Jean-Didier Allongue draws inspiration from life. It could be a restaurant, a museum exhibit, or something that catches his eye while traveling. His open-minded approach to design in and out of the office has kept him driven over the course of his career. As senior director of store design for Harry’s, the well-known men’s care brand, his passion for design and empowering leadership style brings the brand’s identity to life in over 28,000 stores across the globe.
Allongue was born, raised, and educated in France. He graduated from the National Design School in Paris and later achieved his master’s in industrial design. As part of national protocol, he served at an embassy in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for two years, working for the French Institute doing graphic design, creating exhibits, and facilitating space management to promote sculpture, painting, and landscape arts.
Upon returning to France, he married an American from the Midwest, catalyzing his relocation across the Atlantic. He grew his agency repertoire in the US by designing for automotive groups like GM, Chrysler, Subaru, and Kia; technology companies like AT&T, Xbox, and GameStop; and retail giants like Amazon.
“I was interested in working for a brand because I worked for agencies for so long,” Allongue remembers. “I was not interested in working for [any] brand, but something dynamic, with some passion, some vision, behind it. And Harry’s came along [seeking] someone to expand their footprint in retail, and here we are.”
When Allongue joined Harry’s in January 2018, he built the team and department processes from scratch. “The growth potential was there, the design was part of the company’s DNA, and the vision was quite unique,” he says. “A new job is always a gamble, but this was a good one.”
Since Allongue came on board, Harry’s has inaugurated multiple brands, expanded the company’s reach internationally, and helped it transition out of the shave space into a comprehensive men’s care brand. This growth can be attributed to the diverse array of perspectives at the meeting table. As such, Harry’s commitment to a nontoxic workplace has engendered an inclusive environment naturally and authentically. “It’s not like you have a bunch of middle-aged white men looking at [the work] the same way,” Allongue explains.
Inclusive brand identity is especially important for Harry’s, as the company is also an advocate for men’s mental health. In the growing dialogue around the roots and repercussions of toxic masculinity, Harry’s has not only joined the conversation but decided to help find a solution.
As part of Harry’s social mission, the company donates 1 percent of its sales to charitable organizations steered toward spreading quality healthcare for men around the world; these groups include the Trevor Project, Crisis Text Line, A Call to Men, Headstrong, and Stop Soldier Suicide. Harry’s launched its Open Mind Initiative in July 2021, which awards $5 million to a nonprofit concentrating on improving the state of mental health in the United States.
The conversation around men’s mental health is growing more nuanced and Harry’s is at the forefront of embodying the changing cultural fabric in stores across the country. Its new men’s skincare line is grounded in a nontoxic approach to men’s care. “It’s for everyone; it’s not geared toward any specific lifestyle,” Allongue explains.
At the end of the day, everyone has skin.
In designing store displays, Allongue and his team must embrace changing social norms while maintaining brand consistency. Part of developing that balance is listening to several perspectives and growing accustomed to the uncertainty of the retail market. “Excellence comes from uncertainty,” the design director says. “As soon as you think you know what you are doing, that’s when you start to fail.”
Allongue’s approach has proven successful. Last year, his team delivered 145 projects on time, on budget. “That’s three per week, one per every one-and-a-half working days,” he says.
Harry’s doesn’t have storefronts of its own, allowing the company to fosters dynamic, profitable, long-term relationships with vendor partners who sell its products in-store. “From a logistical standpoint, it’s complex,” Allongue says. “Every [retailer] has different requirements, sizes, timelines, and material restrictions.”
Allongue assesses prototypes, reviews budgets, develops designs, and ensures displays arrive at their 30-plus retail partners ready to install. His responsibilities are multilayered; it takes a team to deliver.
“You have to be an empowering manager,” he says. “You need to trust people and, more importantly, people need to trust you.” For Allongue, that means mentoring, teaching, and backing up his staff when they’ve taken the initiative. That also means providing a wider vision and sometimes offering a friendly “nudge” when managerial support is required.
Brand identity and company spirit are the nucleus of a lifestyle brand like Harry’s. Product marketing or store design will fail if the mission doesn’t run deeper than the aisle. “Customers are savvy, and they will see through marketing,” Allongue says. “Marketing expresses what you are, but it doesn’t define who you are, [so] what’s behind the marketing?”
Jonathan Palmer, the vice president of retail technology and innovation at Innomark Communications, applauds Allongue’s methods. “Jean-Didier creates compelling in-store programs that embody the Harry’s brand culture. We are honored to have partnered with Jean-Didier and his team to engineer and execute many of their innovative and award-winning retail merchandising solutions,” Palmer says. “We look forward to the opportunity to collaborate on many more projects in the future.”
As Harry’s paves its way into the future of men’s grooming, Allongue only expects more growth. He will continue trusting his team, utilizing his experiences, leaning in to hear new perspectives, and keeping himself open to life’s everyday inspirations.
“Everything is a crafted experience,” Allongue says, “[and we will] keep that boutique, craftsman approach in everything we do.”