A citron Ladurée macaron has been, since I became familiar with them in Paris in the early 2000s when I used to go to the collections, an ultimate treat. So when I had the chance to interview Elisabeth, president of my idea of confectionary heaven, I was more than excited. I will admit when Ladurée opened it’s first U.S. boutique in New York a few years back, I was worried that the specialness of waiting to travel to Paris to eat macarons would be lost. I got over it very quickly and couldn’t be happier to indulge more often. (Plus the SoHo boutique makes me feel like I’m in Paris.) I am not the only one who’s benefited; Elisabeth has been instrumental in changing Ladurée from a couple of Paris-centric boutiques to a global enterprise with over 100 exquisite locations from Sydney to Dubai. Still, opening in the U.S. presented unique challenges, but also more opportunities to continue their unique box collaborations with Barbie (launching last week) and artist Gray Malin now. Here Elisabeth talks rabbit food, robots and why she thinks family businesses are the best.
How did you end up being a Parisian in New York? I moved to New York six years ago to develop the family business, Ladurée, because we wanted to bring the French lifestyle to the U.S. Before I used to work for Hermès, where I met my husband. Hermès and Ladurée have the same DNA, and they’re both family businesses, so it’s funny how my experience at Hermès, which I still love a lot, is close to Ladurée.
What did you do at Hermès? I was coordinator at the leather department, so I was really between the designer and the sales team, and I tried to coordinate this small world; it was super interesting.
Ladurée has a great history What’s important to you about the history and it being a family business? What’s important about modernizing it? It’s true that the brand is 150 years old, and it’s really one of the first tea rooms in Paris, so we love to have the story, we love the fact that we are now a family business, and have been for years before. Everybody in France has a memory as a souvenir of Ladurée, and more and more in the U.S. and other countries. We really want to keep the DNA of the brand with the décor, with the inspiration that we have, with the fact that, of course, we created the macaron. We have very traditional pastries, too. We try to be old-fashioned in the way we serve clients and sometimes the décor, and we try to be very modern in the collaborations we have with fashion designers and the way we communicate and use digital tools and social media.
Why do you think Laduree speaks to people now? How does that help you grow the brand? We have really good products. Our pastry chef trained forever and we use the best ingredients to bake everything. But also it’s an experience. When you’re at Ladurée, you love the food, the macarons, the pastries, and the savory food, but also you travel in time, you travel in space. You are a little bit in Paris, a little bit in the 19th, 20th or even the 18th century. We’ve even had clients who have come in wearing Marie Antoinette costumes. Being at Ladurée is also a very good way to enjoy time with family and friends. It’s very French to sit and enjoy a good meal with friends and family.
What do you miss about Paris? What do you love about New York? What I miss in France is the quality of the small little shops. You go to the fishmonger, you go to the bakery. You drive for miles to have good bread, or good cheese–this is really French. But I love being in New York. It’s a new experience. There are new inspirations, too. And the speed. So many new things, new concepts, every day. People are nice, super helpful. Business is fast and easy. It’s not like one is better that the other, just totally different.
What’s been the easiest part about growing the business? I think it’s a joy. It’s not easy, but the joy you share when you open the door for new clients is such an amazing feeling. It gives us great energy to develop and share this passion. It’s also not just a business, it’s part of my life. I saw my parents work in the business together and my brothers. I work with my husband, so it’s so part of my life and I don’t really see the difference.
What do you think is the best part of having a family business? Everything. I think it’s great because you trust each other. And when you have something to say, you just say so. We have fights, for sure, and we are French, so we have big fights. But I think it’s easiest to work with family and to share, to give advice, to be open-minded.
What has been the hardest part or the most unexpected part about growing the brand? Before the United States, we were in about 25 countries. And those were simple to develop. It was always the same, again the DNA, the history, and concept though sometimes we had to adapt or find a new inspiration. But when we arrived in the U.S. six years ago and opened in SoHo, we realized that we needed to be the coolest, and, again, not to adapt, but take inspiration for the U.S. market. So we have, of course, avocado toast, eggs, French fries. SoHo Ladurée was the first to have French fries. It was a revolution! I asked my chef to work on a kale salad. He said to me, ‘But I don’t understand. It’s for bunnies. It’s the food you give bunnies.’ I told him, ‘Okay. You know what? Don’t think about it. Just do it.’ And it is one of the best salads.
