Regional Director of Centdegrés creative agency, HEC Paris alumni, and vice-chair of the Indo-French Chamber of Commerce & Industry Marcom Committee.
Nikita Rustagi: I am the regional director for Centdegrés in India. We are a 35-year-old Paris-based international creative firm powered by more than 150 talented people around the world. Every day, we concentrate all our efforts on helping our clients win their battles, maximize their impact, and challenge the status quo through creativity. Elie Papiernik and David Nitlich the agency’s co-founders, sought to develop full-service strategic and creative support for brands in the premium and luxury beauty space. The company began to gain international attention in the 1990s. They were already working with major luxury brands and had developed a sizable niche market. They also expanded in China at the time because it was a growing market and later built a successful presence in Dubai, catering to the Middle East. The company mixed French know-how of creation with the local culture of the offices they were entering, and the key was building a true collaborative atmosphere and pushing creative boundaries, which has been the agency’s philosophy and the reason we are known as creative activists. This approach has been maintained since its inception.
In India, we began working with brands such as Forest Essentials and Colorbar prior to 2020, and the founders noticed that India was blooming at the time, and, surprisingly, the pandemic manifested a faster rise in the beauty care and fragrance industry. It was the ideal time to open an office in India. The journey for us started in January 2021, and we have seen exciting growth since then.
We also attend and exhibit at trade events all around the world, particularly in Dubai, China, and Europe, such as Luxe Pack Monaco, Luxe Pack Shanghai, and Cosmoprof, where we meet a lot of clients and present our insights at conferences. It also assists us in understanding market trends. We prioritize our client relationships, and many of the projects we take on are the result of word-of-mouth and recommendations.
Nikita Rustagi: My desire was to excel in the luxury industry, and I was really enthusiastic about it from the start. I knew I was strong at design, but it wasn’t driving me or pushing me enough for my ambitions and where I wanted to go; I was very motivated to work in management positions in luxury retail. It was a very calculated decision that I wanted to do my MBA in France. My goal was to be in the top college for luxury that had the best network and brands, and HEC fit all the criteria. I was fortunate to get into it with my niche background.
I spent two years in France, from 2018 to 2020, where I also completed the Kering luxury certificate.
In the MBA program, I specialized in digital strategy; this was an exciting opportunity for me because it was the first time I had stepped outside of my comfort zone into a diversified setting.
Nikita Rustagi: I was in France for two years and was unfamiliar with the culture at the start. I had been traveling to London for 15 years since I had family there, but France was different. French culture is renowned for its depth, richness, and influence across the world. HEC had a diverse cultural atmosphere with individuals from all over the world. The MBA program pushed me to work on my soft skills and grow professionally with the best global talent. Although I graduated during the pandemic and the employment market was difficult, the HEC alumni network assisted me. I was introduced to the HR head of the Indo-French Chamber of Commerce by well-known HEC alumni, and this is how I got an opportunity to work with Centdegrés in India.
Nikita Rustagi: Well, having had the unique opportunity to bridge two distinct cultures—India and France—in the realm of design, I’ve noticed several nuances in the way the French perceive India. Firstly, there’s a genuine admiration for India’s rich tapestry of history, art, and architecture. Many of my French colleagues often express their awe for India’s vibrant culture and history. There’s also an appreciation for the philosophical and spiritual depth of India
From a business standpoint, India is seen as a dynamic market with immense potential, especially in the fashion, lifestyle, and beauty sectors, with a strong influx of luxury brands entering India and a lot of new-age home-grown brands coming to life. I know that many French companies are considering India as a market, particularly in the cosmetics industry, where consumers are more aware and prefer international brands.
As someone with roots in India, I see it as my role to offer a more nuanced, contemporary understanding of what India stands for today, especially in the design landscape.
Collaborating in this multicultural setting has been enlightening, and it’s been a privilege to bring a fusion of French finesse and Indian vibrancy to our projects.”
Nikita Rustagi: Working with a French company has been both enlightening and challenging in equal measure. The learning curve was initially steep, mainly due to the confluence of two distinct cultures and design philosophies.
At first, understanding the nuances of French business etiquette and the value placed on long-term relationships was essential. The French have a particular appreciation for detail, deliberation, and the pursuit of perfection. This resonated with me, given the Indian emphasis on depth, context, and craftsmanship. Both cultures, however, believe in relationship building, which is key to personal business success.
Lastly, the emphasis on work-life balance in French culture has been an eye-opener. It has been the best working environment I have ever had. Rather than one individual, the team comes first. There is a better work-life balance, and working with a French brand is empowering and ensures autonomy without micromanagement. The founders and my manager, Gaëlle Doré, have instilled many of my values in me.
Nikita Rustagi: My belief system is that I make sure that my team, even if they are in India, receives enough exposure with global teams by putting them on international projects as much as possible. The team is heading to Dubai this year, and I will be pushing for some to visit France next year.
The objective is to train our local talent with the right international exposure, utilizing the skills they have to offer, and going global in the worldwide market. This is also one of the company’s visions: to empower our company’s talent.
We have significant design talent emerging from the best universities. In my opinion, the design opportunities are not expanding internationally. If I am building a team in India, they must be encouraged to have global exposure, travel to meet the founders of our global creative teams, and eventually attend and win international awards.
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