Aug 1, 2023
NEW YORK — When last we spoke to Marie de Foucaud, the energetic brand expert had just founded Elovation Consulting and the world had gone haywire, shutting down due to a global pandemic.
But two years on, things are going quite well for de Foucaud and her company.
One thing that’s happened since de Foucaud and The Well News last spoke, is a new generation of entrepreneurs has pulled her into the space exploration business.
One of these was Helene Huby, the first and only woman to run her own spaceship company, and whose space cooperative plans its first ever launch this fall.
“The goal,” de Foucaud said, “is to make space exploration affordable, sustainable and open to not only the traditional players in space, but also traditional non-players as well.”
The other major time-consuming project is lending her extensive knowledge of luxury branding and the myriad players involved to Saudi Arabia’s effort to develop a full-blown fashion sector, basically from scratch.
“It’s one of several Saudi initiatives to diversify the nation’s economy and be less reliant on fossil fuels,” de Foucaud said.
“We are leading a program being hosted by the Saudi Ministry of Culture called ‘Saudi 100 Brands’ and its aim is to support the business development of a select group of 100 local fashion designers and entrepreneurs,” she added.
“For me, as was the case for many, many people, the pandemic was obviously an extremely disruptive and painful experience from a life-organization perspective,” de Foucaud said during a recent Zoom call from New York.
“Since then, however, businesswise, things have been quite good. I have been extremely busy,” she continued, adding, “I don’t know whether I’d say it is especially related to the pandemic or any other single factor, but there just seems to be a lot happening in the world in terms of … new industries to develop and new opportunities to embrace.”
Space, a Burgeoning Frontier
As readers may remember from the previous story on de Foucaud in The Well News, the native of Paris and the Château de la Loire region of France developed her brand-building and strategic-communication skill working for some of the most successful firms, including Boucheron, the French luxury jewelry and watch house, and Richard Attias and Associates, a global strategic communications firm that primarily advises heads of state and governments.
While “outer space” might seem a new realm for the globe-trotting businesswoman, de Foucaud was quick to point out that her very first client when she founded Elovation Consulting was, in fact, a space entrepreneur.
“Gildo Pastor, the founder of Venturi Astrolab, who has a passion for electric mobility, had hired some of the best experts from SpaceX and NASA, and he was — and is — developing rovers to work on the moon and on Mars,” she said.
“Our involvement began purely by chance. He had created a very innovative product, and was looking to grow his team, to add members who weren’t steeped in engineering. In short, now that he had developed a technology, he realized he was in need of a commercial and marketing strategy,” de Foucaud continued.
“So we met, really by chance, and something just clicked,” she said. “And his belief in me and Elovation Consulting gave me legitimacy in the ‘space’ industry, which is booming.
“I mean, it used to be a community made up of governments and engineers. Then a few years ago a few billionaires got involved. And now all kinds of people are stepping up, wanting to contribute to and participate in this industry,” she said.
A case in point is Huby, who has been working in the realm of making space flight more sustainable and who is currently developing a reusable spaceship that will rely on a green propellent when making its maiden flight this fall.
“Helene’s work is a perfect illustration of what is occurring in this area,” de Foucaud said. “On the one hand, we’re seeing entrepreneurs making breakthroughs at a much faster pace than governments did at the height of the space race in the 1960s.
“And the cost of what she’s doing does not even compare to the costs of sending cargo into space in the past. It’s much, much lower. And so, as I said earlier, there’s a whole new generation of entrepreneurs out there actively demonstrating that space can be much more democratized,” de Foucaud said.
“And of course what happens is, once these entrepreneurs show what’s possible, it opens new opportunities, and there’s a multiplier effect. For instance, as of 2023, there are two fully operational space stations in low Earth orbit. By 2030, there could be up to 10 space stations … and all of these will need logistics and operations here on the ground and wherever they choose to establish a base.
“So what you have in the sector is entrepreneurs starting small, then building out and creating larger teams, and then all of this activity opens new doors and new windows to new industries who can also collaborate in space.”
De Foucaud said while her new space industry clients have specific branding and strategizing needs, her background in luxury is also coming into play.
“This is another example of the multiplier effect,” she explained. “It used to be that the luxury industry had no relationship with the space industry, but now because of the way the space sector has evolved, the big luxury groups and big luxury houses are beginning to see a lot of interesting options for them.
“For instance, in endeavors where creativity and innovation are involved there is usually a research and development component to it. … So what you might see, for instance, is the beauty industry exploring how microgravity impacts the creation of a cream it is developing, or another luxury brand seeing how activities in space create options for customer experience.
“Another area luxury groups and others are looking at is space as an opportunity to do financial philanthropy, because the companies I work with tend to be startups in need of funding, and then of course, there’s space as a vehicle for discussing people and potentially getting Russia, China and America on the same page through an enhanced recognition that we are all human beings on a very, very fragile planet,” she said.
