THE AU­DAC­ITY OF BEAUTY When is a jar of cream more than a sym­bol of beauty? Natasha Kraal dis­cov­ers the “se­crets” to Chanel’s Sublim­age range that takes skin­care to a whole dif­fer­ent level.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - THE BEAUTY -

Paris with its land­marks, bridges, Miche­lin stars …. the epi­cen­tre of haute cou­ture, high fash­ion, and breathtaking beauty; leav­ing all that be­hind for a day I travel 40 kilo­me­tres out to the northeastern sub­urbs. Pantin, to in­dus­try in­sid­ers, is the ge­nius loci, the bud of the rose, the place where fan­tasy cre­ations are born: in the tra­di­tional leather work­shops of Her­mès, the métiers d’art ate­liers of Chanel, the so­phis­ti­cated com­puter soft­ware fac­to­ries for ap­parel man­u­fac­tur­ing. My des­ti­na­tion on that sunny day in May is the brand new Chanel Re­search cen­tre to dis­cover the mak­ing of its lat­est beauty cre­ation, launch­ing world­wide this month.

The car pulls up into the vast com­pound, a bloo­som­ing spring gar­den soft­en­ing the grid-like fa­cade of the beauty head­quar­ters un­veiled in 2013. Its neigh­bour­ing build­ing is a con­crete be­he­moth par­tially cov­ered in graf­fiti: a rep­utable ad­ver­tis­ing agency, I am told, bounc­ing off Pan­tone graph­ics and a cool quo­tient that im­me­di­ately bring to mind Chanel’s street-cred cam­paign of grungy back­packs, punked-up hair, and the most vi­brant paint-stroked clothes.

Florence Nemo, Chanel’s grande dame of the beauty di­vi­sion, for­mally known as in­ter­na­tional PR di­rec­tor, steps out in her navy sum­mer tweed jacket and white trousers. “Why Pantin?” she asks be­fore I do. “Well, in 1924, three years after the launch of N˚5, the founder of Gal­leries Lafayette in­tro­duced Gabrielle Chanel to the Wertheimer brothers who, with her, founded the So­ci­ete des Par­fums Chanel. In 1924, the first make-up prod­uct was launched [a red lip­stick] and in 1927, the first skin­care prod­uct. The fac­tory was right here, not ex­actly this build­ing, but in Pantin.”

“This re­search cen­tre was re­built in Pantin not only for his­tor­i­cal rea­sons,” Nemo con­tin­ues. “In the 19th Cen­tury, Pantin was al­ready a man­u­fac­tur­ing town for soaps and skin­care, be­ing close to the canal and ma­jor rail­roads. The Wertheimers [still the own­ing fam­ily of Chanel S.A] with the set­ting-up of their fac­tory here, fo­cused on in­no­va­tive ways to cre­ate skin­care and fra­grances. This is the in­dus­trial cen­tre, the heart of ev­ery Chanel beauty prod­uct.” After Pantin, the man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties of Chanel ex­panded to Neuilly in Paris, and Sofia An­tipo­lis in the South of France, the plant man­u­fac­tur­ing hub clos­est to Grasse, where Chanel’s ex­quis­ite jas­mine and May rose fields are lo­cated. In the 2000s the re­search and tech­nol­ogy di­vi­sion glob­alised to Piscataway in New Jersey and Funabashi in Ja­pan, where they work seam­lessly to con­cep­tu­alise, for­mu­late, and cre­ate ad­vanced skin­care for women the world over.

The re­turn to Pantin in a brand new fa­cil­ity com­pletes the vir­tu­ous cir­cle, and then sends it into a whole new uni­verse. “Our lab­o­ra­tory work has now evolved into a ‘ cre­ative col­lab­o­ra­tive’, in the style and el­e­gance of Chanel,” says Christian Mahé, se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Chanel Re­search, who had the vi­sion to house all lab­o­ra­to­ries in one fa­cil­ity to op­ti­mise the syn­ergy, re­source­ful­ness, and in­ge­nu­ity of over 200 ex­perts. “For that [we] have to be in­ter­na­tional, in­no­va­tive, and au­da­cious; re­spon­si­ble to our en­vi­ron­ment and ecosys­tem; and in to­tal ser­vice to women’s beauty. We work on the same pro­file as sci­en­tists and med­i­cal doc­tors, but in sub­li­mat­ing beauty with high­per­for­mance skin­care and make-up. “The emo­tional quo­tient is also im­por­tant,” Mahé con­tin­ues. “Prod­ucts must be plea­sur­able to use as well as multi-sen­so­rial. The multi-dis­ci­plinary col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween teams that work simultaneously with pas­sion is what pushes us ahead. This cen­tre is an in­car­na­tion of Gabrielle Chanel’s vi­sion, of col­lab­o­ra­tive cre­ativ­ity. Pantin is where 21st-Cen­tury beauty be­gins.”

And so it does. Con­fi­den­tial­ity forms signed, lab coats on, recorders and note­books poised: we are to dis­cover the “se­crets” to the new Sublim­age L’Essence, the su­per of all serums, fea­tur­ing its sig­na­ture in­gre­di­ent, the Golden Champa PFA, with the lat­est ad­di­tion of trop­i­cal harun­gana in this 2.0 ver­sion. Promis­ing “global detox­i­fi­ca­tion” of skin from within, it fights the age­ing tox­ins caused by fa­tigue, pol­lu­tion, and stress, now in both the deeper and the up­per lay­ers of the skin. To those un­ac­cus­tomed to the golden flower that first de­buted in the 2010 ver­sion of L’Essence, its pure essence is ac­quired from Chanel’s ex­pert and ex­clu­sive polyfrac­tion­ing (PFA), a process in­volv­ing 12 lev­els of

Christian Mahé

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