The right chemistry

Dale Daxon Bowers of cosmetics group Molton Brown tells Trish Lorenz about her quest to bridge the gap between the scientific and design aspects of the brand

Dale Daxon Bowers is softly spoken and self-composed. Wearing a neutral business suit, she exudes a quiet Britishness. It’s difficult to decide whether Molton Brown, the brand she has managed for 25 years, has influenced her style or whether it reflects her approach to life. But either way, Molton Brown’s understated elegance and Daxon Bowers’ calm approach are a perfect match.

She is happy to concede this. ‘The understated part of the brand comes from me and is important. I don’t like brashness. There is a quieter way,’ she says.

In its ‘quiet way’ Molton Brown is making waves. Following the launch of its first branded spa in December (DW 17 October 2002), the company launched its first skincare range last month. Called Molton Brown Skin, and with packaging designed by Jones Knowles Ritchie, the range of ten products includes the intriguingly named Softcleanse Rosewax Liquifier and Skinboost Nourishing Tonic.

The company also plans to open standalone stores in New York to complement its existing UK and Dubai-based shops, and Japanese and US concessions.

Molton Brown started life as a hairdresser and expanded in 1973 when it began creating beauty products for its customers. Daxon Bowers joined in 1978 and is now responsible for the visual appearance of the brand across all areas of the business – from in-store design to product packaging, the website and print material including catalogues and advertising.

Her move to a brand guardianship role was not a natural one. With a science degree she worked first as a research and development chemist at Yardley and then as a research chemist for Smith & Nephew.

But she realised she was interested in ‘how it looks as well as what’s in it’, and became aware of a gap between the chemistryled side of the cosmetics business and its marketing and design departments.

It was Daxon Bowers’ desire for the two to ‘work together, not separately’ that led her to the Molton Brown role. Her role today means the brand has ‘one vision, look and function; there’s no compromise. I’m involved in every aspect, from product development to how it looks’, she says.

She draws comparisons with one of her other interests – food – when she talks about combining the two, sometimes disparate, elements of presentation and content.

‘Food has to taste terrific, but also feed the eye. But it’s no good if it just looks good and tastes bad and doesn’t deliver. We wouldn’t want that. We want to create the very best and make it look appealing, give it tactileness, sensuality and longevity,’ she explains.

Daxon Bowers highlights further parallels between her approach to life and the Molton Brown brand when she says that it is ‘intrinsic to the product that it’s inner directed not outer directed. It doesn’t have to be noticed, it’s not glitzy’.

She continues, ‘It’s a strong brand and reflects the way women have evolved over the past 25 years – [growing in] confidence and independence. It’s not a frilly femininity, but it is sensuous.’

This stance is mirrored in the company’s advertising, which Daxon Bowers describes as ‘not boy gets girl’. Photography delivers ‘pictures of inner calm and people at peace with themselves’. Store interiors, too, adopt modern, clean lines with what she describes as ‘soft, elemental, earthy influences’.

‘Wooden floors give [a sense of] solidity and the use of Perspex represents the Molton Brown ethos of combining the natural with natural science. It’s exactly the mix the company reflects at every stage from product ingredients to experience,’ she says.

Daxon Bowers says she chooses design groups that can offer ‘young, modern people who have a passion for life’. The company has worked with Jones Knowles Ritchie since 1999, in that time updating packaging and its lotus leaf logo.

‘The brand’s on-going evolution reflects how life moves on. Molton Brown is warmer and softer [than in the 1980s] to reflect people’s changing attitudes,’ she says.

She predicts that uncertainties of modern life – the threat of terrorism and a fluctuating economy – will mean a focus on protection as a key trend for the future.

‘People want more protection, it’s a trend that’s been coming for some time,’ she says. ‘People also want longevity, it’s not a throwaway society anymore. It’s more about experience and valuing the things you buy. The visual aspects [of the brand] need to come in line with that.’

It’s her view that ‘honesty and transparency’ are the key to the brand’s success, today and in the future. ‘Being totally honest in what you deliver is important,’ she says. ‘The cosmetics market is full of over-promising and not delivering. But the Molton Brown philosophy is all about over-delivering on small promises.’

And, as with the rest of the conversation, you’re left with the distinct impression that she is talking not just about the brand she has shaped in her own mould, but also about her own ethos for life.

Dale Daxon Bowers’ CV

1975 Loughborough University BSc in Chemistry

1975-76 Research and development chemist at Yardley

1976-78 Long-term research chemist at Smith & Nephew

1978-to date Creative and visual brand director at Molton Brown

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