Style With a Story

Parisian Savoir-Faire

Retail maestro Ramdane Touhami orchestrates experiences defined by breathtaking beauty and exacting service.

IT'S LATE MORNING in New York and golden hour in Paris when I connect with designer and entrepreneur Ramdane Touhami. I dial in, blink, and suddenly I'm bicycling through the streets of the French capital, the tip of the obelisk at Place de la Concorde shimmering as it flashes by. We talk as Touhami rides, the tangle of multicolored beaded strands around his neck bobbing in and out of frame. The camera flips and he points to the Louvre in the distance. “I am most inspired by the galleries of the nineteenth century,” he tells me. “It is the best time of France.” It is also the aesthetic foundation of his most recognized brand.

We believe something people have been using for centuries maybe, just maybe, is efficient.

In 2014, just across the river in the Left Bank, Touhami and his wife Victoire de Taillac-Touhami established the first shop of Officine Universelle Buly 1803 (Buly, for short), an all-natural beauty emporium based on the French apothecaries of the nineteenth century. Inside, white glass bottles with etched metal caps hold water-based perfumes, sitting atop moss- and bark-colored marble countertops. The intricately carved cabinetry, adorned with arched niches and drawers, contain hundreds of ingredients sourced from small farms around the globe. If you like, you can buy these raw materials by weight to mix your own beauty recipes, but most customers come for the couple’s elaborately packaged, finished formulas. Each one is the result of years spent collecting and experimenting with time-tested beauty regimens. “We believe something people have been using for centuries maybe, just maybe, is efficient,” Touhami says, smiling. “In this way we help the skin of our customers and the producers who grow the ingredients.” Sunlight beams through my screen as he speaks.

Over 900 unique and specially conceived items are available for purchase at Buly. For the face and body there are creams, oils, clays, balms, and vinegars (acetic acid has been used as an exfoliator for centuries). And you won’t find a hint of plastic here — items are contained in glass, porcelain, paper, or stone vessels. Because Touhami does not like the chemical process of burning, he has devised clever techniques for scenting enclosed spaces, like your closet or your car. The “Alabasters” are small, porous sandstones imbued with a perfumed oil of your choosing. They are elegantly encased in small blue-and-white porcelain boxes: a heatless, smokeless way to infuse a room with aroma. For those used to a more conventional scent-diffusion technology, there are candles, heavy and sheathed in marble, with names like Venus de Milo and Saint Joseph the Carpenter. Specialized grooming tools are found under glass vitrines. One can choose from among 196 varieties of combs and brushes for all facial or crown follicle needs.

Many of these tools are procured from family workshops; for decades there was little demand for their array of offerings, but these products are once again finding favor. “We are here to preserve craft, to participate in making sure the world’s beauty secrets do not disappear,” says Touhami. “We work very hard to keep these techniques alive. But also because we find these objects beautiful, it gives us pleasure to bring them back.”


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Perusing the selections inside Buly, layers of detail reveal the unexpected. The objects for sale are not merely reproduced from the past. Rather, Touhami is constantly innovating aesthetically astute solutions to contemporary sources of foul odor. The most recent inventions are eucalyptus- and peppermint-scented stickers for enhancing face masks. The latest product drop is the Eau Gymnastique, a perfume to make your sneakers smell new again.

As his bicycle zips over cobblestones in the upper Marais, heading toward the largest concentration of his Parisian shops, the camera image gets bumpy. Housed in the former foundry where the sculptor Rodin cast “The Thinker,” the cavernous space he enters is a hybrid beauty sanctuary and cafe serving hot and cold beverages. It’s the inaugural counter of the Grand Cafe Tortoni, the second entrepreneurial love child of de Taillac and Touhami. There, you can sip a cappuccino or a warm orange blossom water while running your eyes over hanging bundles of dried flowers and apothecary bottles of Buly fragrances. Tucked behind a chiseled door, a midnight-blue Moroccan-tiled Japanese massage and facial suite offers in-house services. And behind the store walls, a salvaged, early twentieth-century printing press churns out Touhami’s self-described “egocentric” publication, “WAM.” (Touhami has a hand in all of it, from designing the typeface to modeling for the ad campaigns.) Across the interior courtyard is the secretive think tank, Art Recherche Industrie, where he designs original typography, another deeply-researched passion, and devises creative plans for clients across a range of industries.

