The Australian - Wish Magazine - - BEAUTY EXTRA - Fiona McCarthy

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

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