Veuve Clicquot: the first international businesswoman
“The world is in perpetual motion, and we must invent the things of tomorrow. One must go before others, be determined and exacting, and let your intelligence direct your life. Act with audacity.” — Madame Clicquot
The life of Barbe-Nicole should not have been remembered by history. The woman who would become Madame Clicquot, was born the daughter of a prominent textile industrialist in Reims, France in 1777. Destiny seemed to have set out a privileged, if dull life for Barbe-Nicole. While her bourgeoise family escaped the horrors of the French Revolution, Madame Clicquot would launch a revolution all her own.
At the age of 21, Barbe-Nicole married Francois Clicquot, only son of her father’s industrial rival, as a way of consolidating the two patriarchs opposing business’. Francois Clicquot oversaw his father’s small wine business, which operated as an aside to his textile empire. The young couple threw themselves headlong into expanding the wine business, much to the disappointment of Francois’ father.
As the Napoleonic Wars broke out across Europe, the couple invested more and more time learning the wine trade, despite warning from Francois’ father that the war would effectively cripple the wine trade. Soon though, that would be the least of the family’s concerns. Tragedy struck 1805 and Francois died from a fever speculated have been caused by Typhoid. It’s a testament as to how bad the wine business was going though, that rumours began to circulate that he had committed suicide because of the dire financial straits the business was in.
Widow Clicquot, or as she is more famously known in French, Veuve Clicquot, would not give up. Aged just 27, she approached her father in law and asked him for a loan to help the business, risking her own inheritance to make the business grow. Her father in law appears to have recognised something in her and agreed to the loan and to let her run the business. Bearing in mind this was at a time when it was almost unheard for a woman to run a business and we can begin to see that Barbe-Nicole must have presented a fierce business acumen that her father in law picked up on. Perhaps for them both there was an element of honouring Francois’ vision and his memory to by trying to resurrect the ailing business.