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Interview: L'Occitane retail and property director Jamie Taylor

Jamie Taylor has a lot on his plate. Since joining French hand-cream retailer L’Occitane En Provence in September 2016, he has overseen 16 store openings and renovations, and has another 24 on the books for this year.

The aim, he says, is to open, upgrade or relocate 20 outlets a year for the next few years. “It’s catch-up, they haven’t had the investment to modernise,” says the retail, wholesale and property director for L’Occitane UK and Ireland.

Until the rethink, L’Occitane peddled its Provence-inspired wares in shabby chic environments. Its change in direction is epitomized by the new flagship on London’s Regent Street.

Aesthetically, this is an extravagant one-off. But like all the new interiors across the portfolio, this one by Dutch-US design firm Futurebrand UXUS is informed by the company’s ambition to reach a younger audience.

Historically, L’Occitane has appealed to 40-something women. These poor souls will only get older, so the brand is keen to aim for a younger model. Hence the launch this spring of Reotier, a new range for youthful skin. “We want to attract the millennial customer,” says Taylor. “We would like Mum to bring her daughter on the L’Occitane journey.”

That journey on Regent Street is full of contemporary references to the Provençal landscape, such as the sunny palette, the columns clad in botanicals, and the pièce de résistance – a circular void in the ground floor ceiling bedecked with more flora.

The ground floor is designed to create wow-factor, says Taylor. “Normally, we’re a product-led business with a poster in [the] window, which hides the theatre.” But on Regent Street, the theatre is on view from the pavement. The action includes a hand-care bar, where free-of-charge hand and arm massages are on offer. There’s also a hand-cream fountain, with taps spouting unguents rather than water. Taylor describes this as “more of a self-play area where you can exfoliate, cleanse and moisturize yourself”. At the back is a wrapping service and an engraving machine for personalising glass and metal perfume bottles.

Taylor says that he has taken some risks with this store, the biggest of which one is “having our full product range not shoppable downstairs”. Instead, the entire range is on the first floor. So to make lots of sales, “we need to move the customer upstairs.” To encourage their ascent, Futurebrand UXUS widened the existing staircase.

Media-savvy millennials will also be drawn upstairs, L’Occitane hopes, by the presence of the ‘selfie studio’ where they can indulge in some ‘memory creation’, as Taylor puts it. UXUS has decked out one corner as a gite-style photographic backdrop for this generation of shameless self-promoters.

Upstairs too is the café serving bijou macarons by Pierre Hermé, following the success of the brand’s collaboration with the celebrated pastry chef at the new Paris flagship on the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. “This is our first complete sensorial experience now that we’ve introduced taste,” Taylor adds. There’s also a consultation room on this floor.

A second risk Taylor took was to employ a general manager with no retail experience. Rather, she was formerly guest relations manager at Claridge’s. “She’s delivering the most amazing customer experience,” he says.

And that’s what’s important on Regent Street. Along with the lotions, potions and macarons, there is “a choreographed a playlist akin to the time of day. We want people to dwell with us and stay with us for a long time.”

Despite the huge effort that has gone into the 599 sq m (6,450 sq ft) flagship, it was not a given. L’Occitane has had a 65 sq m (700sq ft) boutique further north on the street for 20 years, and when Taylor first joined the business, discussions were going on with The Crown Estate about modernising that store. But he thought the location could be improved upon.

“We weren’t near Hamleys and Apple.” So L’Occitane moved into a space nearer Piccadilly Circus, that had been vacated by Coach. “The footfall is much bigger than where we were before.” And it is two doors down from the Nespresso store that Taylor built as head of retail for Nestlé Nespresso in 2011-13, and which his latest bosses hoped to emulate.

L’Occitane hasn’t completely given up its rustic roots. The flooring upstairs is unvarnished timber, there are countless terracotta pots and a lozenge-shaped wicker basket stands by the door for wet umbrellas (we presume).

And while Regent Street and UXUS get all the attention, the UK and Ireland’s other stores – most of which are 65-93 sq m (700-1000 sq ft) - are quietly being updated with concepts created in-house.