It should come as little surprise that Victoire de Taillac, co-founder of the anachronistic apothecary-style beauty label L’Officine Universelle Buly, has a deep affection for slow travel. Born in Beirut at the start of the Lebanese Civil War and raised in Paris, Victoire, the second youngest in a family of five children, fondly remembers drawn-out car rides as a child. “Travel by car, and to a certain extent by train, has a much more human rhythm,” she says. “You can really embody the movement and feel a tangible distance between you and your starting point as the landscapes transform before your eyes.” Airplanes, by contrast, “extract you as if by magic wand. I will always choose a route that keeps me on the ground, even if it’s longer.”
Since childhood, those long drives primarily took her to the family’s 16th-century manor in Gascony, which also served as a writing escape as she was finishing her 2018 book An Atlas of Natural Beauty. “For my parents, who were born in the 1930s, the only reason to travel was to see family. Naturally, that meant spending time in the Southwest [of France]. It wasn’t even a decision to be made, it was routine.” As she got older, she and her younger brother would spend weeks at a time further afield—with an Uncle near Gothenburg, Sweden; with a close friend of her father’s based in Dakar, Senegal; with her eldest sister Sophie in Tokyo, where she has lived since 1990 — experiences that inspired her deep curiosity for other cultures.
As she and her husband, Ramdane Touhami, Buly’s artistic director and co-founder, expanded abroad with striking shops in Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, London and San Francisco, so did their homes. For a time, the nomadic couple lived with their three children in Tangier (at Dar Kharroubia, the rainbow-hued villa with a luxuriant garden that once belonged to the late David Herbert), in a brownstone in Brooklyn, and in landmarked homes in Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward.
“What interests me most are the objects and rituals that enchant the everyday,” she says of her philosophy for both Buly and life. “In each of the places I’ve lived or visited, I’ve discovered elements that organically inform the brand.” That might be the plant oils inspired by techniques from ancient Greece, exquisite toothbrushes made of Swiss acetate, the scented matches (sulfur-free) that evoke the Italian countryside or, more broadly, she and her husband’s exacting emphasis on esthetics and service, a product of their Parisian pedigree and reverence for Japan.
In the absence of long-distance travel, de Taillac says she’s allowing herself to be inspired by home—by cultural spaces like the Musée Bourdelle, by artist’s workshops, and by the architectural harmony of Paris. “I’m taking the time.”
Where will your next vacation be?
Back to the Southwest to our family home during the school holiday (every six weeks in France!). Mid-autumn is gorgeous there —it’s that perfect in-between period of lingering moments of summer with the crispness of fall. The light is golden, and we can pick apples and pears. In a normal year, many of our friends prefer to leave France for the Toussaint holiday, but given the limitations of 2020, they all want to join us! We’re going to have a full house. If we’re lucky, we’ll return to Switzerland at Christmas.
The thing you can’t travel without?
Books. I can’t bear the thought of being somewhere without something to read or to end up someplace without a bookstore, so I bring a pile of my own. I don’t like limiting what I pack. It may not be practical (books are heavy!), but it’s a form of comfort to travel with personal items that feel like home.
When were you the happiest while traveling?
On a trip three or four years ago with my mother to visit my sister, who lives in Japan. We spent time in the mountains and went to Jigokudani Monkey Park to see the snow monkeys bathing in hot springs, which is a totally wild sight. But more than anything, Japan in the snow was magical.
If you could live at any hotel, which would it be?
I like the impermanence of hotel stays in destinations far from home, so if I were to actually live in one, it would have to be in my city. And there, it would be the Ritz Paris, the perfect hotel.
The trip that challenged you the most?
My first trip to New York at 18, after I passed the Baccalaureate exam. I flew over with my best friend Sarah [Andelman, of the Paris store Colette], but had to return solo. By the end of the trip, I had only enough money for the taxi to the airport,. But on the way, the driver had an accident and the other driver came out of his car with a baseball bat. This was before cell phones, before I had my own credit card, in a city that was unfamiliar—there were so many what-ifs at that moment! Thankfully, travel has been far less stressful for me since then.
What is your room service indulgence?
Breakfast in bed. I don’t care much about ordering a glass or something special from the menu, I just want to take advantage of the opportunity to sit in bed and eat more than I really need.
The strangest place you’ve spent the night?
A nondescript inn in a small town called La Souterraine in the Creuse, in the middle of France. It was at the beginning of my relationship with Ramdane, and we were making the drive back to Paris from Marseille in an old sports car that wasn’t safe in the rain. He pulled over and said we’d have to spend the night — it was 1 a.m. It’s probably a perfectly lovely village, but the name alone made me uneasy!
What is your favorite market in the world?
Le Marché de Fès in Tangier, specializing in flowers and animals.
What are your showoff spots in Paris?
Le Marché des Enfants Rouges (the oldest covered market in Paris, near one of my shops), the Ile Saint-Louis for Berthillon ice cream, probably the Café de Flore for nostalgia.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch, which would it be?
Ancient Rome. I’m very curious to know what everyday life was like then.
Which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, and a year?
A weekend: Thermes de Vals in Switzerland
A week: To Italy to explore a village I haven’t yet discovered.
A month: Back to Japan, to see everything I didn’t manage to see in the time I lived there.
A year: Mexico City, for the experience of living somewhere completely different.
Where are you embarrassed that you’ve never been?
I’m not so much embarrassed by not having been but rather having delayed going due to preconceived ideas about a country or culture — specifically, Germany. The more I’ve traveled in the country (to Berlin, to Bavaria…), the more I’ve enjoyed it. But it took me time to get there. Same with Seoul: It’s a very difficult city to grasp. Some places simply require more effort to understand them.
What are the trips most fruitful for you in terms of creative inspiration?
I always bring something back or take something with me from every place I visit, and that knowledge finds its way into my life and into my work without me always knowing. But I am particularly fascinated with plants, and I love how the Italians display their ferns in gorgeous, hulking pots. Since the café portion of our Marais boutique [called the Grand Café Tortoni] is open less at the moment, I’m thinking of using the space to add some big beautiful pots to the decor.
What stays with you from your time living abroad?
The intellectual spirit of New York, Court Street Grocers, which was a few meters from my kids’ school, and the cheesecake from Junior’s, our favorite. The generosity of Moroccan culture and especially the white light and lush gardens of Tangiers. I loved the Cinématheque de Tanger for a film or a coffee. And of course, I’m still struck by the food in Japan, from Higashiya for wagashi in a gorgeous space to Narukiyo, a very good izakaya. I’ve had the best and most unexpected dining experiences in that city.
Lindsey Tramuta is a Paris-based culture and travel journalist and the author of the bestselling book The New Paris (Abrams, 2017). Her work regularly appears in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, Afar, and Fortune. Her latest book, The New Parisienne: the Women & Ideas Shaping Paris, was released in July 2020 by Abrams and features, among more than 40 other women, Victoire de Taillac.