From the beginning, CHANEL has been cultivating the idea of beauty that reaps what it sows. The House strives to always remember that nature’s intelligence is supreme by maintaining an uninterrupted dialog with the natural world. Its creative expertise is expressed in the selection of the best ingredients, cultivated at the heart of unique ecosystems in the best conditions for the best results.
A CULTURE OF SINGULARITY, FOUNDED ON KNOWLEDGE
Guided by a unique expert approach, CHANEL is pursuing the establishment of exceptional plant centers by creating open-sky laboratories to cultivate the finest plants from which its active ingredients are made. These are true centers for botanical research, cultivation and experimentation in view of creating exclusive natural ingredients of a unique quality for use in the composition of its beauty care products.
Researcher and phytochemist Nicola Fuzzati heads the Active Ingredient Development and Innovation Department for CHANEL Research in Pantin, France told about the idea of cultivating beauty. When he isn’t in a remote corner of the world searching for new plants, he is analyzing their molecules of cosmetic interest and creating tailor-made active ingredients to use in the composition of CHANEL skincare products.
You have been heading the Active Ingredient Development and Innovation Department for CHANEL Research for seven years now. What are your missions?
I have a fabulous job, because my primary mission is to travel all around the world to explore hotspots of biodiversity and establish partnerships with local institutions in order to identify the most interesting plants for cosmetics. This plant diversity is a veritable reservoir of molecules with very beneficial biological activities. Once we have identified molecules of interest within the plant, based on our knowledge and research in phytochemistry, we develop tailormade technologies to concentrate these elements. We do so by eliminating undesirable molecules in order to obtain a pure and effective active ingredient. When we have obtained several grams of an enriched extract, we send it to the Cellular Biology Laboratory, where it is tested on identified biological targets in the skin.
CAMELLIA – FRANCE SOUTH WEST
In other words, you start with a plant and you extract its molecules of interest?
In the laboratory that I run in Pantin, a team of scientists works to identify highpotential molecules in selected plants. They extract them using optimized and customized separation and extraction techniques based on green chemistry. Every plant is unique and delivers its secrets in a different way. We have to reinvent and innovate each time. By combining the best of plants and the best of technology, CHANEL creates unique, pure and effective active ingredients. Beyond the creation of our plant active ingredients, CHANEL has the specific quality of also ensuring the development and production. This means that every step of production is perfectly integrated, mastered and controlled.
So, you use the open-sky laboratories as on-site cultivation and exploration fields for raw materials that you then transform in Pantin?
That’s right. With my teams, accompanied by botanists, we explore the planet in search of promising plants. We then study their behavior in their own environment and analyze their composition with the aim of selecting the most interesting ones in terms of their cosmetic properties. Three other open-sky laboratories followed that of Madagascar: two in France, in the Southern Alps and in the southwest in the foothills of the Pyrenees near Gaujacq, and another in Costa Rica on the Nicoya peninsula. These laboratories are observation, experimentation and research centers, precious for skincare science. Located in different climatic areas around the world for greater and more varied access to biodiversity, each one contains species that represent the raw materials with which we create our active ingredients.
Is it an advantage for your laboratory to control the production chain of your ingredients?
Absolutely. In fact, the continuous dialogue and collaboration between the open-sky laboratories around the world and our phytochemistry laboratory based in France give value to the plants in their entirety and optimize their production with the aim of quality and performance.
A CULTURE OF COMMITMENT, DICTATED BY RESPECT
Choosing beauty at every step of the creative process is a commitment that goes beyond aesthetics. Designed to suit the natural settings that welcome them, these open-sky laboratories are the fruit of an approach of excellence that cultivates an expert botanical and environmental approach based on the fundamental principles of responsibility. Together, the participants work in the service of a single vision.
GREEN COFFEE – COSTA RICA
A CULTURE OF INTUITION ALWAYS INSPIRED BY OBSERVATION
CHANEL believes in the long-term view of research, creation and innovation. This long-term view does not exclude the flash of intuition, but it always combines intuition with observation, which aims at making discoveries without turning our backs on our legacy. CHANEL does not allow the breathless clip of daily news and trends to dictate its pace, preferring the right course of action performed in its own time. The future is unpredictable, but we can prepare for it.
