There’s a kindness about Lise Watier, who founded the cosmetics brand which bears her name. The business woman warmly opened the door to her bright Montréal apartment to sit down with the CHIC par Le Germain team.
During the photo shoot, Lise Watier takes a seat next to a magnificent piano. She’s holding her poodle Folie in her arms, and the dog gazes up at her admiringly, enthralled by its owner. Folie goes everywhere with her, except when she travels abroad, she explains.
Her husband, Serge Rocheleau, offers us a glass of Quartz vodka. It has just been put on the market in a hexagon-shaped bottle by Watier in a partnership with Domaine Pinnacle and Eska, the bottled-water company.
Watier recalls a conversation she had with her husband before retiring, concerned she might have too much free time on her hands. An exciting project, a source of inspiration, was what she needed. The businesswoman considered acquiring a vineyard in the countryside, read up on it in magazines and books about wines and spirits. “To make good wine, you need good land and sunshine,” she concluded. “Whereas vodka mostly depends on the quality of water.”
The world’s best vodka
By chance, a friend of her daughter Marie-Lise mentioned Charles Crawford, the president of Domaine Pinnacle, an orchard and distillery in Frelighsburg, Québec. He had everything she would need to make her own vodka. A business lunch sealed the deal. “We both wanted exactly the same thing: to make an outstanding vodka, the best in the world.” Nothing less would do.
The name Quartz, which works equally well in English and French, comes from the eskers of Canada’s Far North, which filter water naturally. “Eska, our water supplier, features prominently on the bottle,” says Lise Watier. “I want to make it clear that what we’re doing in Québec is truly exceptional.” The project has taken several years. For three of them, from 2010 to 2013, Watier had to take the reins of her business, which was without a CEO. “Little by little, everything fell into place,” she explains. “I almost bought a distillery in Laval before I went back to Lise Watier Cosmétiques.” Circumstances, it seemed, had decided differently. “You might say there’s always a reason for everything. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle. There are pieces that slot right into place and others take more time. I let life and circumstances put me on the right path, but I never let go of the controls.”
Her greatest motivation
When she was just starting out as a businesswoman, Lise Watier came up against a string of people who didn’t believe in her plans to create a new makeup line. “Chemists and retailers kept turning me down, wouldn’t even meet me.” But the young woman didn’t let her head go down and stuck to her goal: “I was out to prove to those who didn’t believe in me or my projects that they were wrong. All through my life, that has been my greatest motivation.” Today Lise Watier Cosmétiques has sales of $90 million. The company employs 70 people and exports its products around the world.
But there is shyness behind the determination. “I feel so intimidated whenever I walk into a room and don’t know anyone. Fortunately someone always recognizes me and comes over.” At the start of her career on television, Watier gradually learned to become less shy. “I learned how to be true and to show that I wasn’t perfect.” Helping women in trouble
Lise Watier hails from Montréal’s modest Hochelega-Maisonneuve neighbourhood and knows what it is like for women in difficulty, women that society all too often turns a blind eye to. She set up a foundation to help in 2009. Many are single mothers, left to fend for themselves financially. Some are in the grip of men who manipulate them and harm their self-esteem. Trapped in a vicious circle, they have no choice but to stay if they want a roof over their heads or food for their children. “That’s when these women accept the unacceptable. And that’s what I want to fight. If they are able to take a class or find a job, then there’s a way out for them,” says Watier.
The Lise Watier Foundation works with groups across Canada. “A woman who becomes financially independent—who earns a salary, in other words—is no longer a victim. Her children see her as a woman who has done something with her life.” Every day, Lise Watier hears of progress made by her protegés. A sociology student, for example, who lived on the street before she had her little girl and decided to turn her life around.
Another began studying adventure tourism in Gaspésie. “She’s very motivated. She wrote me: ‘I want to be the best and to not let you down.’ When someone moves on with their life, they suddenly find themselves able to do much more.” Lise Watier hopes to make such women feel less isolated and alone. “It’s important to have a dream, and to dream of doing something,” she says.
The interview runs a little later than planned over a Quartz vodka. Talk turns to the unforgettable moments of her career, including the launch of Neiges, a fragrance that has been a much-loved classic for over 20 years. Another key event was the 1990 fire at her company’s headquarters. “It was very difficult emotionally and financially. But we bounced back stronger than ever. It gave me a chance to see how generous the business community can be. Competitors even opened their offices to me.”
Deeply religious, Lise Watier is certain there were angels watching over her: “All the important data in my office was spared while everything else burned.” Before I leave, I glance over at her husband. He’s watching her with a tender, affectionate look of togetherness. They’ve been in love for 33 years now. “With Serge, it’s all so easy,” she says. “He’s the soulmate I trust completely, the person with whom I share everything.”
By Annie Bourque