The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with leading travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.
This time we meet beauty industry legend and linguist extraordinaire Virginie Descamps, Executive Vice President International Business Development at Perricone MD.
1) Tell us about Virginie Descamps: where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Lille, France until I graduated from high school at 17 years old. One of my great grandmothers was from the UK and I was encouraged by my grandmas to study abroad. I learned five languages in high school and could not wait to go and explore the world like Indiana Jones. I have tried to study three more languages since then.
2) You made the big move away from home to the USA at a young age. That must’ve been quite an adventure – was the move for work or studies?
I made my first trip to the USA at 16 through a student exchange organisation. It was a life changing experience and I am still close to my host family in Nebraska. A year later, I decided to pursue my college studies in the USA and financed my first years in New York through student loans, scholarships and work and study programmes.
During my first trip to the USA, I discovered how different high school life was to France. There were athletic programmes every afternoon and competitions every weekend along with SAT exam prep. There were lots of social activities that brought families together, from tailgating at high school baseball and football games to church BBQs.
I was surprised to see how sports were integrated to the academic curriculum especially in college, and that I could get credits for dancing, playing in the band or running track.
I love classic cars and I’ll never forget my first ride in a Corvette and my first long distance race with my American sisters and brother.
3) You’re married to a South American, live in San Francisco and speak several different languages, where is your favourite destination to travel to and why?
I love living in cities with a diverse population, an urban life that’s on-the-go 24 hours a day, and proximity to the outdoors so that you can quickly get to a beach or mountain.
My husband Andres is from Cali, Colombia. We have lived in Miami, New York, Hong Kong, and now live in San Francisco. We are a globe-trotting family and keep going back to Italy, Australia and Hong Kong. Peru, Cuba and Turkey are on our bucket list.
4) What sparked your interest in beauty? Tell us about your early memories and experiences in the industry.
The beauty industry offered me the opportunity to turn my interest in women-led enterprises and emerging countries into a meaningful career. As a young education manager I travelled through Latin America and the Caribbean to train beauty consultants, counter managers and work with distributors. Launching beauty brands in those markets gave many women with limited education a chance to gain a stable income, new skills and the confidence to thrive.
I dreamt of being an archeologist and discovering lost civilisations that could teach us something about who we are today. Doing excavations, you find mostly bones but also jewellery. I found it fascinating that in all civilisations, even those with scarce resources, people adorn themselves with all kinds of ointments, perfumes, and jewellery that have great significance, be it religious, social or ethnic.
The definition of beauty is unique to each group and constantly in flux, but while it is so subjective and diverse, it is also the source of much social pressure. I like the creative forces that drive the beauty industry and its interaction with cultural and social trends.
5) You completed an internship at the United Nations before joining Parfums Givenchy, what did that entail and what’s the most valuable thing it taught you?
I worked at the Women’s Tribune Center, writing training manuals in various languages on how to start your small business in rural areas. My internship at the United Nations taught me about collaboration and communication. Beyond languages skills, it takes an open mind, curiosity and tolerance to work in an international organisation. It taught me that the world is a small place where we are all connected (and that was before the internet!) and that diplomacy is the cornerstone to peace.
6) You spent a significant chunk of your career at Estée Lauder, tell us about some of the standout highlights there.
Estée Lauder Companies is an inspiring place; you learn from the best, starting from Leonard Lauder, our “professor”. I joined when Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne was building the travel retail division in 1999. We felt like pioneers, everything we did was a first for our brands and often for the industry, from opening free standing stores in the Caribbean to launching a new category of exclusive products for travelling consumers.
There was a great field culture and focus on building brands for the long term. As a brand leader I was encouraged to be creative, resourceful and agile. I enjoyed working on global strategies, from product development to communication, partnering with the trade and launching new brands like Tom Ford Beauty in travel retail, or Jo Malone in Korea.
Patrick had a vision to make American brands and designers global in an industry dominated by the French houses. He had an intuitive understanding of the consumer in each key market and how to bring local relevance without compromising the brand equity when expanding internationally. After a few years at Parfums Yves Saint Laurent developing sales in the domestic and duty free channel in the Americas, I joined Olivier Bottrie’s team in Miami and had the privilege to work with him for over ten years.
My leadership style is very much inspired by those years in the field, building brands in new markets and channels: have your team’s back, act with discipline and integrity, invest in retail, put the consumer first, learn something new every day, and plan plan plan to be ready for the unexpected.
7) For a brief stint you worked outside of beauty, at The Walt Disney Company and Newell Rubbermaid, how did your experiences there shape your career?
I always challenge myself to keep on learning and I get excited about contributing to new business ventures. I still remember the day Manuel Sosa, General Manager at Weitnauer Americas, called me about the Disney project. It was a kid’s dream come true.
I learned about global branding, product design, manufacturing, retailing and working on the operator’s side. At Newell, I led the global fine writing division through a complete transformation, from engineering to distribution. Fountain pens have more in common with lipsticks than you might think.
8) Let’s talk about the present and your role at Perricone MD. What are your hopes and aspirations for the brand?
Dr Perricone’s books on health, nutrition and beauty such as the Wrinkle Cure are well-known around the world. My role is to bring our three-tier philosophy which combines an anti-inflammatory diet, nutritional supplements and clinical skincare to the global market place. Perricone MD offers a more holistic choice for beauty consumers concerned about leading a healthier life and ageing beautifully. My aspiration is to build a bridge between the health and the beauty category and give retailers and travel retail operators the opportunity to capitalise on the global wellness trend.
9) In your opinion, what sets Perricone MD apart from other beauty brands?
Our approach to “beauty from within”, and unique assortment of supplements and high potency skincare deliver dramatic results. It’s easy to adopt, whether you choose to try the supplements or the topicals first. For example, the Super Berry with Acai mixes in a glass of water and helps me fight jet lag and stay energised during my trips.
As for our Cold Plasma face treatment, it fights the ten top signs of ageing and helps any other formula that you may use work better by improving its absorption thanks to its patented ionic suspension. And most formulas are universal, meaning they work with any skin type for both men and women.
10) Finally, what does a globe trotter like yourself like to do to unwind and relax?
I cook, of course. My nickname is the French beauty chef. I experiment with cuisines from around the world, my fall back is French and Italian, but I am currently trying out Indian recipes with the spices that I brought during The Trinity Forum in Mumbai. I bake French pastries like eclairs and tarte Tatin, and create new recipes of muffins and cupcakes with my daughters.
I used to volunteer for Meals on Wheels in New Rochelle and I currently support the Trinity Center and Vestia in the East Bay of San Francisco. For the holidays I am volunteering at the Port of Oakland to rebuild an outreach programme for the Seamen Church institute, a non-denominational organisation that provides snacks, warm clothes and phone cards for the seamen that work on foreign cargo ships.
*PREVIOUSLY FEATURED IN TEN EASY PIECES