Creating a Fashion Oasis
When we first heard de Foucaud was helping to foster a fashion industry in Saudi Arabia, it seemed as fanciful as it did far-fetched.
The country had long been considered one of the most conservative in the Middle East, and in such an environment what might pass for fashion in the West could, conceivably, lead to big trouble.
But de Foucaud said such reactions speak to a misreading of the current state of affairs in the country.
Yes, Saudi Arabia continues to be a religiously conservative nation, and its reputation has been challenged by several crises, but at the same time, de Foucaud and others argue, the country is quickly moving forward.
De Foucaud said she’s seen the changes firsthand.
“I have been traveling to Saudi Arabia for business on a very regular basis for eight years now, going back to when I first joined Richard Attias and Associates,” she said.
“And when I first went, before the plane landed, I would put on a traditional Arab abaya and be very hidden. Two or three months ago, I just wore my regular clothes … which, mind you, were very respectful because they consisted of long sleeve tops and long trousers, but you clearly don’t have to wear an abaya if you don’t want to.
“Now, funnily enough, I absolutely love the abayas and some of the long traditional colorful local kaftans or dresses. So I actually still sometimes wear them, including in New York or Paris.”
Later, de Foucaud said she agrees with those who say Saudi Arabia still has a way to go if it wants to be a full member in good standing with the international community, but she insists it is on that journey.
“I’m not saying everything is perfect. I absolutely am not saying that. But the country is moving on from its past and whatever you might think of it, I’ve witnessed, firsthand, that from the perspective of people living there day in, day out, things are getting much, much better.”
The beginning of the current modernization of Saudi Arabia accelerated about six years ago, when the nation’s Ministry of Culture identified 10 or 12 industries it should develop to support its country’s economic diversification.
De Foucaud worked on her first Saudi-related fashion project while still with Richard Attias. When she left to open her own shop, the Saudis asked her to stay on.
“I started out with a small project and now lead one of the big projects related to the fashion sector. Saudi Arabia, from what I’ve been witness to, has been changing like crazy,” she said.
Along with trying to shed its dependence on oil, Saudi Arabia is also confronting the reality that roughly 70% of its population is now under age 30.
“Obviously, these young people are considered Saudi Arabia’s future, but to retain them and to retain the talent they have, you have to offer them a variety of job opportunities. And the same goes for women.
“When I was in Paris for the fashion and couture shows during the latest Fashion Week, we organized showrooms so we could offer masterclasses — because all of these brands have mentorship programs — and the number of talented people who came out to take advantage of these sessions was just amazing,” de Foucaud said.
“And besides the inspiration that it offered these young and up-and-coming designers, it also served to put the Saudi fashion industry on the map, telling the influencers and everyone else that, ‘Yes, there is a fashion industry emerging in Saudi Arabia,’ and there are a number of talented people living there who are in the process of developing their brands,” she said.
How a Globetrotter Maintains Balance
For all that she’s able to do and do successfully, de Foucaud admits her busy schedule can sometimes leave her “super stressed.”
“I mean, it can be very challenging with so many deadlines coming up and so many trips to take … and yet, at the same time, you always find a way, don’t you?” she said.
“I feel extremely lucky to be able to work on two very different kinds of passion projects — and these really are passion projects for me,” she continued.
“To be working on space, and coming to it from a completely different area, is super stimulating to me,” de Foucaud said. “Likewise, helping Saudi Arabia create this business sector … it has led to me having many local friends whose talents as designers I really admire and I really want to help them succeed.
“The other thing about these projects is that while at first glance they don’t seem to have much in common, at their core they are really about seeing real people’s projects result in concrete results. And that’s extremely rewarding.”
De Foucaud went on to say that when her work/life balance seems out of whack, she is fortunate in being able to turn to “fabulous” partner, Alain Bernard, to shoulder some of the load.
“That’s so basic, but that helps a lot, and when it comes to Saudi Arabia, I have two local partners in the Middle East who help in much the same way,” she said, adding, “The key here is that I am not alone. On most projects, I work hand in hand with chosen partners, and we team up.”
Outside of work, de Foucaud keeps body and soul intact by engaging in sports.
On the very morning we spoke, she had just started her training for this year’s New York marathon, and in September, she’s going to do a triathlon.
“For me, sports is a key element in maintaining balance; it is where I try to get away from stress,” she said. “Last year, I was injured for a few months … and it was just a catastrophe. But to return to what I said earlier, I feel very lucky to be involved in the projects I get to do. I’m excited, grateful and determined to grow them high.”
The other thing de Foucaud mentioned as bringing balance to her hectic life are her four children, now ages 10 through 15, the youngest being twins.
“I’m not saying I’m a great mom because I can sometimes disappear and work way too much, but wherever I am — here, there and everywhere — they help me relativize,” she said.