Politics & Culture

Can Cannabis Become a Luxury Product?

By presenting cannabis as a luxury product, Beboe's Californian founders prove that smoking it can be a swanky activity too. Gold vaporizers and organic hemp pellets, welcome to the world of high-class smoking.
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The New York Times called Beboe "the Hermes of Marijuanain its article about its founders Scott Campbell and Clement Kwan. If Jean-Louis Duman, the former president of Hermes, had the opportunity to smoke the champagne-colored vape or taste the subtle hemp flavor pellets by Beboe, he too would consider the new cannabis brand a new kind of "haute couture." 

"We're in this culture of dining out in town," says Kwan, former director at Yoox US and then at Dolce & Gabbana, who partnered with Campbell, artist, master tattooist and design consultant at LVMH, to create this cannabis brand in Los Angeles. Their super luxury product hit the market just as California became the seventh state to legalize the non-medical use of marijuana. Their product has already attracted investors like the actress Rose McGowan, the dean of fashion and Net-a-Porter board member Carmen Busquets, and Gotham Gal entrepreneur Joanne Wilson. 

If you're invited to a Beboe dinner, like the one held last spring in Los Angeles, you could find yourself sitting next to Hollywood stars like Orlando Bloom, Sharon Stone or Justin Theroux (Campbell was a witness to his marriage with Jennifer Aniston in 2015).

"Our candies are made from hashish and water. The plants grow in the sun, with organic compost as their only fertilizer. " Scott Campbell

One hundred puffs of weed 

We meet Campbell and Kwan on a sunny day in the Los Angeles Arts District, part of LA's old industrial zone that has become the mecca of design, fashion, nightclubs and restaurants where you have to book weeks in advance to get a table. The LA Downtown crowd passes by our tables on the sidewalk in front of Shinola, a luxury lifestyle brand.

Campbell and Kwan are friends of Shinola's founder Tom Kartsotis, who is also behind the Fossil watch brand. He even introduced them to each other. Dressed without any fuss, they display the confidence of successful forty-year-olds who have succeeded in life. They have nothing to do with the cliché of the drug dealer– dirty and scruffy. They speak with that familiarity of the associates who are also friends and they do not hide their common passion for weed. 

The relaxation of laws, formerly the sale and possession of marijuana could take you right to jail, was both a pleasure and a business opportunity for the two. "What's exciting in this new legislation," says Kwan, "Is not so much that addicts can get smashed more easily, but it's because people can now buy weed as they would buy a bottle of wine." Their vapes sell for $60 and contain about a hundred puffs of spray oil. Two or three slats are enough to cause an effect comparable to half a glass of wine.

As with wine lovers, quality and trust are important to cannabis users too. Kwan and Campbell attribute their design expertise to their ability to establish Beboe (Campbell's grandmother's name of Berenice) as the preferred brand for smokers.

"We are talking to a group of mature people who are opening to the weed," says Campbell. "It's the packaging that makes it acceptable to them." He adds that even if the packaging says little about the product (its origin, how it is grown, etc.), its design, between Art Nouveau and tattoo, and its dull gold color is enough to convey a message: "Given the care, time and energy invested in the presentation, obviously the producers are proud of their product." It inspires confidence in the consumer.

Kwan points out that the cannabis market is so far wide open: no dominant brands and few direct competitors to Beboe. "There are no offers on the market that are familiar to this new, more sophisticated clientele. Aesthetically, there is no defined leader." Indeed, competition is limited. There is still no marijuana on the supermarket. For the moment, Beboe products are only available in a few pharmacies located in specific areas of California. It is illegal to vape in public or while driving. Of course, you can consume at home. And if we take up a Beboe pastille, who will know?

Just a little more fly 

But hovering over marijuana is not an exact science for the consumer, which Beboe sees as an advantage: "It's all about trust," says Campbell. "Before, you could buy space cakes, or someone handed you a cookie saying it contained twelve doses. We did not know how much we were exposed to, especially with edibles. " He insists that consistency is as important to cannabis as any other product or service. "If we try something once and it goes well, we want to reproduce the same experience each time."

Kwan details the process: "Each batch is checked in the laboratory. The batches that are produced are bulky. Each lot is numbered and tested to ensure that they all contain the same amount of active ingredients."  For Beboe, this amount is 5 mg of THC (the psychoactive substance) and 3 mg of CBD (the compound of the cannabis that is credited with medicinal benefits such as pain relief). These are relatively low dosages compared to most growers or more gonzo smokers. Beboe's men target a different type of consumer. "Before, the goal was: how much can I hover for $ 20? But now, I have more time for that. I have a job, children, a family. Our customers are adults. Some slats on a vape, or a small pellet in the mouth, it just makes the day a little warmer, a little more fly."

Campbell, married to actress Lake Bell, with whom he has two young children, prefers pastilles. "I take one in the afternoon, after answering all my emails, and then I spend the rest of the day drawing in my studio. It's my 'mother's little helper'," he says, referring to the Rolling Stones song of the same name about housewives consuming tranquilizers. "With one, we are always able to write an e-mail to his ex," said Kwan smiling. After leading Dolce & Gabbana from Milan for seven years, he is familiar with this European moderation. While Campbell, as an artist, is delighted to describe the creative process as "a link between conscious and unconscious parts of the brain" that cannabis "helps to connect," his partner takes a different approach. "I'm cerebral," says Kwan, who paid for his studies at the University of Berkeley on his hydroponic farm, where he grew marijuana for medical use, legal in California since 1996. "I like farming. I like the mystique that goes with it. We go to farms, we walk in the fields. "" Everything for the sake of the plant," says Campbell. "Our sweets are made from hashish and water. The plants grow in the sun, with organic compost is the only fertilizer. The only element that stands between the plant and the consumer is ice water. Cold-pressed juice is extracted, which keeps all the subtlety of the plant intact. It's like the difference between sea salt and table salt, " Kwan concludes.

They showed me the latest innovation of Beboe: a gift box containing five minivapoteuses gold, 7.5 cm each, sold for $100. Campbell admires the elegant object in his hand, which reflects the Californian sun, and comments: "It's like ... what do you call these little bottles of alcohol in France?" "Cute ones," says Kwan with a smile, and for a short and intoxicating moment, Paris never seemed so close to LA. 

Illustrations by Antoine Cossé 

This article was originally published in Jalouse magazine in November 2017.

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