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.
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