On Saving the World: Sylvie Chantecaille
The pioneering beauty founder talks cosmetics with a conscience
All hail the pioneering founder of the skin care and beauty brand Chantecaille, a family-run business for over 20 years, that advocates treading lightly in the world and champions using natural, carefully sourced ingredients. Her mission? Raising awareness of global problems via her skin-enhancing products.
How did you wind up in the beauty industry?
I was supposed to be an art dealer, but I loved makeup too much. My parents were art collectors, and from the moment I was born I was exposed to beautiful pieces and appreciated fine art. My childhood and background in art influence everything, from my desire to create a natural, successful product, to the color of the boxes and design of each bottle or compact.
My beauty career began when I moved to New York City. That was when I created my first cosmetic company with my friend Diane von Furstenberg. The cult perfume Tatiana was part of that line. In 1979 I was asked by the Lauder family to create a new beauty company called Prescriptives. It was a completely new approach to cosmetics, and there I led some of the most innovative developments in the beauty industry, including custom blend shade-matching to help women identify the perfect foundation shade, an unprecedented concept at that time. We also launched Calyx, a best-selling fragrance which is still loved today.
I launched Chantecaille in 1997 as a niche fragrance house with four scents based on natural essential oils. Within a year and a half, I realised I could and should do more. It was clear that my personal passion for high quality skincare, natural products, Chinese medicine and aromatherapy were begging to be expanded into a line of beauty. I created a company that reflected my spiritual and holistic passion in each item created, and twenty years later, here we are!
“I wanted to create the first skincare company based on flowers - totally pure with a luxurious quality, scientifically-forward technology and botanical ingredients.”
What was the starting point when launching the brand?
Chantecaille started with my desire to create high-quality products that made women feel beautiful but were most importantly healthy for them. The product had to be impeccable and better than anything on the market, and there was no other skincare or makeup company based on flowers.
Using Chinese medicine principles, herbalism and aromatherapy as our inspiration, we mixed the purest plant-based formulas, and from the beginning products had a high percentage of naturals, which was unheard of in the industry. This combination created an effective product, with clean ingredients, luxurious quality, and scientifically-forward technology. It just seemed to me the only way to do it. A luxury product should, before anything else, be good for you.
How has the beauty landscape changed since you started out?
The beauty landscape has changed for the better - there are so many natural makeup and skincare products. It is truly great that people care now about naturals, organics, and botanicals, but many who claim it are not really natural, or harbour certain ingredients that are still not the healthiest for your skin.
What’s the inspiration behind your beautiful palettes?
I am lucky enough to have had the opportunity to see majestic animals like elephants and lions in the wild, so I choose colours that coincide with the animals and their landscape—they translate beautifully to makeup.
Our Luminescent Eye Shade collection features compacts with stunning wildlife portraits to remind you what animal your eye shadow helps save. All of these species are affected by the common threats of habitat loss, human-wildlife conflict from population growth, and poaching - or the illegal wildlife trade. The colours are multi-dimensional earth tones that remind me of Africa - they represent the shades you see in the bush, on the animals, and along the African skyline. The embossed designs are actually done by a coin designer and are inspired by patterns in nature—it’s always fun to envision these together.
One of the brand’s signature skin care ingredients is Rose de Mai. What benefits does it offer?
The Rose de Mai is well known for its powerful anti-ageing skincare properties. It’s so delicate and transfers perfectly and potently into the skin. It is highly rich in Vitamin C, and we blend it as a base in many of our skin care products and keep it 100% pure - meaning we use the entire Rose de Mai rose. Renowned for its brightening, toning, soothing, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties, the Rose de Mai is also incredibly uplifting for the psyche and spirit.
All Chantecaille skin care products are free from synthetic colours and fragrances, as well as other undesirable ingredients. Why is this important?
Sulphates are harsh surfactants that can strip your skin of essential molecules, making your skin dry and more sensitive. Petrochemicals cause contact dermatitis and can be contaminated with cancer-causing impurities. They are produced in oil refineries contributing to air and water pollution. Phthalates are part of a group of chemicals known as endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with the body’s endocrine or hormone system. They are often presented as impurities in synthetic fragrances and this is why we do not use synthetic fragrances in our skin care products. And palm oil is in everything, from hair shampoo to peanut butter, yet it is the main cause of the destruction of the forests in Southeast Asia.
