For the past two decades, Ramdane Touhami and his wife, Victoire de Taillac-Touhami, have led a nomadic life, popping up in London; Paris; Jaipur, India; and Tangier, Morocco. Until a few years ago, the couple and their three children appeared to have settled down in a Brooklyn brownstone filled with vintage furniture and family heirlooms.
Alas, “when we get bored, we find a new location,” says Touhami, a French-Moroccan multihyphenate whose past stints as an artist, a fashion designer, an artistic director, and the chief executive of the French candle company Cire Trudon paved the way for the family’s traveling show of a life.
Last summer, they found themselves in Tokyo, where the couple opened two stores for L’Officine Universelle Buly, a 19th-century French beauty brand they purchased and proceeded to revive in 2014. And while Buly is quickly expanding around the globe, with stores in Paris, London, Seoul, Taipei, and New York (a shop-in-shop bowed at Bergdorf Goodman in April), the clan is staying put in Tokyo—for now, at least.
It was somewhat inevitable that the clan would set up camp in the Japanese capital. Victoire’s sister Sophie lives there with her husband and child, and, well, “Ramdane was Japanese in his past life,” de Taillac-Touhami says. Their home—two landmarked 1960s houses in Shinjuku that they combined—reflects their ease with the culture.
“It’s very zen,” says Touhami, noting that the family stored all its belongings in Paris and moved with only two suitcases.
To fill the space, he designed a series of blocky, colorful, “totally strange” furniture, which was then made by local artisans using fabric from the Danish textile company Kvadrat. “We wanted it to be happy,” Touhami says. “And a bit teenager.”
Aside from a Brionvega Totem stereo system bought in Italy, a Garrard 501 turntable procured in France, and the movie and ’60s anarchist posters on the walls (including one for the French release of Larry Clark’s Kids, given to the couple by the film’s coproducer, Cary Woods), every bit of their funky, modernist decor was found in Japan.
“Tokyo is the best city for home design,” Touhami says. “Nowhere—not New York, not Paris—comes close. It’s my favorite place in the world.”
When an acquaintance told Touhami that he reminded him of César Birotteau, the perfumer in an Honoré de Balzac novel, Touhami—who exited Cire Trudon in 2011 after successfully rebooting it—started researching the character. It turns out Balzac was inspired by a real-life cosmetician named Jean-Vincent Bully, whose scientifically advanced skincare products (particularly his Vinaigre de Bully) were popular in the early 1800s.
“It was the L’Oréal of its time,” says Touhami, who dropped the second L to create Buly.
With the help of a French lab, he and de Taillac-Touhami, a beauty writer with a book coming out in the fall, are expanding on Buly’s original formulas, incorporating knowledge picked up on their world travels. Among Buly’s some 750 products are a skin oil inspired by plant macerations used in ancient Greece; an orange-and-ginger-flavored toothpaste enhanced with thermal water from the French region of Castéra-Verduzan; sulfur-free matches scented with Egyptian amber; and minebari-wood combs made in Nagano, Japan, for the imperial family.
Just as meticulously crafted are the shops, designed to resemble Old World French apothecaries. Take, for instance, the countertops, which are sourced from a rare block of once-popular brèche de bénou marble that Touhami tracked down in the Pyrenees.
“You’ll find it at Versailles—and in our stores,” he says.
Watch W's most popular videos here: