beauty spe­cial Why an or­chid could be the se­cret to eter­nal youth (or, at least, re­ally, re­ally great skin).

Carli Whitwell goes into the wild to learn about or­chids—and her­self.

ELLE (Canada) - - Insider - By Carli Whitwell

mother na­ture and I have never been on reg­u­lar speak­ing terms. In Grade 7, I bailed on our school camp­ing trip be­cause I was home­sick (read “needed a proper mat­tress”). Now, my daily en­coun­ters with the great out­doors are lim­ited to walks down tree-lined city streets.

But I like luxe things. Fancy things. Things that make me feel like the ur­ban so­phis­ti­cate I (think I) am. My lat­est ob­ses­sion is Orchidée Im­péri­ale, Guer­lain’s su­per­fancy skin­care line that uses rare or­chids grown in the re­mote TianZi moun­tains in south­west China. It was a beauty dream come true when I was in­vited to see th­ese blooms in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. If there was one ad­ven­ture I’d leave my ur­ban safe place for, this was it.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Jinghong, 12,700 kilo­me­tres from my con­crete ex­is­tence in Toronto, I head to the home of Min­guo Li-Mar­graf, the di­rec­tor of the TianZi na­ture re­serve. What Li-Mar­graf calls home—Mekong Hill Gar­den—is ac­tu­ally a hectare of land in the cen­tre of town with an ecosys­tem of over 600 rain­for­est plant species. Her home, which has many rooms that have no walls, means she lit­er­ally has na­ture at her doorstep. “I live out­side 24 hours, four sea­sons,” she tells me.

Li-Mar­graf adds that she didn’t feel con­nected to the “truth of na­ture” un­til 1999, when she met, fell in love with and later mar­ried Josef Mar­graf, a bi­ol­o­gist and or­chid spe­cial­ist. Li-Mar­graf left her ca­reer as a jour­nal­ist, and the cou­ple, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Guer­lain, opened h

the TianZi na­ture re­serve in 2007. Com­pris­ing 444 hectares, the re­serve acts as a safe house for en­dan­gered plants and is home to the source of one of Orchidée Im­péri­ale’s key in­gre­di­ents: the rare gold or­chid.

The petals of the gold or­chid con­tain pro­tec­tive mol­e­cules that can boost col­la­gen and elastin pro­duc­tion in skin, which means a re­duc­tion in the ap­pear­ance of wrinkles and sag­ging. In par­tic­u­lar, when our mi­to­chon­dria— the tiny en­ergy-build­ing power plants in our cells—age, it’s harder for skin to re­new it­self. Guer­lain re­searchers dis­cov­ered that a com­bi­na­tion of or­chids, in­clud­ing the gold or­chid and the Vanda coerulea, help mi­to­chon­dria in­crease their en­ergy pro­duc­tion. The Orchidée Im­péri­ale line also con­tains the Vanda teres or­chid, which en­cour­ages the growth of pro­teins that form the up­per­most layer of the skin to bet­ter pro­tect it­self.

The next day, I travel with eth­nob­otanist François Gérard, Li-Mar­graf and a hand­ful of other jour­nal­ists to the re­serve. We zip through Jinghong in four-by-fours be­fore hit­ting dirt roads built along ver­tig­i­nous cliffs. Af­ter bounc­ing around like clothes in a dryer for an hour and a half, we ar­rive. The jun­gle set­ting is as lush as the for­est in Avatar, and the only sound is the crunch­ing of the leaves be­neath our feet. Be­ing here re­minds me of how I felt when I was nine years old and wore glasses for the first time: I couldn’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing I was sud­denly able to see and had a ma­jor case of sen­sory over­load. The pur­ple­blue colour of the Vanda coerulea flower is be­witch­ing. “We have so many in­ter­est­ing or­chids; we con­tinue to ob­serve them and hope that we can insert them in the for­mula one day,” ex­plains Gérard. “The or­chid is the most im­por­tant botan­i­cal fam­ily in the world. It’s some­how a world by it­self.”

I had as­sumed that or­chids grew in fields, like the heady pop­pies in The Wizard of Oz, but Gérard tells me that 90 per­cent of them are epi­phytes, which means they grow on other plants, typ­i­cally trees. “You have to look up at the sky to see them,” he ex­plains, point­ing at the for­est-cov­ered moun­tain peaks that span seem­ingly end­lessly to­ward the dis­tant Myan­mar bor­der. “[The or­chid] has a tran­scen­den­tal power to lift you up to see an­other vi­sion of life.”

I could say the same about this jour­ney. Maybe I’ll never be able to keep a plant alive more than a cou­ple of weeks, and I’ll prob­a­bly only go on that fam­ily fish­ing trip if I can sleep on a bed...but I’m will­ing to start small: The first step? Look­ing up just a lit­tle bit more. n

Guer­lain Orchidée Im­péri­ale 10th-An­niver­sary Lim­it­edEdi­tion The Cream ($1,750)

Min­guo Li-Mar­graf with a gold or­chid (left)

Health & beauty editor—and na­ture-phobe—Carli got her hands dirty at the TianZi na­ture re­serve in China. The park is home to 12,000 or­chids, in­clud­ing the gold or­chid, which is found in the Orchidée Im­péri­ale col­lec­tion. The line turns 10 this year.

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