SOLIDAGO AND ANTHYLLIS – FRANCE SOUTHERN ALPS
A SCIENTIFIC CULTURE THAT LEADS TO INVENTION
It is not possible to invent an active ingredient without inventing the way it will be used. To extract the quintessence of each plant without tainting its powers, CHANEL has developed innovative, original extraction and separation techniques that are tailored to each one. And since each plant – each molecule – is different, it is necessary to invent, innovate and start over each time.
VANILLA – MADAGASCAR
Researcher and professor at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, Doctor Aro Vonjy Ramarosandratana is the man behind the Chanel’s research and charity project in the country he is a botanist who has studied medicinal and aromatic plants for 15 years. This vanilla specialist has become a privileged partner of CHANEL in fundamental botany research.
Doctor, can you tell us about your background?
I went to university in France in the 1990s. After receiving my PhD in Biology, I went to South Africa to work. When I was there, I realized that the traditional understanding of plants is incredibly important in the public health system. When I returned to Madagascar, I joined the Institut Malgache de Recherches Appliquées, one of the first African institutes to study medicinal plants. I stayed there for 10 years, while also working at the University of Antananarivo.
How did you meet CHANEL?
CHANEL contacted my institution when I was working at the University of Antananarivo. Our close collaboration with CHANEL Research began in 2014, but their Vanilla planifolia plant chain had already existed since 1995. They approached me to develop certain research aspects about vanilla.
What changes have you observed at the plantation since you started the adventure?
This vanilla plant chain has consistently evolved since 2002. CHANEL constantly strives to improve its mastery of vanilla cultivation. Inspired by nature, research and production methods are optimized year after year. Since its creation, the plantation has included four shaders, each measuring 1,200 square meters (12,917 square feet), one of which offers natural shade. In this experimental shader, which is as similar as possible to vanilla’s natural forest habitat, the vines grow on “living” shrubs (Gliricidia, leguminous trees from the Fabaceae family), which act as stakes and offer shade. This habitat regulates and encourages the provision of water and nitrogen via the soil, for optimal growth. CHANEL continues to observe and study this vanilla with the aim of making the most of all parts of the plant.
What are the specific characteristics of Vanilla planifolia?
Vanilla planifolia is a climbing orchid overflowing with regenerating molecules, identified by CHANEL Research. The species was brought to Madagascar in the 1880s by French colonists who built settlements on the coast. The population in northwestern Madagascar mastered the cultivation of this plant, which requires a great deal of care and work all year long, a bit like vineyards in France.
Is pollination one of the delicate operations that it requires?
Yes, pollination is one of the most delicate operations. Vanilla planifolia flowers do not all develop at the same time. Every day, one or two flowers blossom on the vine, but close definitively after 12 hours. This is why pollination takes place early in the morning. Requiring a certain dexterity, the act consists of manually moving the male reproductive organ near the female reproductive organ to pollinate the flower and obtain a fruit: a tender green pod. This skill is handed down from one generation of Madagascar women to the next. It is a delicate task that becomes increasingly precise with practice and experience.
What other commitments has CHANEL made in Madagascar?
The collaboration with CHANEL goes beyond research and scientific results. CHANEL fully finances students preparing for their Master’s or PhD degrees. It also sponsors infrastructures developed during the project, such as the creation of a conservatory for wild vanilla plants. These vanilla plants are not intended to be consumed, as they do not have the same qualities as Vanilla planifolia. However, these species may be promising for the future, when other plants might face agricultural problems and climatic changes or drought. CHANEL supports fundamental research by financing several theses on vanilla endemic to Madagascar. It also takes part in agricultural research with an agroforestry reforestation program in the Ambanja region, which aims to preserve the soil and ecosystem services.
A CERTAIN IDEA OF CULTIVATING BEAUTY…
Read more on: “La Beauté Se Cultive”: inside the Chanel Herbarium