What’s next? We will open e-commerce this year. We are late. But it’s not so easy in our business because our product is delicate and macarons, they keep only for three-four days. So we worked on good packaging.
For the first time last week, we started savory to-go in Washington, D.C. And it’s really new for Ladurée. So now you get your salad and sandwich to go to the office or business. Within the Ladurée world, you don’t understand how deep culturally this is a revolution. It’s a new challenge and we need to, again, go further than we used to go and sometimes break our own rules. And to push ourselves. To say, ‘Okay, you know what? Let’s try, we will see what happens.’
Can you talk about your box collaborations? People collect them. I collect them. It’s funny because you can find them when you go to someone’s home–in the kitchen, the bathroom, the kid’s room. Two years ago, we began with fashion designers. Now we have worked with 20 of them. And now it’s not only fashion. The newest one is Barbie and Gray Malin, the photographer. So, we love to play, and it’s always a love story because we love the person and we love the DNA, and we share values.
Best sellers: It’s still the macaron because we created it. The most popular flavors are vanilla, caramel, pistachio, and rose. And we have seasonal flavors every month. The seasonal flavor is always popular because everyone wants to taste it.
Your favorites: I love the rose. We just had the lavender, which is so good. And the geranium, another floral. I love florals–they’re super light, and not too sweet.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed: Passion.
Three words that describe you: Creative, entrepreneurial, motivated.
Three words that describe Ladurée: Timeless, gourmand, photogenic.
Role models: My parents. My mother and my father, they are really different, but both are a great influence. And I think all the entrepreneurs in general, I love to take inspiration from anybody who wants to create a brand.
Best career advice you received: The best is from my father. Almost every day he says, ‘Nothing resists perseverance.’ And it’s really true. When you can’t do it, you try again, you try again, you try again, and in the end it happens. I give the same advice to my sons at school. And I think it works.
Advice you would give somebody starting out in your field: I heard this at Hermès, where someone said to our interns, “You know what? When you know a lot, you will begin to speak a little.” I think it’s nice just to learn and to observe. But this new generation, they begin and they think they know everything about everything, and they speak a lot. Just be quiet and learn. After you will speak.
What motivates you? Love.
Life goals: I’m really proud to see the business grow and when I see a customer enjoying Ladurée, it’s something I want to see more and more and more and more. To share that passion because it’s not just about Ladurée, it’s also about French culture and the French lifestyle and to share this and to give this value to my kids, too. They’re beginning to be interested in the business and that’s super cute. And we are super lucky to have an amazing team—the pastry chef, the savory chef. They are both here in New York, but everywhere in the U.S. we have a really great team and to speak with them, and to find the good ingredients, to go the farms, to work on new recipes–it’s super interesting. In 100 years I still want Ladurée to be here and to be on the top of the market.
Daily goals: To try to manage a good balance between family and business and sometimes find time for myself.
Daily rituals: I don’t really have rituals. Everyday is a new day and a very different one. Right now I am traveling a lot so when I’m in New York, I try to wake up my kids and to spend time with them and drop them at school. And wherever I am I go at first into the store and say hi to the team, I try to share time with them, to have a coffee and speak with them.
Favorite inspiration/motivational book: It’s a shame because I don’t really have time to read books right now. It’s more about magazines and I’m curious about everything. I love to read food magazines, especially French one because they are really good. But I love fashion, I love lifestyle. Each time I go in the bookstore I come out with 10 or 15 magazines. At home I have them everywhere. My husband gets crazy about it.
How do you unplug? It’s tough, I try to leave my phone at home and go for an hour of yoga or pilates.
Hidden talents or hobbies: I don’t have a secret talent. But I love art. I love going to museums. In 20 years when I have more time I will go more often. I also love flea markets and antiques in general. It’s something I share with my family.
Do you collect anything? I used to collect robots. I love robots. I don’t know why, it’s like primitive art. I had about 30 robots in my house. But not anymore. And I collect art. Right now I love the photographer Valerie Belin. My latest piece is a photo by her.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: The house we bought in the Hamptons. Because on the weekend, it’s time to leave Manhattan and spend time with families.
Favorite small indulgence: Eating a macaron.
Album currently on repeat: I don’t have one specific album. I love new songs and listen to Spotify. I plug in a new mix everyday.
Lucky charm: I don’t have one. I’m not superstitious.
Favorite hour of the day: The morning when I can wake up my kids and spend time with them.
Follow Ladurée: Instagram.
Portrait by Elizabeth Lippman.