Thirteen years ago, Sylvie Chantecaille, founder of New York-based luxury beauty brand Chantecaille, found herself puzzled by the dwindling number of monarch butterflies in her rose garden. It was September – the month when the garden should have been bustling with the winged creatures – but she welcomed only a handful of them.
Turns out, the milkweed flowers that the butterflies normally feed on after they emerge from their cocoons were blooming earlier because of global warming. This led to many of the butterflies starving to death. Their migration stops were vanishing too, with the destruction of pine trees in Mexico – the destination of their migratory route from Canada. The monarch butterflies were becoming an endangered species.
It inspired the now 74-year-old beauty mogul to launch a series of limited-edition butterfly-embossed makeup through her brand in 2006. For this, the company partnered with the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, which conserves land in Mexico for the butterflies to migrate to.
That was her brand’s first foray into wildlife philanthropy since its establishment in 1997.
“Everyone was asking about the makeup: ‘What’s this? It’s so pretty.’ I told them, ‘yes, it’s pretty, but we’re more concerned about the butterflies’. That’s how we were able to start talking and get people listening,” she says.
So the butterflies gave the brand a new direction – subsequent makeup collections were dedicated to preserving wildlife. The 2007 collection focused on corals, in collaboration with The Pew Institute for Ocean Science, as Chantecaille, who enjoyed diving, realised that corals were drying and bleaching out.
After that came collections in aid of wildlife such as lions, wolves, sea turtles, sharks and elephants (Chantecaille’s favourite animal). To date, the brand has supported more than 21 wildlife and environmental conservation-focused charities and organisations.
“I wanted to do this because I love animals. When I realised people were responding, it was the greatest thing,” she says. “Animals are so much like us; they have so many emotions. We, as humans, just don’t listen. I’m lucky I can use my company to be a voice for them. And I’d love others to join me.”
The beauty house makes it easy to become an environmental crusader. With just one lipstick or blusher, you’re indirectly contributing to saving wildlife.
The company has done the legwork for beauty consumers to raise awareness in the most palatable way – though it wasn’t easy. Chantecaille recalls how researchers and scientists were often bemused by a “beauty person” sitting at the “big-boy table” with them.
The most common question posed to her was: “What do you know about raising awareness?”
“I’d tell them: ‘I know a great deal. Because our brand is in these ladies’ bathrooms, and they’re using our products day in and day out. We give them beautiful, luxurious makeup with incredible textures – and they learn about the wildlife cause we’re supporting with these products.’”
Celebrity fans like Angelina Jolie and Kate Bosworth have given their nods of approval, as have everyday consumers.
Case in point: Lipsticks from the brand’s newest drop in March this year sold out in several stores in the US right after they launched. The Polar Ice makeup collection was created to raise awareness of polar bears becoming endangered because of melting Arctic ice.
For each Lip Cristal ($82) sold, the brand will plant a tree as part of the Attenborough Green Canopy project in Kenya; at least 20,000 trees will be planted in this campaign to help alleviate the effects of global warming.
“We cannot feed the polar bears, but we can stop what’s causing them to be endangered. So we decided to plant trees in areas that need them,” she says.
Her goal for the brand: to plant one million trees – in Mexico, Africa or Asia – by the end of 2020.
To keep the cycle of giving in motion, Chantecaille has converted several limited editions into permanent lines. The Philanthropy Cheek Shade ($40) series contributes 5 per cent from every sale to the wildlife conservation organisations the six blushers support.
Similarly, the Lip Veils ($80 each), launched in September 2018 for the Space For Giants campaign (which protects African wild elephants), contribute part of their proceeds to protect the gentle giants from poachers.
Coming next is a Summer collection to save Indian elephants. Chantecaille assures us that it’ll be spectacular – it’s her way of bringing more people on board to preserve wildlife.
“The human race needs the wild, and the animals are guardians of the wild. If we lose the animals, we lose everything,” she says. “Once you start paying attention, you cannot just go away and do nothing.” – CT
Chantecaille is sold at Takashimaya D.S.
1 Sylvie Chantecailleat a brand launch in Beijing, in 2019.
2 Some of the endangered animals Chantecaille has dedicated makeup collections to.
3 The Honey Bees collection, launched in collaboration with the Xerces Society in 2014.
4 Chantecaille was a Parisian debutante in her youth.
5 The Philanthropy Cheek Shade series supports six animal causes. These include corals, sea turtles and wild horses.
6 All three Lip Cristal shades are glittercoated and give the lips a metallic finish.
7 The Lip Veils get their names from African flowers. They come in 12 shades.