND, ONDINE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF SUSTAINABILITY
Sir Eric: Can you please tell me about Ondine, your new brand of cookware?
Marie Guerlain: It’s been a combination of many different things. I started my career as an artist, and after I had children, I didn’t have time to be in the studio. This is when I started to put all my creativity into the kitchen and into what I was cooking, because I really wanted my children to have the best homemade food. It was through this time that I realised there was something missing with what I was using in the kitchen. I think it was my creative side, my love of food and nutrition and my love of sustainability and wanting to create something that was going to last a lifetime. I wanted to create something beautiful and practical; something that you could actually bring from the kitchen to the table. I wanted to create something that you could just keep forever, and the philosophy of the brand is really about authenticity and caring about the customer.
How did you overcome the challenges of binging your concept to life?
It was really hard. There are so many elements but first you need the investment, which for me, was already very hard as people had a misconception about me because of my name. I therefore had to go to friends and family to persuade them to get involved, which actually was the hardest part. Just because they are your friends and family doesn’t mean they will give you financial backing, so it’s almost like an investment round. I did run out of money at times, so I had to stop and then start again so I think really, it’s a typical startup story. On the design side, there were lots of barriers. It looks quite simple but it’s not. I worked with the Italian-based manufacturers Serafino Zani to create various iterations to make sure we got the design absolutely right. The design you see on the base of the pans is my initials. But this was hard to achieve because the design makes it very hard to use on a heated surface, so you have to ensure enough of the surface of the pan’s base touches the surface of the induction plate. If one tiny millimeter isn’t touching, it won’t work. We had to go back to the drawing board and in total, this process it took about two years.
Tell us about selling your pans into Harrods.
I went to see the buying team, and they loved it! It was funny though because when I first went to see them I thought I was ready, but I actually wasn’t ready at all. I was dealing with lovely Italians who sometimes take a bit longer because they have a lot of passion, so it wasn’t as quick as I’d hoped but we got there in the end!
In this journey as an entrepreneur and creating a product range with all the ups and downs and difficulties; how do you manage to relax?
I really have to have my methods because I’m a mum of three and I’m a passionate person. I’ll push myself until the brink of collapse – literally! So I need to really take care of myself. I have my little things like meditation, which really helps, and I also do yoga. I go for walks with the dog and I do try and have a nice, relaxing bath when I need to. It’s really important when you’re an entrepreneur to have some points of reference – whether through books or online – that you can look to for guidance. This sort of support helps because sometimes it’s really lonely existence. You may have lots of people around you but going through it and having to deal with all the mundane worries does make you feel quite alone.
What is your kitchen detox idea and how can people follow it?
I’m fascinated about how to lead a non-toxic life in a toxic world, and the home is a great place to start. It’s all about reducing the amount of chemicals in your home that you breathe in everyday. First of all, it’s important to look at the cookware and plastics you’re using. Believe it or not, plastics are poisons and they will leech into anything – from the foods sitting on our shelves to the foods in our fridge.
What does sustainability mean to you?
To me, it means what I feel that I do in my life has to have an impact on anything external. So, whatever I buy, I want to feel that it’s ethical and that it’s not going to harm someone in the process. That’s the planet, that’s an animal, that’s a human, that’s for me, that’s what it means and that’s how I lead my life.
How would you like to see Ondine develop in the next year?
I’d like to have more distributors and to be in a position to extend the Ondine range and products. We’re already overseas; we’re already in Italy, the UK and online in America but I’m looking to expand in this market. My dream is for Ondine to be global.
Which other markets do you think, other than the UK, lend themselves to your brand?
I would say the US, definitely, and Europe as a whole. Also the UAE, Australia, Japan, China and Hong Kong. You talked about extending the product range.
Where would the extensions be?
We would add more cookware pieces to the existing seven-piece collection. I would also like to launch some utensils and kitchen accessories. I’d really like to create collection for the dining table - the plates, the glasses, the cutlery, the glassware and the linens. To me, it would make sense to have Ondine come to the table and it would also reflect the French word for ‘tableware’- ‘l’arts de la table’. Everything will have the sustainability element to it, and it will also be vegan and as eco-friendly as possible. When you sit down at the Ondine table, I just want people to be happy. It’s about the food that comes to the table. It will be about the beauty at the table. It would be about the flowers on your table. The linens that you use to wipe your hands. Just every element will be thought out and will last. Something that you can treasure for as long as possible.
And if you were to encapsulate the Ondine brand in a few key words, what would the brand stand for?
Heirloom, authenticity, ethical.