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LEONOR & CAROLINE GREYL ON HAIR, THE FOUNDING OF THE COMPANY, AND THE HEALING POWER OF NATURE

The French podcast Décoiffé.e.s is dedicated to all things hair, and recently recruited Leonor and Caroline Greyl to participate in several self-curated episodes. For the first installment, journalist Nolyne Cerda interviewed our founder and President/CEO, talking hair (bien sûr) and plans for their upcoming episodes. Here is a translation of that interview.

Journalist Nolyne Cerda: It all began in 1968, long before the trend towards natural products took off. Hair became a star, and an entire family dedicated themselves to it. It began with the parents, Leonor and Jean-Marie, and continues with Caroline, their only daughter. This family has been taking care of hair and the scalp for more than fifty years in an “Eco-chic” way. We look forward to hearing their story.

Hello, Leonor and hello, Caroline. Can you introduce us to the Leonor Greyl brand, and tell us how it came about?

Leonor Greyl: I have always loved hair, and I’ve always been drawn to all things related to beauty. That’s what led me to work in an institute in the sixties, treating the hair and the scalp. I trained on the subject and started using less aggressive products, gentler than what was usually offered. At that time, women left salons with a scarf on their heads and with their scalp in terrible condition. I thought it was really sad. I told myself that if I went out on my own, the priority for me would be that when women left the salon, or even their own house, they would feel good and beautiful, and would no longer need to put on a scarf to hide their hair.

NC: It was extremely avant-garde!

LG: Yes, maybe… In any case, at the time, women were lost in the confusion of contradictory information. Some said that you had to wash your hair every day and others said that a shampoo every 15 days was enough! So, when they came to see me, they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know when to wash their hair. Apart from hair and scalp hygiene, this is key to having beautiful hair. At that time there were no products to treat the hair and scalp in depth and there were no products to make the hair more beautiful.

NC: And you were at the forefront in taking the scalp into account?

LG: Yes, it’s true. It was really not great at that time. In the sixties, with infrequent shampooing and the abuse of hairspray, the scalp was completely smothered. I saw women with layers of dirt on their scalps, and that created dandruff and very significant hair loss. Luckily a few people started to take care of this problem and I was one of them. Fortunately, things have evolved a lot since then. Products have changed a lot. Before, shampoos were like very harsh “detergents.” I didn’t agree with this; I always wanted softness for these women. And always gentle products.

NC: So for you, the key word was softness and this was acquired through natural products?

LG: Absolutely. Natural products. At the time, I composed shampoos myself in front of my clients. And they immediately had very good results. So that encouraged me to continue and create more and more sophisticated products.

NC: And you were accompanied by Jean-Marie, your husband, who was passionate about botany?

LG: Yes, as you know Jean-Marie was an exceptional being. It is true, for him there was never a problem to which he couldn’t find solutions, and many were found in nature. He was passionate about nature. He knew perfectly well what best suited women’s hair. He did a lot of research and when he made a product, I tested it, and it was always great. I immediately had great success, and was in many well-known magazines. I was one of the first to treat hair with natural products at that time. Now it’s different—natural has become fashionable, and we’re not the only ones anymore.

NC: And for you, Caroline? How would you describe the brand in your own words?

Caroline Greyl: For me, a bit like Mom, it’s beauty and care. Always glamorous and of good quality. I think it’s really the balance of the two.

LG: That’s it. Combine the two. And I would also like to say that launching your brand in the 1960s, when you were a woman, was no small feat! At that time, everything always came from the customers. It was the customers who created the products because what I was doing was for them, so that they could also have good products at home. That’s how we started selling our products, because the customers also wanted products for their entire family. And little by little, we developed our products like that. It was the customers who came to us.

NC: And at some point, you said to yourself, “Come on, we’re launching our brand. We’re launching Leonor Greyl?”

LG: No, it happened naturally without even thinking about it. It was very fluid. Everything has always happened naturally with us. The creation of the brand, the arrival of Caroline in the company. Nothing was premeditated.

NC: Leonor Greyl is a family brand known all over the world, but still a boutique, family-run brand. Is this important to you?

LG: Yes, it’s important. You see I never dreamed of having a brand. My goal was to create good, effective products. Money has never been a driving force. I didn’t make products to make money, I made them to make people happy, and to have good products with good results.

NC: With your daughter Caroline, when she was a little girl, then growing up, did you pass on this passion for hair to her? Did you talk about it at home?

