CHANEL HAS INVESTED HEAVILY IN EXTRACTING THE SECRETS OF A VARIETY OF VANILLA.
It’s hard to know to know what’s more intriguing: that a humble vanilla pod could hold such powers of skin regeneration and hydration; or that Chanel was the company clever enough to identify the one variety out of 117 that held such revolutionary secrets.
On a mild autumn day in the heart of Paris, one of Chanel’s biochemists is explaining how the firm has spent two decades unlocking the wonders of the Madagascan Vanilla planifolia, best known for enhancing the flavour of food (an Aztec innovation brought to Europe by the Spanish in the 1600s).
In 1999 Chanel’s researchers started to explore the plant’s potential; in 2002 it founded its “open sky” laboratory in the northwest of Madagascar’s Ambanja, with a plantation of 3500 vanilla creepers. It took 10 years to develop a way to capture vanilla’s skin-enhancing planifolia PFA polyketones, via a patented process Chanel calls “polyfracturing”. Then the firm worked out how to extract the benefits of the plant’s antioxidant floral heterosides. Finally, it has found a way to distil what Chanel calls the plant’s “éphémères”.
Éphémères are a precursor of aroma — to attract birds so they’ll eat the pods and spread the plants around — which are only released when the pod matures. As elusive as the name suggests, these magical compounds are what make the updated version of Sublimage La Crème, on shelves now, effective.
The time frame for capturing all these vital essences, at each stage of the plant’s development, from flower to mature pod, is tight; for just a few weeks in April, the lush green pods are picked at the stem and sent immediately to Chanel’s Pantin laboratory northeast of Paris to undergo the patented “chronoextraction” technique. “It’s this powerful enriched concentration of Éphémères de Planifolia that act at the heart of the skin to fight against ageing, stress and dehydration,” says Nicola Fuzzati, Chanel’s active ingredients research director. It boosts an enzyme in the skin called HS6ST2, he says, improving the longevity of the cellular messengers that stimulate collagens, circulation and the ability to retain moisture.
It was a huge risk to invest so heavily in vanilla but with more than 1.6 million jars sold worldwide the gamble has paid off. “There are different challenges when working with nature and the seasons,” Fuzzati says, “but working with the beauty of living things is so much more enriching.”
Christian Mahé, senior vice president of research and technology within Chanel’s Parfum Beauté, says understanding how to team chemical molecules with botanics has allowed Chanel to “find a way to seize a unique moment, preserve it and make it timeless.”
Vanilla planifolia in Madagascar, the key ingredient of Sublimage