What qualities do you insist every Chantecaille product has in terms of touch, feel, ingredients and aroma?
Product feel and texture is one of my specialities. They always have to feel very good on your fingers and on your face. Since we don’t use artificial fragrance, our ingredients must smell good naturally. The main reason companies use fragrance in their products is because the raw materials do not smell good on their own. When you try a product, you should always try it on your neck. It’s a trick I learnt a long time ago from Estée Lauder herself while working on products. You don’t really feel the product on your fingers, but your neck is much more sensitive.
How is Chantecaille as a business reacting to the increase in pollution in cities, places where many from your customer base live?
For years I have worried so much about the pollution I’ve witnessed, not just in Asia, but in Paris, Los Angeles, Mexico City and other major cities such as London. Do not underestimate the power of cleansing – cleaning pores before toxins can get in is one way of preventing the effects of pollution. Also, it’s why we have an Anti-Pollution range, which includes Finishing Essence and Mattifying Cream.
Chantecaille is a family business, who’s involved and what part do they play?
As a mother, it is rewarding to see your children flourish and succeed with their own individual strengths and talents. It's also rewarding to see your children at work every day! At our office we’re all together, my husband, son, and daughters, all working side by side, and there is an immediate understanding between us, without even speaking. We also share the same commitment to the brand, to beauty, botanicals and conservation.
My daughter Olivia was with me when we started Chantecaille—she is our Creative Director, responsible for product development, international public relations, and our digital voice. My other daughter, Alex, is our Vice President of Sales and Promotions, overseeing our international sales teams, stores, and accounts. She is incredibly business-minded, and continues to grow brand sales. My son Philippe serves as Director of Media Production - he has always loved photography and videography, and has turned his passion into his career. My husband is in the office with us in his role as CFO, so we get to commute with each other every day! It works well for us.
Together, we work fast and efficiently. We are proudly a family business - I think it makes us more successful, and we have a lot of fun! We know each other's strengths, weaknesses, and sometimes I think we read each other’s minds.
How do the Chantecaille family use Chantecaille?
Olivia uses our Nano Gold Energising Eye Serum, which has major antioxidant and soothing properties. Alexandra always uses La Rose de Mai Cream and at night she uses the Nano Gold Eye Cream and Serum. Before I sleep, if I’m not feeling centred, I will spritz our Pure Rosewater and breathe in. It helps relax me to sleep. My son, Philippe, always carries our Magnolia, Jasmine and Lily Healing Emulsion. He also uses Ultra Sun Protection and Stress Repair. My husband, Olivier, has dry skin, so uses the Rice and Geranium Foaming Cleanser followed by the Nano Gold Firming Treatment.
What is your personal beauty motto?
Sleep! When you can and as much as you can. Breathe, be joyful and be truly grateful for everything that comes your way. And, of course, use good skin care – mine!
How has Chantecaille evolved over the years?
The biggest evolution for us was the fantastic discovery that we could use our company to support the environmental causes we were passionate about. Being more than just a brand, and using our voice for those who don’t have one has been an exciting, successful and rewarding journey.
The people who so generously live in the field with the wild animals and work tirelessly for their welfare are the ones we support. We share their stories and raise money to support them with the sales of our products. This is the greatest gift as a family to have gotten to know first-hand the animals and these extraordinary people. We are passionate about the wild.
“Every commerce-making business today is responsible for using their visibility and power to raise awareness and impact change.”
Can you share one of your success stories from working with a charity?
With Lip Veil we have contributed more than £100,000 to Space for Giants to build electrified smart fences in Kenya, which protect elephant migration pathways and reduce human-wildlife conflict. Last year we helped plant 60,000 trees in Kenya around areas that are protected by Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. This past spring, we teamed up with the Amazon Conservation Team and are helping to raise the £60,000 necessary for a group of indigenous women shamans and healers to buy back 75 acres of their land in the Colombian Amazon.
Our 29 philanthropy collections have supported so many different causes, from coral reefs and rainforests to wolves, bees, wild horses, lions, elephants, and pangolins. We can’t save everything, but in each of these cases, we look to have our own concrete impact.