We are deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Michel Roux, a trailblazer in the spirits industry and avid supporter of philanthropy and the arts. We are remembering and celebrating his life with this profile from a previous issue of Chilled Magazine.
When Michel Roux came to America, his first job was as a dishwasher.
That was the beginning of a life that has spanned four decades in the liquor business, culminated in his role as CEO of Crillon Importers. Roux immigrated to the United States in 1964, working his way up in the hospitality business. In 1970, he became the first salesman at Carillon Importers and made a name for himself going door to door, introducing his brands. It’s a practice he still follows today and he bemoans the current state of salesmanship and marketing.
“The problem with people today,” observes Roux, “is that they want to do minimum work and want to [make a] profit… Marketing, good marketing [is] quite difficult. I’m still marketing my brands today, doing the same thing that I used to. It’s very important to be able to talk to people, to go see people.”
In 1981, he stepped into the role of President and CEO at Carillon Importers. During his tenure there, he made his mark with a number of key brands, including Stolichnaya, Grand Marnier, Absolut vodka, and Bombay gins. His creation of Bombay Sapphire, with its alternative to London Dry profile and vivid blue bottle, revolutionized the gin category.
His artistic approach to branding Absolut vodka was groundbreaking, and its influence cannot be underestimated. Roux wasn’t afraid to push boundaries or ruffle feathers. The Andy Warhol Absolut bottle was the product of Roux’s friendship with Warhol. “When I started with art, I didn’t know what would happen,” recalls Roux. “I knew Andy Warhol very well. He was a teetotaler, he didn’t drink. He made me believe he was using Absolut as a perfume.”
The Absolut Warhol campaign was followed by one with Keith Haring, Kenny Scharf, Ed Ruscha, Leroy Neiman and Arman. All totaled, Roux estimates that he worked with around 3,000 artists, including musicians and choreographers; his work in the arts community gives him enormous satisfaction.
“My philosophy,” explains Roux, “was that I was not doing things to get something out of somebody. We would do risky things, for instance back then we did so many things with the gay community. I did it to fight the bigotry… The press would pick it up. My philosophy was, is, if you’re doing good you’ll do well. This is what Absolut did. We were always involved for the good.”
After Roux stepped down from Carillon, he formed a new company named Crillon where he continues to use his unorthodox business acumen to shake up the spirits business. Under Roux’s guidance, Crillon brought Absente to the U.S. market. His portfolio now includes a variety of absinthe variations, including Grand Absente, Absinthe Ordinaire, and M. P. Roux’s Supreme Absinthe. The absinthe selection is balanced by Wyborowa vodka, Magellan gin, Rhum Barbancourt and Opal Nera, among others.
Recently, Roux launched Absentroux, an herbal wine specialty that Roux enjoys with sparkling water or tonic. As he notes, “If I didn’t like what I have, I would not drink it.” Roux’s personal confidence in his products comes from experience, as well as simple pride. He knows how difficult it is to create and define a brand. But he also believes that a brand is far more than just its flavor profile. In Roux’s mind, the spirits world is a space for innovation, where high concept can incorporate creativity, civic awareness, and charitable sensibility. And, with spirits like Bombay Sapphire shaking up the gin world and Absolut vodka championing artistic and civic causes, Michel Roux was there before it was fashionable.