Philippe d’Ornano, the president of Sisley Paris, likes to share a favorite story about his mother, the über-elegant French countess Isabelle d’Ornano. Back in the late ’60s, on one of her first visits to New York, she walked into the tony midtown Manhattan restaurant, La Caravelle, wearing trousers. The maitre d’ promptly informed her that female patrons wearing pants would not be permitted to dine there.
“So, she went to the ladies room, removed her pants, and wore her blouse, which was, fortunately, rather long, as a dress,” laughs d’Ornano. “Everyone thought that was very amusing.”
D’Ornano is equally amusing (even though he kept all of his clothes on the afternoon we met). Quick with a laugh, he’s also charming, oozes luxury, and has great hair (which also makes him the perfect poster child for one of Sisley’s newer product lines, Hair Rituel.)
The beauty bloodline runs deep in his family. His grandfather co-founded Lancôme in 1935, then launched fragrance brand Jean d’Albret and skin-care behemoth Orlane, the latter two of which his father, Hubert d’Ornano, also played a part. Count Hubert d’Ornano eventually went on to launch Sisley on his own in 1976. Despite this history, young Philippe never felt pressured to join the family business.
“I was the intellectual of the family,” he says. “The reader, and the writer. I started writing poetry when I was 15.”
The writer-poet landed an internship with the New York Times Group, working for the Wilmington Star News in North Carolina. After graduating from college, he was offered a job at the Atlanta bureau of the New York Times, but three weeks before he planned to cross the pond, tragedy struck when his brother was killed in a car accident. He stayed in Paris and joined the family business in 1986.
D’Ornano took to his new job rather well, starting as a sales manager in Sisley’s French market, then expanding to all of Europe, and ultimately focusing on global distribution (The brand is now sold in more than 90 countries). Despite the differences and disagreements typical within families, d’Ornano says says that the work always brought them back together. Count Hubert passed away in 2015, and Philippe now strives to drive the business very much the way his father did.
“What I admired the most from my father was his tremendous energy. He was a do-er. Every time I’m tempted to slow down, I remember how he would get an idea and immediately say, ‘Let’s do it,’” says d’Ornano. “Whereas others would think and think, my father converted thoughts into actions. He instilled a very strong work ethic, and that’s what I try to build into my character as much as I can.”
Below, d’Ornano spoke with the Cut about his penchant for surfboards, his clothing weakness, and why he’s stoked about “green chemistry.”
What do you splurge on?
Books and surfboards.
What do you scrimp on?
I am very selective with the waves I choose when surfing.
If you could have infinity anything, what would it be?
Last great book you read?
A Confederacy of Dunces.
What tiny thing can make your day?
An idea, wherever it comes from.
Where do you keep your ideas stored?
In a mixer.
What is one moment in your career that really touched you?
I read a lot of our beauty consultant’s reports every week. In a store in France, a young woman with a severe skin disease on her face came in, and our beauty consultant offered to do her makeup. When she finished, the woman looked in the mirror and started to cry. The beauty consultant finished her report with: “We’re doing a great job.”
What was your first scent? How old were you and how did you discover it?
My parents created Eau de Campagne when I was 13 with Jean Claude Ellena. I still remember the discussions on the different projects. They asked me my opinion and I liked one with a melon scent. I’m afraid they didn’t take my opinion into account.
Current scent of choice:
Sisley Eau d’Ikar.
Your favorite smell?
What do you disagree with others about?
I like to disagree as a path to discussion. And it is a way to think against myself and go out of my comfort zone.
What aspect of your grooming routine tends to be neglected?
I love surfing and there is always one day when I get too excited with the waves and forget to put on my sunscreen, Sisley Sunleya SPF 50. Restorative Day Cream is ideal for sunburn.
Most relied on hairstyling product or tool?
Yves Durif brushes. They look simple and are just great.
What’s the last beauty product you use every night?
Supremya, which is probably Sisley’s most spectacular product.
What is your classic uniform?
Work shoe of choice?
Your weekend uniform?
James Perse. My kids make fun of how much James Perse I buy.
Weekend shoe of choice?
All kinds of sneakers, and I also like to go barefoot.
Baguette with butter and honey.
Most impressive dish you make?
Scrambled eggs with sea urchin.
What talent or skill do you wish you had?
What word do you overuse?
I am obsessed with not overusing words.
What product in your domain is misunderstood and should be a best seller?
All Day All Year. When it launched in 2005, it was one of the first products working on epigenetics with 14 different natural actives and with encapsulated filters with reasonable SPF for a day cream. It acts as a perfect shield for your skin. At first nobody was familiar with these new concepts, but now it’s a best seller.
What do you foresee as the top beauty trends for the remainder of 2019?
We do not like to follow trends, but the revolution is the scientific use of the green chemistry of plants.
What’s your definition of beauty?
What I find beautiful about beauty is that it escapes definitions, but will deeply touch you when you see it.