To understand “Zadig” (the Zadig & Voltaire brand founded in 1997 is now called) we have to go back to Voltaire: “Man is born to move, because fire inclines above, stone below. » Founder Thierry Gillier, born in 1959, appreciates this idea. It is in 104th placee fortune de France (“Challenges” magazine), the Luxembourg fund Peninsula Capital remains the main shareholder (more than 70%) in 2020, while the American fund TA Associates entered the capital by taking over a minority stake. When he meets him, he is accompanied by two people. General manager of Zadig & Voltaire, 47-year-old Rémy Baume, ESCP (formerly Morgan Stanley, Groupe Arnault, Carrefour, Kidiliz) with a brilliant career, was hired in 2020 and then entered the capital. As well as 47-year-old Sébastien Verdeaux, the founder of the Letus Private Office family office, his adviser and friend.
A brand born from “knitting” that wants to gain ground
A group of 1500 employees There are 450 sales points in thirty countries. Its expected turnover in 2022 is 430 million euros (excluding licenses that generate several tens of millions of euros per year) Earnings before interest for Ebitda, more than 60 million euros. “Zadig is a very emotional brand, our customers are attached to it. Internally, I have also built strong relationships. Even if people have mistakes, you have to achieve the desire to surpass themselves and climb the stairs,” the founder declares.
To try to unravel the secret of Zadig & Voltaire, which holds a special place in fashion, we must return to Thierry Gilliere, the house’s demiurge and mentor. “He is hyperactive, but I would say that he is above all a sprinter who does not give up and loves endurance; and in our work that makes all the difference,” notes one employee. He calls himself “an entrepreneur with an artistic instinct,” recalling that he first wanted to be a visual artist and tried his luck in New York in the 1980s. rails of the Haussmann headquarters in the rich 16e district.
As success accompanied Zadig & Voltaire, her typical client was cataloged as a bourgeois woman with a rebellious spirit. “I think a Zadig & Voltaire woman doesn’t care about labels like I do. There is a choice of materials, a definable silhouette, rock and voluptuousness, but also an ultra-feminine side; A little naughty biker girl inspired me for the next collection”, – explains Cécilia Bönström, the main artistic director (since 2007), former Swedish model who is the head of the design studio, “the heart of the reactor”. Words of love, the names of rockers emblazoned on their sweaters or jackets, such as skulls and outstretched wings, are part of the brand’s DNA. Twenty-five years ago, Thierry Gillier learned that “attention is always subtle” after reading Voltaire’s “Fate or Fate,” which inspired the brand’s name.
Zadig and Voltaire, the epitome of “Paris chic”.
Who doesn’t remember the then-Secretary of State for Commerce, Frédéric Lefebvre, praising Zadig and Voltaire as his “most surprising book” in 2011? Zadig and Voltaire are symbols of Parisian chic in movies and novels; such as those of Houellebecq. The stars fell in love with him. During the Rolling Stones tour, Mick Jagger would request that the store be privatized to satisfy his shopping spree. Model Kate Moss was a client before she became a muse. Bella Hadid paraded for the brand…
The latest spotlight in the United States came from Jill Biden wearing a Zadig jacket with “Love” written on the back; A message for America and unexpected progress. But before it became iconic, the brand was first born from “knitting”. Zadig & Voltaire owes its breakthrough to cashmere sweaters. The founder, originally from Troyes, remains sensitive to this; He is the grandson of André Gillier, co-founder of the Rolling Stones and keeper of the “point Gillier” that defines the textile of polo shirts. “We’ve had some crushing failures. “When the Elvis sweaters hit the stores, we sold ten of them, and then the transplants were done,” he explains. The much-copied, Tunisian collar shirt, a bestseller even before it was worn by Zinédine Zidane, owes its style to “a manufacturing error that I wanted to exist,” reveals its creator. . Cécilia Bonstrom remembers the terrifying removal of the wings stuck to the pocket leather. “We had to change our minds quickly. As if that was not enough of a challenge, Thierry Gillier has always chosen to work with his spouse. His ex-wife, Amélie, built the brand with him for ten years.
United States, second market
His wife, Cécilia Bonstrom, is the artistic director who has given another dimension to Zadig’s wardrobe and has become his image for several years. “2015 was a turning point, I told myself that then I can hit myself with more things,” admits the designer (Le Cécilia), who now has a Zadig bag to her name, “success”. To his credit, more urban, “more rock” pieces, but also an ultra-feminine aesthetic (with vests) and masculine (androgynous appeal). Her attention was attracted by intricate fabrics, sexy dresses, suits in crushed lambskin, which have already been copied a lot. Thierry Gillier points out that it is “badly imitated”. A few years ago, the brand was criticized for certain models of expensive and very fragile cashmere sweaters. “It’s not a quality problem, it’s a maintenance problem,” replies Tat to its founder.
In order to grow especially in the USA, Zadig, which today has the second market after France, opened its capital in 2012. The presence is consolidating and the brand opened a ‘flagship’ on New York’s Madison Avenue in September. Overall, accessories – including leather goods – make up “40% of sales”. Thanks to the anticipation of e-commerce more than twelve years ago, this activity flourished during the pandemic and has since accounted for 30% of sales. “In 2023, we are aiming for 500 million euros,” said Thierry Gillier. When he arrived two years ago, Rémy Baume set a revenue target of 550 million euros for the 2025 financial year. Will Zadig beat his targets? Its roots appear to be strongly established in France (30% of activity) and North America (25%), but Asia remains weak (15%). The president of Zadig & Voltaire makes no secret of his thwarted ambitions (just over 5%) in China due to the unexpected context of a strict “zero Covid” policy that has just begun to weaken. Remy Baume clearly has China in mind; In 2021, he became a member of the China Business Club, founded and managed by Harold Parisot.
Communication goes up
At Zadig & Voltaire, half of our suppliers are in Asia, even if we mostly talk about ‘India and Portugal’ for ready-to-wear and ‘Italy for leather goods’. The company, which adopted a CSR program called “VoltAIRe” in 2021 to convince millennials, still needs to “go green.” As for the communication of the creative image, the brand is undoubtedly on the rise, driven by a new dynamic owed to Jordan Henrion (formerly Saint Laurent). Observed by Remy Baume and Thierry Gillier, he was appointed communications and image director a year ago. He is a hyper-connected person who explains that a brand should not only register on the menu of social networks (Instagram, Tik Tok, etc.), but invite itself to their table, in other words, be an actor who benefits commercially from his success. .
The expert notes: “The brand is also due to return to Paris (after the parade in New York, editor’s note) to present its 2022-2023 fall-winter collection (outside the Fashion Week calendar).” A show at the Museum of Decorative Arts in June was unanimously hailed as the collection of Cecilia Bonstrom. “He’s sunny,” notes Jordan Henrion. Here is DA whose personality is unanimous in fashion; rare enough to be highlighted. Commercially, the brand’s strength lies in offering more accessible products than luxury (from €350 per bag). “The target of reaching 550 million euros by 2025 assumes an average annual growth rate of 17%, which may seem ambitious given the current economic situation. But its development plan is rational and relevant, especially with the idea of rejuvenating the customers at the same time as diversifying the product,” says Cédric Rossi, an analyst at Bryan Garnier & Co. stage. Zadig & Voltaire is now out of fashion to reinvent itself. “With Château Voltaire, we have brought a new brand to the Zadig & Voltaire galaxy,” says Thierry Gillier about the hotel, which will open in Paris in the fall of 2021, on 1er district. Other projects are under consideration.