I was offered the USA and Germany, but I chose Russia
— I was specializing in Russia whilst still at university. My degree was on the subject of the country’s socio-economic and political development after perestroika. My interest in Russia wasfuelled by my mum. She had been to Moscow and St. Petersburg long before I had, and often used to speak about Russia’s rich culture. After my studies, I was offered jobs in the USA and Germany, but I chose Russia. My friends were surprised: “Moscow how? Why Russia?” The thing was, I had had managed to live in Germany, and I realised that it is a typical European country: I didn’t see anything new there. America too was reasonably accessible. You could buy a plane ticket at any time and be there over the ocean. But Russia was an enigma as a country. I mean, for a long time it had been fenced of from the rest of the world. So, in 2001, I took a flight here to Moscow.
François-Xavier Hotier's whole working life has been tied up with Russia and its capital. After graduating from the Institute of Political Studies in France, he worked, from 2001, as Financial Manager in the Moscow office of the international logistics company FM Logistics, after which he occupied the position of deputy Managing Director of Alios Group, a local enterprise. Between 2003 and 2007, he was Director of Business Development at tobacco giant Altadis Group. In 2007, he came to the Moscow representative office of the Swiss watch brand TAG Heuer. Presently, François-Xavier Hotier is Managing Director of Parfums Christian Dior Russia, which is part of the world’s largest conglomerate of luxury goods manufacturers, LVMH.
— What were your initial impressions?
— Very cold! It was the 11th of November. In Paris, it had been raining, and I arrived in a light overcoat. But in Moscow it was minus 17.
— What difficulties did you come up against at work?
— The solution to any problem can be arrived at relatively quickly here, but then it takes several months to sort out the paperwork.You have to fill out a lot of forms: a contract, bill, invoice, report, then another report… And they all have to be signed in the presence of various authorities. The bureaucratic chain slows down the whole process. To be fair, France also has a fairly complicated financial system and more than enough bureaucracy. Every country has its own particular ways, and I am sure that whoever wants to work, whoever has ideas, can be successful anywhere. Personally, I can’t recall any instances in Russia where things were tough for me. I can only remember awkward work situations which were dealt with successfully.
— Is Russian a difficult language for the French?
— Very! My colleagues helped find me a good teacher, and I took lessons. But, on the whole, I taught myself the language. I interacted a lot, paid close attention to the intonation, got used to the turn of phrase. The first thing I said in Russian was “A beer, please!” and “Can I have the menu?” I tried to use expressions that were new to me every day, and now I can speak fairly respectable Russian.
— How did you come to be at TAG Heuer?
— That was in 2007. I was found by a recruitment company, Brainpower (BPI Group), and they offered me the job of running the Russian representative office of TAG Heuer: one of the best known brand of watches with over 150 years of history. They put the brand in my hands and said “Go on, launch it in Russia!” Developing the brand in a new country, from scratch, was very interesting.
— How did Russians take to a luxury make of watch?
— Without any difficulty whatsoever. I think that in the heart of every Russian there is a pull towards luxury and everything fine. This is helped by the architecture too: grandiose Petersburg, the opulence of St. Basil’s Cathedral, amazing opera and ballet, the profound philosophical literatureof Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Turgenev which is done at school. Russians soak up all this culture from childhood.
It’s hardly surprising that as soon as people had a little money, they saw fit toinvest it in good watches. You don’t have to be rich to acquire such items. Amongst those buying were quite a few people with an average income who wanted to give their wife or husband a decent present. All the more so, as they didn’t have the opportunity in Russia before, whereas now, they do.
It is very important to forge an emotional bond with the customer
— How did the move from watches to perfumes and cosmetics come about?
— The very same international conglomerate, LVMH, which owns the TAG Heuer brand, suggested that I head up Parfums Christian Dior. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was purely emotions: I am French after all, and the love for this brand is in my blood. I was already a Dior client at the time. My favourite cologne was, and still is, Eau Sauvage.
— Who are your clients in Russia?
— In the main, those who have trust in our House, who know its history, and who are, generally, well educated. They don’t have to be well-off people at all. On offer at all ourstandsare perfumes and cosmetics of various price ranges. There are fragrances, creams, eyeshadows, lipsticks which, if only from time to time, almost every woman will be able to allow herself, even if it’s one purchase a month or every six months.
— Do Russian consumers differ from western ones in any way?
— Russian women, just like French women, are huge lovers of Dior. They buy a lot of our products. In that sense, there is no difference at all, only where tastes are concerned. In Russia, both men and women really love light floral and citrus fragrances. Miss Dior Blooming Bouquet is adelicate eau de toilette liked by everyone. Another example isDior Homme Sport. The French also choose this scent; it is always a top-seller. But, at this moment in time, we are also using more complex fragrances with oriental notes. It is linked to the history of our perfumery, and to French cuisine which uses many herbs and spices. For example, in France, the masculine scent Eau Sauvageis enjoying great success (the translation from the French is “wild”), and in recent years, Russian customers have begun to discover it for themselves.
