The green beauty movement has really gained momentum in recent years. Yet, even before the word “eco” became de rigueur on biodegradable plastic packaging, Chanel was already at the forefront of the movement with its use of sustainably-sourced natural ingredients in its skincare.

In 2002, it established its first open-sky laboratory in Madagascar and engaged local farmers – people who are acutely in tune with the land and its ecosystems – to cultivate high-quality plants while respecting the environment. Education on sustainable agricultural practices and methods was provided to improve their crops and fair-trade supply chains were set up to ensure that the local community benefited from the exchange.

In lending its high-tech agricultural expertise and equitable business practices, Chanel was able to secure for itself a supply of the highest-quality plants with high-efficacy ingredients that it then uses in its luxurious skincare products.

Chanel now has four such labs around the world. The one in Madagascar cultivates the vanilla plant; the two in France cultivate camellias, anthyllis and solidago; while the lab in Costa Rica specialises in green coffee.

Labour of love

Under the shaded canopies of Ambanja, Madagascar, lies the vanilla planifolia, an orchid that spawns the vanilla pods we are so familiar with. What is lesser-known, though, is the plant’s potential in promoting cell regeneration, which Chanel Research uncovered 20 years ago through a laborious polyfractioning process.

The first Chanel open-sky laboratory was set up two years later in 2002, and is responsible for the research and development of the plant, from which Planifolia PFA, a primary active in the brand’s luxurious SUBLIMAGE range, is distilled. In 2011, Chanel upgraded the compound to form the Enriched Planifolia PFA, which is used in its SUBLIMAGE range today.

SUBLIMAGE L’Essence Fondamentale, $750

The cultivation of the vanilla plant is a demanding task: Each flower must be hand pollinated within 24 hours of its fleeting bloom and the pods, picked only during a narrow window of time where the actives are at their most potent.

Born to be wild

SUBLIMAGE La Creme Yeux, $295, Chanel

Located some 8,000km away is the open-sky lab in the Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur region in the southern French Alps, which focuses on the study of wild plant species native to the area. Over a span of eight years, more than 500 wild plants were studied for their medicinal properties. Eventually, this list was narrowed down to just two: Anthyllis, for its ability to improve skin’s luminosity and clarity as well as even out skin tone; and solidago, for its calming properties and resilience under harsh conditions.

Anthyllis is used in Chanel’s SUBLIMAGE L’Essence Lumiere, a serum that works on restoring skin’s radiance, while solidago is used in the SUBLIMAGE L’Essence Fondamentale, a serum that promises an improvement in the skin’s cell vitality and retardation of skin ageing.

Blooming Beauty

Then, there’s the camellia, Mademoiselle Chanel’s favourite flower, which features prominently in every aspect of the luxury house, not least in its skincare. There are over 2,000 varieties of camellia, but the one of particular interest is the Camellia Japonica “Alba Plena” for its hydrating properties.  HYDRA BEAUTY Micro Serum, $200, Chanel.

The stewards of these flowers are not large industrialised farms, but small teams of local farmers who have an exquisite understanding of the flower and its harvest times, so that the best molecules can be obtained from them.

Extracted in the open‑sky laboratories in Gaujacq in south-western France, the Camellia Alba OFA, a star ingredient in Chanel’s HYDRA BEAUTY range, stimulates the production of natural moisturising factors (NMF) in the skin and helps it retain moisture.

Experimental Farming

The Coffea arabica plant, which Chanel cultivates in Costa Rica. Research on camellias is fostered by the botanical gardens of Jean Thoby, renowned camellia expert who has been working with the House since 2005. The Camellia Japonica “Alba Plena” is known for its hydrating properties. The vanilla planifolia flower, which is hermaphroditic and pollinated by hand at Chanel. The ongoing research and development of the vanilla planifolia plant at Chanel’s open-sky lab in Madagascar. The brand’s anthyllis field in the southern French Alps.

While many see coffee as a morning energiser, Chanel Research saw the antioxidant-rich molecules of the Coffea arabica as a pick-me-up for skin and incorporated them into its Blue Serum. The open-sky laboratory at Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica, works closely with a local social enterprise to cultivate the plant. Unlike those used for your common cup of Joe, the beans remain unroasted and are cold-pressed to extract an oil rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

To improve the cultivation of the crop, Chanel launched an experimental agroecological farm to address the obstacles faced when growing them. Chanel Research has also taken on the task of pre‑empting challenges that come with climate change.

In collaboration with Chanel