The co-president of BETC Etoile Rouge on growing “grand narratives” for luxury brands, founding her agency aged 26 and how she’s satisfied her interior design drive during lockdown
As co-president at BETC Etoile Rouge, the luxury arm of the French agency, Delphine de Canecaude presides over 60 people whose focus is, according to their website “to build the cultural footprint of luxury, fashion and beauty brands.”
As the founder of Etoile Rouge, whose clients include the likes of Christian Dior, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton, Delphine has a deep knowledge of luxury brands and their place in culture. As founder of The Red List and Twenty Magazine too, she’s always kept herself immersed in cultural life way beyond just what brands interact with.
LBB’s Alex Reeves caught up with Delphine about her extraordinary career so far, her collaborations with Gen Z and how she scratches her interior design itch.
LBB> BETC Etoile Rouge often works beyond classic advertising campaigns on products and objects as well as cultural artefacts and exhibitions. What are some of the most unexpected or non-traditional projects that you’ve enjoyed working on?
Delphine> For more than twenty years, BETC has been working with Louis Vuitton on the City Guides
and a few years ago I had the chance to join the adventure. To me, it is an amazing way of conveying the brand’s positioning on travel, through an ultra-desirable object. Also, it is exciting to collaborate with an editorial team of more than 150 French journalists, based worldwide. We are currently developing new and more immersive event formats, but it’s still a bit early to tell you more. Furthermore, regarding all the brands we guide, we always try to think about how we can build and grow their grand narratives through fiction or documentary strategies.
LBB> How is working on luxury, fashion and beauty brands different from advertising and branding more generally?
Delphine> Luxury, fashion and beauty, more than other brands, invite us to keep pushing back the limits of creativity. Brands, as well as artists, are open today to the idea of creating singular and innovative dialogues with their audiences. Retail is becoming more immersive, brands, more entertaining and great luxury groups, more cultural. However, our job as ad people, is still essential to define brands’ positioning and big ideas, in order to answer to precise business objectives and to encapsulate the different actions spread out on all touchpoints, and thus, to create a coherent and powerful brand.
LBB> You take pride in watching the direction that culture and society is moving in. How do you make sure you're keeping up with culture in a world driven by thousands of strange areas of the internet?
Delphine> We, at BETC, analyse each year, via our prosumer studies, the evolutions of early adopters on the great themes which cross and shake up our societies. We pay close attention to weak signals. Our amazing strategic planning teams keep inventing new studies formats, to stay alert and to try to sharply and subtly understand all the emerging online or IRL movements.
LBB> You grew up with Corsican roots and an entrepreneurial mother. How did these and other factors shape you as a professional in later life?
Delphine> Corsica is the place where I come to revitalise myself, where I find raw energy. I cut through the maquis, watching the sea, and I just disconnect. On a more symbolic level, I think that my Corsican heritage allows me to be anchored. I love the sun and luminous people and every day I try to keep a positive and open mind.
As for my mother, she is just amazing. She became an entrepreneur aged 40, a jewellery creator at 60 and today she is a ceramist. She taught me that the sky is the limit, when you are determined and hardworking and she has always supported me. When I was very young, she gave me a painting, inspired by Ben’s writing, and it read: “become who you are”. So, force and confidence.
LBB> You were an art director, stylist and short film director before Etoile Rouge. How do you reflect on those years now?
Delphine> Those years, to me, represent my own initiatory path. Looking back, it makes me realise that my Ariadne’s thread or rather my existential driver, has always been about learning new things, discovering new mediums, and forever extending my horizons. Each experience has built my character and enriched my analytical framework. It gave me great adaptability skills. Depending on the challenges and the people I face every day, I find made-to-measure solutions, almost naturally. So even though I was not aware of it at the time, this rather unusual professional journey has given me the ability to craft tailor-made operational, creative and strategic answers, for every subject I address.
LBB> When you founded Etoile Rouge aged only 26, what were your goals for it? What has changed since then and what's remained the same?
Delphine> I founded Etoile Rouge somewhat by chance. I had never ambitioned becoming a company head. Out of some sort of teenage naivety, I told myself that I wanted to “live off my ideas”. However, one day, I answered an ad in Telerama (a cultural French magazine). It was a competition to create a museum on cinema. After I won, I had to create my own business. It actually took me a while to understand what was expected of me, as a “business leader”. Initially, I would work like a freelance entrepreneur. And if the way I position myself as a leader has evolved, my goals are still the same: to keep imagining new ideas, new cultural formats and mediums, profitable and scalable businesses, meaningful to people.
LBB> Can you talk to us about The Red List? How did it start and how did it get to an audience of 600,000 followers?
Delphine> The Red List is an extremely important project to me. It all started in 2008, in the midst of the financial crisis. At that time, I thought that I would be going out of business soon, so I started thinking about training my teams to create a cultural magazine, not only dedicated to one culture in particular, but to all cultures at the same time. “How can you go from a sky painted by Eugène Delacroix, to Bill Viola, Magritte and Virgil Abloh?” The times were already not about print, so it became a digital project. With my best friend, we decided to didactically reference everything that was being done in the worlds of arts and creation.
For four years, we just kept a record of everything and in 2012, we launched this database, with more than 5000 000 images, sorted and, if possible, labelled with captions. Nathalie Azoulai joined the adventure and became our editor-in-chief. Me, I was the community manager. I remember spending my time posting online, and gaining 50 followers a day, then 100 etc. The website gained worldwide exposure: Iran, USA, South Africa… It was so exhilarating. Eventually, the Red List had to close for rights holder issues. However, the Instagram page is still open.
LBB> What work are you most proud of recently and why?
Delphine> In 2017, with Nadège Winter, I founded Twenty Magazine, the first online collaborative platform made by and for 16 to 25 year-olds in France, and a live observatory of today’s youth. Following the launch of the magazine I created a Think Tank with French and international young people aged 16 to 25, for a great luxury brand. This new adventure was extremely enriching, and I just loved discussing at length, during whole evenings, with this enlightened, frank and contradictory youth on their vision of the world, of luxury and culture. Recently, I also worked on the brand positioning of a hospitality brand named “PERSEUS” with Valéry Grégo. He belongs to this new generation of entrepreneurs, who defend a true and more virtuous worldview. And, last but not least, we worked on a beautiful collaboration with Isabel Marant, to rethink their brand strategy.
LBB> You’re clearly a fan of interior design. Has that proven to be important given our current lockdown situation?
Delphine> I’ve always loved bargain-hunting, since my first steps as a stylist. So it’s true that I’m still very much attached to objects and I must confess that during lockdown, a new activity came to my life: online auctions. At the same time, with some friends, we have just taken over DEFRISE, which is an historic Parisian rental company of cinema items. It’s an amazing Aladdin’s cave, with more than 150,000 objects, from the mirror in Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin) mirror to Marie-Antoinette’s service. I keep a distant eye on the whole adventure, but whenever I need a decoration shot, I scoot there, during the weekend, to help them sort out the 18th-century candelabras or the magnificent pharmacopeia pots.