Exclusive interview with the Sisley siblings

At Maison Sisley, family is never far away. After Guillaume d’Ornano founded Lancôme with Armand Petitjean, his son Hubert took up the torch and introduced beautybrand Orlane. In 1972, Hubert created the luxury beauty brand Sisley with his wife Isabelle. Meanwhile, they left the helm to two of their children Philippe d’Ornano, CEO of Sisley and his younger sister Christine d’Ornano, Global Vice President. Totally unexpectedly, the Sisley siblings decided to make time for an exclusive interview together in Brussels. A unique moment when we got a special insight into a family without equal and laughed a lot together.

Text Anja Van Der Borght

You both may have grown up among Sisley bottles and products but how would you describe your childhood?
P d’O: “I am the eldest and Christine the youngest of five. She is nine years younger than me and yet we are two hands in one. When our parents wanted to launch a new beauty brand in our childhood, it demanded a lot from them. Most of all, we grew up in an international work ethic. To earn some extra money, I worked with my brother in the summer on the family farm in France. It was not a hobby farm but a large estate with lots of forest, a lively farm where a team was working year-round. We farmed racehorses, cows, sheep, … and grew wheat, maize, … With my parents, the work never stops – there was always some creative brainstorming too – but everything went very naturally.”
C d’O: “My father upheld the ‘you work, your earn’ philosophy. I remember when we were all kids, we used to pick stones from a field because my parents wanted to create the green of their own golf course there. I was 6 or 7 then and today it seems like hard labour but we had a lot of fun doing it and earned a pretty penny. “

How do you differ in character?
P d’O: “Actually, we are very complementary. We have the same background and don’t really focus on differences. But Christine is perhaps more social than me.”

From the creation of Maison Sisley in Brussels to that of the brand-new Les Eaux Rêvées perfume collection, several generations of the d’Ornano family have invariably been present.

Philippe d’Ornano: “For our perfumes, we apply the freedom of creation. We create perfumes that we like just like a great artist creates a painting without first having a marketing study.”

As a family-run company, how do you compete with big names like Dior, Lancôme, …?
C d’O: “Actually, we don’t look at the competition. We try to develop the best possible product in each category we touch and it is the customer who clearly appreciates this.”
P d’O: “Even during our research meetings, we hardly look at other brands, if at all. When you look at others you don’t create your own. Sisley developed very well and also faster than the market. The fact that we are a family business is a big advantage here because we can for exmaple make quick decisions. Actually, we don’t create new products but rather a skincare method. After all, to convince customers you need the right product for each skin type. We also think about the customer’s needs. For example, they found it difficult to find a good lip balm. That’s why we introduced our Sisley Nutritive Lip Balm almost 20 years ago, which has since become a bestseller. We also always look for the best-working products based on natural plant extracts. In fact, we use active ingredients that are not synthetically manufactured but extracted from the plant’s green biochemistry. And despite the fact that we already have forty years of expertise in this field, we can still do a lot to increase efficiency. You should know that today only ten per cent of all plants are scientifically studied. From each plant you can extract between 100,000 and 200,000 active ingredients. And then you have all the possible synergies of ingredients working together efficiently. The plant can be considered a green factory and its field of action is endless. The idea of Sisley as a luxury brand, by the way, was not a deliberate choice. When my father started using the best possible, natural active ingredients in efficient concentrations made, it increased the cost of the formulas. On the one hand, my father was forced to position Sisley high-end but, on the other hand, he also wanted to be more high-end than the brands around him. That gave us the freedom to work with the right concentrations and not leave out certain ingredients because we had to fit within a certain cost. My father’s strategy was revolutionary for its time but, of course, you had to be sure of your products because they also had to convince customers. For our perfumes, we rather apply freedom of creation. We create perfumes that we like, just like a great artist creates a painting without first conducting a marketing study. After all, customers don’t want to smell their perfume on the row in front of them when they go to the cinema either.”

The d’Ornano’s have now been in the cosmetics industry for over 85 years.

Do you only talk about beauty at family dinners?
P d’O: “Between our two generations there is such a sharing of expertise that I would compare it in sport to playing the Champions League with your father.”
C d’O: “Yet we don’t just talk about the industry. In fact, we also have siblings who are not in the business and with whom we share other interests such as politics. My parents, on the other hand, used to talk about the beauty business all the time. My father likes to go over the day so sometimes we had to stop him and say ‘it’s past eight in the evening now I want my father at the table’. Sometimes people ask – now that we are in charge of the company – what we do differently from our parents but that is such a bizarre question for us because we always work as a team and share a lot of ideas. Our father (Hubert d’Ornano) would undoubtedly do the same as us. He was always up for a new idea and adapted easily to new circumstances. He was also very encouraging. Father always asked whenever I had a problem: ‘How are you going to tackle it?’ He never gave us tips but let us handle it ourselves. ‘And you know: when that problem is solved, then a new problem will arise,’ he always added delicately. (laughter both)”
P d’O: “From the moment our parents spent two minutes in a room together, a new creative idea always emerged. And today we are lucky that our mother (Isabelle d’Ornano) took charge of the creative concept of the new Maison Sisley in Brussels.”

The treatment cabins do not feel chilly thanks to the fun ‘Les Cellules’ wallpaper that evokes the salon’s atmosphere. The original 1910 design by Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann was reworked, rescaled, and then executed in white by l’Atelier d’Offard, exactly as Isabelle d’Ornano had in mind.

Sisley now also integrates LED technology into its exceptional facial treatments. LED light acts positively on complexion, skin texture, skin firmness.

How did that work out?
P d’O: “After we opened our first Maison Sisley in Paris’ Avenue Friedland four years ago and it proved very successful, we felt that the other Maisons should exude the same homely and welcoming atmosphere. Often luxury brands create one concept that they then roll out globally; we wanted a different-looking Maison in each city that expressed our connection with the location itself, the team and the customer. Some parts are the same (the boutique, the products, the treatment booths) but in the salon we can, for example, exhibit a young, local artist we like. After all, art is very important to us. The woollen rug here in Brussels on the floor is by Chinese artist Ru Xiao Fan, a work of art with a very realistic depiction of a bouquet of flowers. I bought it with my mother in an art gallery in Paris with the idea of laying it in the salon here in Brussels.”

C d’O: “Furthermore, at the Sisley Maison in Brussels, we mixed private objects belonging to my mother with some design objects I bought new and this painting by Poland’s Karolina Orzelek, who won the Prix Sisley Beaux-Arts de Paris just two years ago, and which was previously just hanging on the wall in my house. Orzelek often paints landscapes without people; very colourful too, you never get tired of her works. Meanwhile, we have already opened a Maison Sisley in Bordeaux, Lyon, Prague, Munich, Lisbon, New York and a second in Paris Rue du Bac. Antwerp and Shanghai will follow in spring 2023. Because we are now opening so many Maisons one after the other, Mother already informed us that she no longer has enough objects at her disposal and we will therefore have to buy them more ourselves from now on. (laughs)

Isabelle d’Ornano especially wanted to bring the natural to the fore in Maison Sisley. But there are also Art Deco elements referring to the first Maison Sisley in Paris. And then there is the door handle in the shape of a hand, a design by Polish sculptor Bronislaw Krzysztof, a close friend of Isabelle’s, who also designed the bottle cap of the iconic Eau du Soir perfume.

The Les Eaux Rêvées collection includes six fragrances that are either fresh, floral, warm and spicy and were given names from the d’Ornano family. The highlight is L’Eau Rêvée d’Hubert built around geranium, which perfumers consider to be the rose for men. The variety used diffuses an intense, aromatic sensation of peppermint and green notes.

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