Touhami’s exacting standards apply to his employees as well. All must learn the art of calligraphy and the basics of origata (the Japanese etiquette of wrapping gifts in paper), skills that often leave customers speechless, their iPhones at the ready to record the process. “I wanted my salespeople to be like artists,” Touhami says, “and have them respected and treated as such.” The shopping experience is immersive and engaging, like being at the center of a choreographed dance, personalized just for you.

Beyond France, Buly has opened a dozen other stores, with just as many currently in the works. You can find shops in Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and San Francisco, and a third Parisian outpost opened this past August. Each location is unique and mindful of its setting. “When we open in a new city, I need to take from where I am,” says Touhami. “I research the best era of the place, find the best artisans, and mix it with our vibe. We must always respect where we are.” The shops merge past and future, neoclassical and minimal — to often breathtaking effect. The visual result is what I imagine to be like traveling through space and time, but somehow always landing in the now. It’s this mash-up of aesthetic time travel, exceptional quality, and tailored service that drives Buly’s success and customer dedication — so much so, recently it was announced that luxury group LVMH has acquired the brand, which will continue to be led by the couple.

Heading west on his bicycle, the autumn evening incandescent, Touhami excitedly points to favorite buildings and vintage signage. We turn south, cruising by Les Invalides, the shrine where Napoleon is eternally entombed. Suddenly we stop at a singular gas pump. The Gasoline Stand, it reads, in a fine-point hand-lettered font. It’s exactly what it says it is, but with a mega dose of something extra. While you fill your tank, the convenience stand offers up fine Italian espressos, and a sampling of specialty sodas sourced the world over. There are Japanese candies and in-season panini as well (vegan options available). “My idea is to change the perception of businesses,” Touhami says, “to find a great new ‘how-to’ way of doing something.” In this case, it’s “how to bring luxury to the gasoline stand.” Never settling, Touhami’s omni-channel, multitasking brain is always looking for the next business to reinvent. “My job is to provide wow,” he continues. “I don’t sell products, I’m selling wows. And I believe that if you make what you want, and have one or two wows a day, then you are happy.”

The World of Ramdane Touhami

From bike rides to books, a deeper dive into the creative visionary’s Parisian life

  • Bike Ride: How Ramdane Touhami gets around the most beautiful city in the world.

    The Route:

    Bike up Saint-Germain, zip north on Rue du Bac, cross the Seine, traverse the Louvre, pass Les Galeries du XIXe siècle, and then on to the Marais.

    The Spots to Hit:

    Buly: 6 rue Bonaparte

    Buly + Grand Cafe Tortoni: 45 rue de Saintonge

    Buly: 19 rue Vieille du Temple

    The Louvre (from which Buly created four original scents based on specific paintings): Rue de Rivoli

    The Gasoline Stand: 17 Boulevard des Invalides

  • Book: The Beauty of Time Travel

    The work of Ramdane Touhami and the agency Art Recherche Industrie for Officine Universelle Buly

    “This book explains how a vintage brand transformed into an international success story. The key ingredients include: integrity, attention to detail, and an insatiable curiosity for the world.”

    Available on November 2 from Gestalten

  • Bike Ride: How Ramdane Touhami gets around the most beautiful city in the world.

    The Route:

    Bike up Saint-Germain, zip north on Rue du Bac, cross the Seine, traverse the Louvre, pass Les Galeries du XIXe siècle, and then on to the Marais.

    The Spots to Hit:

    Buly: 6 rue Bonaparte

    Buly + Grand Cafe Tortoni: 45 rue de Saintonge

    Buly: 19 rue Vieille du Temple

    The Louvre (from which Buly created four original scents based on specific paintings): Rue de Rivoli

    The Gasoline Stand: 17 Boulevard des Invalides

  • Book: The Beauty of Time Travel

    The work of Ramdane Touhami and the agency Art Recherche Industrie for Officine Universelle Buly

    “This book explains how a vintage brand transformed into an international success story. The key ingredients include: integrity, attention to detail, and an insatiable curiosity for the world.”

    Available on November 2 from Gestalten

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Our Contributors

Polina Aronova-Cahn Writer

Polina Aronova-Cahn is an editor and writer who connects the interrelated dots of culture, style, and conscious living. Her work is focused on lifestyle communication, translating the tools of mindfulness and holistic well-being into approachable yet aspirational stories of deep human connection.

Iris Humm Photographer

Based in Barcelona, Iris Humm was born and raised in Milan before moving to Spain to focus on photography. Humm began taking photographs at 15 years old and now applies her intimate and intuitive aesthetic to an impressive portfolio of brands and assignments. Humm describes her practice as communicating the emotional quality of a moment.

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