— How hard was it recruiting staff for your shops?
— At the moment, we have 1,300 retail outlets across Russia. You can buy Dior in Moscow, Vladivostok, Norilsk… Staff training for us is a major priority. Every employee is a representative of our House to the client, knows the philosophy and history behind the company, is able to talk about the components of this or that fragrance orbeauty product, the large part of which we produce on our own plantations all around the world: from the Loire Valley to the island of Madagascar. For us it is very important that our sales staff are able to forge an emotional bond with the customer. We have managed to find genuine Dior fanatics all over Russia, and now they work for our company.
— Do the sales girls have to have the measurements of a model: 90 – 60 – 90?
— It’s not necessary at all. The main quality which we look for in sales consultants is being able not only to talk about the products, but also to listen to the customer, to select what is suitable for each individual person. This is our main priority and we pay attention to the conversation.
— Will you share with us your opinion of your Russian partners?
— Our partners are very trustworthy people and companies. If we are talking about the arranging of retail areas and how our brand is presented in the shops, then, in that respect, Russia is up there withthe best western department stores. We are more than happy with things.
— Over the years you that have worked in Moscow, have customers changed in any way?
— Yes, these days Russian consumers have started to approach the luxury industry in a more discerning way than 10 years ago. They are evolving, reading a lot of magazines, paying less attention to advertising, and asking more informed questions. They are very inquisitive. They want to know not only the list of notes in a fragrance, but also the country of origin for each component. Which makes it all the more interesting for our team! If before many Russians bought expensive fragrances as a status symbol, now the trend has changed: people choose the perfume which they actually like and make that their main priority.
Crisis is no obstacle to the brand
— What sizes of bottle sell the best in Russia?
— When it comes to the “luxury” category, volume means nothing. Both 50 ml and 100 ml sell well. There are those who are looking at the price and there are those looking for the right scent. That is the emotional approach. And generally, they buy 100 ml for the house and 30 ml for their handbags.
— How actively do Russian men explore different fragrances?
— Russian men are lucky because they have Russian women! These days, men’s toiletries is a massive business, and playing a large part in that are women determined to present their husband,boyfriend, brother, or son a quality scent. It must be said, though, that men in Russia are also choosing the cologne they like the best. Once when I was at the gym, I was talking to one of the guys there who admitted that at home he had a cologne which was a present from his wife and which he used when he went out. When he went to do sport, though, he took the one which he had chosen himself, which had a completely different smell. Men and women go for different things. Members of the stronger sex tend to choose richer, more complex fragrances. I think that with many Russian men, their taste has been formed already, and that in contrast to women, they stay loyal for a long time to the one they chose some time back.
— Do you have any problems with fakes? Are your products counterfeited?
— The same as with any well-known brand. Fakes are brought in from China in very small quantities, which is not a problem at all. We have complete trust in the partners who sell our products. Customers can rest assured. Having said that, you shouldn’t buy Dior in the metro or off the internet.
— Is the crisis having an effect on sales?
— I think that working this year will be harder for all of us, but we will continue to support our Russian partners. The founder of our House, Christian Dior, began his activity in the much more difficult post-war years, in 1947. No kind of crisis will halt the development of our brand in Russia.
— Is your company collaborating with any Russian stars?
— The “Faces” of Dior have only been international names: Charlize Theron, Marion Cottilard, Monica Bellucci, Sharon Stone, Natalie Portman. All of them are the embodiment of natural femininity, elegance and refinement, and it doesn’t matter if they happen to be Russian or not. For the last few seasons, appearing in the adverts for our cosmetics range has been the top Russian model Sasha Luss who has managed to make it to the international stage. Since last spring, for example, she has been the face of Dior Addict.
— Are the Russians and French similar in any way?
— We are united by ourinnate emotionality, and that often helps us to find a common language. At meetings, we always start with various figures and indicators which, it would seem, speak for themselves. But any time there is a disagreement, both the Russians and the French “tap into” their emotions, the result of which is a relationship based on trust.
— Moscow: is it an expensive city for foreigners?
— It’s the same as Paris: every year about 60 million tourists go there, which cannot but have an effect on prices.
— Have you discovered any favourite places in Moscow?
— They are the Sanduny Baths, which have been there since 1808. The Crimean Embankment with the statue of Peter the Great on thespit in the Moscow River. Gorky Park. Skating at VDNKh. GUM with its unique atmosphere. Moscow over all is a very interesting place to live and work in. And being Director for Dior is a little bit like being an ambassador for France in Russia.