There's an old saying that you make your own luck. It's also been said that succeeding is a habit. Olivier Baussan, the founder of L'Occitane and Oliviers & Co., embodies both principles. Baussan began his career selling flacons of lavender and rosemary essences in Provençal markets; today his worldwide empire includes 470 L'Occitane boutiques, which sell artisanal beauty products, and 58 Oliviers & Co. stores, stocked with handcrafted olive oils. Baussan is also a restaurateur with his eye on America: He owns La Table O&CO, a store and restaurant with outposts in France, Belgium, Brazil andas of last fallSan Francisco. He's just launched another market and restaurant in Manhattan uniting L'Occitane, Oliviers & Co. and La Table O&CO under a single roof. (The place was not yet named at press time.)
On a recent trip to meet Baussan in northern Provence, where he is based, the first thing I learn is how central a figure he is in his corner of France. Everyone knows him; everyone has an anecdote. "His first workshop [for distilling lavender and rosemary essences] was in my father-in-law's shed," says the taxi driver who takes me to Baussan's office in the tiny village of Mane. Later, as Baussan and I walk through the market in Manosque, the largest town in the area, there are hellos and handshakes every few feet.
When I arrive at Baussan's office, he wastes little time on preliminaries. A boyish 51, dressed in jeans and a gray pullover, Baussan quickly takes me on a tour of his operations in the nearby villagesstopping at a mill here, a factory therewhile he tells me the story of how he came to build his business.