A toast to the day when Rémy once more met Martin

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(From The Moodie Report.com, February 2012)

Every year, bar one, I have sat down at the TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes and chatted to Beauté Prestige International (BPI) President Rémy Gomez. It is an annual meeting I look forward to eagerly – with its humour, humanity and insight a welcome antidote to so much that is anodyne and brash at a frenzied exhibition. Invariably our conversation meanders across many themes, from ballet (his first love) to rugby (a great passion) to brands and business – with a fair amount of philosophy thrown in along the way.

Gomez is not your typical CEO. Nor is any discussion with him a typical interview. Sometimes I play back the tapes of our encounters and wonder at first how I am going to turn them into a coherent article. Always the ‘outtakes’ and the off-the-record asides are the best elements. But then, slowly, the words take shape. And for five of the past six years they have numbered among my favourite interviews of the year.

The exception was 2010 when I missed our annual tête-à-tête because of a serious illness. Typically, the BPI President was in touch several times during my absence, expressing profound concern for my health with a rare blend of eloquence and humanity. I promised to be back, both for our annual meeting and, perhaps more importantly, for the Rugby World Cup final (in October 2011) showdown* that we both prayed for between ‘Les Bleus’ of France and the All Blacks of New Zealand…

I’m in Pontadarwe, Wales, a very interim Moodie Report Bureau (for me at least; it’s staffed permanently by my daughter Sinead) before I catch the train back to London today and start my last-minute preparations for Cannes.

Travel retail didn’t bring me to Wales, rugby did. But while I was here I met up for a delightful lunch (and rugby match) with one of my favourite travel retail people. Well, make that former travel retail people. My dining and sporting companion was none other than Rémy Gomez, former President of Beauté Prestige International (BPI), the Shiseido-owned designer fragrances specialist.

Rémy left the role in April after 15 exhilarating years, during which time his leadership made BPI a watchword for creativity and innovation. He’s been out ‘smelling the roses’ as they say since, enjoying his eclectic range of passions from art to meditation, ballet to, of course, rugby.  For Rémy, ballet and rugby belong in the same sentence. He pines for the great French rugby ‘dancers’ of the past, geniuses such as Jo Maso whose feet twinkled more than any star ever could.

Today’s game is more about almost impossibly big men, gym-hardened, robotic in their biff, bash methods. And yet, and yet, sometimes the old France comes out and plays (usually against my team, the All Blacks, it must be said), even pirouettes. Sometimes the gallic poet can still enchant, the dancer surface. Not so often, these days, alas.

But this is no nostalgic lament for a creative past. We had too much fun for that. To be in Cardiff yesterday was to be in a new-found Irish province, as the men and women in green claimed the Welsh capital as their own. The French sing well (is theirs not the greatest anthem of all?) but they were overwhelmed yesterday by the collective voice of the Celts, as indeed they were in the rugby itself.

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While I waited for Rémy in the restaurant (the excellent Casanova, within penalty kicking distance from the stadium), I listened to a ‘sing-off’ at the next table between a group of Irishmen (‘Fields of Athenry’ of course) and French (La Marseillaise naturallment). The Irish won it hands down. It was to be their day.

The good folks at Casanova kindly allowed me to bring my own bottle of wine in return for a modest corkage fee. It was a Minervois (an AOC in the Languedoc-Roussillon wine region) produced by French rugby legend Gerard Bertrand. A fine, rich and savoury 2009 vintage, it was bottled in 2011 to celebrate the *Rugby World Cup final in New Zealand between the All Blacks and their age-old rivals France. I was given two bottles after that match (won, controversially, by the All Blacks 8-7) and had been awaiting a suitable occasion to broach them.

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This was certainly one. And I can tell you the second bottle won’t have to wait long before it follows suit. You see, France’s loss to Ireland (9-24) yesterday means that Les Bleus will play none other than the All Blacks in next Saturday’s do or die quarter-final in Cardiff (same round, same stadium, same opponent as the famous French victory in 2007).

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Alas I will be in Cannes not Cardiff, outnumbered by around 76,603 Frenchmen to 1 Kiwi. So I’ll bring my second bottle, station myself somewhere quiet and unpretentious like Le Crillon (if you see someone blubbering into their Bouillabaisse you’ll know who it is and who won) and raise a toast to the All Blacks, Les Bleus and the unexpected friendships one makes through travel retail and rugby, sometimes both combined. And raise a glass indeed to the day when Rémy once again met Martin.

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