LG: To tell you the truth, Caroline was not so passionate about the products when she was young. After her studies, after graduation, she went to new places, she tried new things. But they were not great passions. And then one day she went to see her father. And she said, “Dad, I want to work with you.” And of course, he accepted. It was his beloved daughter. So we put her on the sales side right away. And Caroline was successful immediately in this more commercial part, more than I had ever been. It is thanks to her that the brand has been able to develop, and thanks to Jean-Marie’s way of working with her. You see, I like to work with my hands, and she is very different.

NC: Caroline, what are your memories as a young girl, when you grew up with this beautiful brand?

CG: I think the most frequented place in the house was the washroom. I have memories from my childhood of testing the products on us, and of going to the institute on Saturdays. One of my jobs was to take the rollers off the customers’ heads!

NC: So, Caroline, was there any advice your mother gave you about hair when you were little?

CG: To be honest I didn’t really listen to her advice. 😊 But still it must be said that she was very careful to have good hygiene. Because it is important to have a healthy scalp to stimulate it and to wash it regularly and not every 15 days. Otherwise you will see the problems that appear: dandruff, hair loss, etc. For me it is very important to wash your hair at least once, if not twice or three times a week.

NC: Caroline, how did you get into the family business? And how’s it going?

CG: This was fate for me, and it happened quite naturally. I had worked in other companies, but it was obvious that I was destined to work in this industry thanks to Dad’s and Mom’s knowledge. But I was in uncharted territory.

NC: But was there pressure? It must not have been easy.

CG: Yes, there was pressure, but there was no stress on that side. It’s still quite pleasant to work with the family. It has a reassuring side. I mean, it’s my family; they’re not going to focus on criticism or negativity.

LG: Caroline, she knew how to develop the brand, you know.

NC: And how do you think you inspired it?

LG: I think she kind of followed my way when she saw me talking to journalists, when she saw me talking to customers. She began to understand the way of being and speaking with these people. She learned to develop her speech by watching me do it.

NC: Caroline, what is your mark on the brand?

CG: I immediately plunged into finance and marketing. For example, in terms of packaging, we can see my touch in the logo, the brand identity. It is important to always modernize a brand, to be able to keep it at the forefront.

NC: Did you consult each other? Did you continue to exchange views?

CG: We very often agree. When we test the products, for example, we always have the same feeling. It’s our way of working. That’s it; it’s simple, we never disagree. We have the same feeling when we have to test a new product.

NC: You created a wonderful transition for me there: what is the brand’s cult product?

LG: The first product was wheat germ oil. I made my first custom blends with this product. That’s what got me started and got everyone talking about my haircare. And then over time, the women started to work outside the home a lot more and they had new needs. They wanted things that were faster but still just as efficient and usable at home.

NC: And for you, Caroline, what is the brand’s cult product?

CG: For me it’s also oils, but our Leonor Greyl oil, precisely because it gives immediate results to the hair. You will see an instant result. It has been transforming the hair for more than 50 years, so yes for me the cult product is this one.

NC: How do you recommend using it?

CG: It is always applied on dry hair. This is the basis of its application. Because if the hair is damp, the water acts as a barrier to the oil and it will not be able to penetrate. Then I put it on the lengths and ends and then after I use my fingers like a comb to distribute the oil evenly on the hair. I let it sit for a while and then shampoo, following the rules of course. It is an oil that can also be applied in summer before sun exposure or swimming.

NC: I have a question for both of you. In three words, how would you describe the values of the house?

LG and CG: Naturalness first—the key is the most natural products possible. Then honesty; you can’t bluff. People see right away if you lie to them about products. And finally, efficiency. You have to make the right product with visible and lasting results. And also, loyalty is a fourth word.

NC: It is true that you have very loyal customers. Is that why you wanted to do this podcast? To talk to them? To be close to them?

CG: I think it’s important to share our experience. And if we can help someone who has questions about their hair, that too gives me satisfaction. The idea of the podcast was also being able to give advice, because sometimes even if the products are great, if you don’t follow the right application, the result will not be there.

NC: You offer me another perfect transition. What are the topics that are going to be discussed throughout this podcast?

CG: We are going to involve several people on different subjects which, in my opinion, are current topics. We will have Sophie Kune, who will address the subject of menopause and hormones. We will also talk with specialists in their fields: massages, color, men’s care, and hair development during and after pregnancy.

NC: What is the most valuable thing in your job, and we’ll end on that?

LG and CG: That the customer is satisfied. We want our customers to be happy. We have clients who have been coming to the institute for twenty or thirty years who remain loyal to the brand. This is surely the most beautiful gift for us.

NC: I think we can end with these fine words. Thank you very much, Leonor and Caroline, for your time. Leonor, it’s an honor to have spoken to you because we know it’s not your favorite thing to do. So we are very happy to have had you on the podcast.

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