In the digital age, intimacy and authenticity are often resounding ideals of a brand’s social media strategy — but it’s still rare for the general public to meet a brand’s creative team or go inside a company workshop in real life.
On October 12, 13 and 14, Benefit Cosmetics and Sephora were among the first U.S. brands to participate in “Les Journées Particulières,” an initiative from French luxury goods conglomerate LVMH meant to allow people inside the company’s many “maisons” to more intimately understand and appreciate brands such as Christian Dior, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton.
Meaning “open days,” the three-day event provides free behind-the-scenes experiences that have traditionally been the purview of journalists or bloggers: Benefit Cosmetics hosted seven session, during which chief beauty ambassador Maggie Ford Danielson (who is the daughter and niece of the company’s founders) gave a tour of Benefit’s San Francisco headquarters. In San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, Sephora hosted a total of 18 sessions featuring its three most senior beauty advisors. It also gave early access to its monthly subscription boxes, which is something customers normally can’t experience in-store.
“It’s hard, as a corporate office, to figure out a way to let people in, in a way that is going to be exciting and dynamic — and there are also things that are propriety and haven’t launched yet. So to get everyone in this office to have a ‘ra-ra moment’ is kind of tough,” Danielson said, after a 45-minute tour that included Benefit’s history and product life cycle. “When LVMH approached us to be one of the first companies to participate in the U.S., that was really what we needed to get everyone on board. Most people have never been able to come into the corporate office.”
Some of the attendees learned about the program from the LVMH side and others from cross-promotions on Benefit’s social media accounts, Danielson said. Each of Saturday’s sessions was capped at about 24 people. (Participants had to reserve spots in advance.) Some were local to the Bay Area, while others were visiting from places such as France and Australia.
Although the events were not focused on sales or performance, the interactive experiences certainly invited a high level of social media moments and sharing. The Benefit experience, for example, culminated in a brow workshop with Benefit’s global brow expert Jared Bailey.
Danielson said the Benefit ethos, known for jovial puns and cheeky packaging, is complementary to a personal program like this. “It’s a brand that begs for it,” she said. “You want to see behind the scenes. It’s not enough to just say, ‘Here’s a product.’ They’re like, ‘What else?’”
A frank openness is more familiar to Benefit Cosmetics, which was founded in the 1970s with a nipple tint product, than, say, a 164-year-old brand like Louis Vuitton.
“A lot of the brands in the LVMH umbrella are more aspirational — more aloof, more closed door — and that creates a mystery. So to reveal that mystery is really exciting,” Danielson said. “The other side of that is the Benefit moment, and we just let it all hang out all the time and just want people to join the party, so that’s what our experience is. Both are about revealing mysteries and having fun, they’re just different ways to look at it.”
This year was the fourth edition of Les Journées Particulières, with previous editions being in 2011, 2013 and 2016; it was first time that the program expanded to the U.S. (Other U.S. participants were three California wine properties.) This year, 56 total brands were opened to the public at 76 places and in four continents, including 38 for the first time. It’s estimated that more than 150,000 people attended.
Repeat participants included the salons of Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy. The Rome Bulgari boutique, for example, emphasized its history as a destination for movie stars and sent visitors home with a souvenir photo of jewelry previously worn by a famous star. Other new locations this year included Louis Vuitton’s Paris prototype workshop, a tour of Christian Dior’s last residence (in the south of France) and a perfume-creation workshop shared by Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton in Grasse.
In a release, Berluti CEO and Les Journées Particulières founder Antoine Arnault (who is the son of LVMH chairman and CEO Bernard Arnault) said it “was designed to embody our houses’ hospitality and energy, and echoes the vital role that the act of transmitting plays for the LVMH Group: Our aim is to share our diverse heritage, extensive savoir-faire and concrete innovations.” (When the initiative was announced in 2011, he admitted that it was also to show that the company wasn’t only interested in profit and performance.)
The project, while recognized more broadly in Europe, is still a fledgling endeavor in the States, and Danielson said that this year was mainly about learning.
Similarly to the Benefit audience, the Sephora audience ranged from loyal local Beauty Insiders to vacationers from France, Australia and Argentina, said Sephora senior vp of marketing and brand Deborah Yeh. Sephora hosted 18 total workshops across three days; its New York and San Francisco locations garnered 100 percent RSVPs, while its Los Angeles event got about 60 percent.
“We’re elated by the robust response for the Sephora experience offering,” Yeh said. “We strongly believe that expertise should be shared, and the Journees Particulieres reinforces our ‘teach, inspire and play’ mentality across our stores and online experiences.”