The First Lady of Clean Beauty

Sylvie Chantecaille, daughter of French aristocrats, was one of the earlier believers of nature-meets-cuttingedgescience skincare and makeup. Her brand finally debuts here at Takashimaya D.S.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Sylvie Chantecaille, daughter of French aristocrats, was one of the earlier believers of nature-meets-cuttingedgescience skincare and makeup. Her brand finally debuts here at Takashimaya D.S.
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blue-blooded family, childhood days in verdant French gardens, debutante balls, and fashion designer friends – Sylvie Chantecaille’s life seems like the stuff of society pages. But for the 72-year-old founder of her eponymous beauty brand, the stuff of society pages laid the groundwork for her future as an industry game-changer.

“I grew up with a rose garden right outside my bedroom window and fell asleep every night to that beautiful scent, so I’ve always cherished flowers,” says Chantecaille. “As a child, I spent hours with my mother tending her garden, and this appreciation grew into a scientific form when I was given a microscope, which I used to study flowers and plants,” she says.

Born to aristocratic French parents who were art collectors, she not only acquired an artistic eye (honed by an education in art history and theatre), but also beauty know-how and routines through her mother.

“My mum took me for a facial when I was young, and the aesthetician put makeup on me. When I saw how it made me look, I was hooked. As I grew up and went out more as part of the debutante circuit, I would spend hours getting ready because I was a perfectionist. To me, that was the most fun part of my evening!”

When she was 25, she moved to New York, where she met and settled down with her husband, Olivier Chantecaille. Then in the late ’70s came her first foray into beauty with her friend, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg. They opened a small cosmetics and perfume shop on Madison Avenue (the cult fragrance, Tatiana, was among its output).

That venture landed her on the Lauder group’s radar, and it approached her in 1979 to start a new brand – Prescriptives, one of the most forward-thinking players in the market at that time. “We were the first to offer customblended shade-matching to help women identify their perfect foundation colour. That was revolutionary.”

Through her work on Prescriptives, she learnt more about formulating products, utilising pigments, and the importance of textures – knowledge that would come in handy when she went solo with her own label, Chantecaille, in 1997.

It started as a niche fragrance house with just four scents based on natural essential oils. It soon expanded into skincare and makeup that combined pure botanicals, aromatherapy, science and luxury.

“I was an only child and spent a lot of time in nature, so it made sense for me to create a line based on the power of flowers and botanicals,” she says. “I know a lot about such products as I’ve been doing this all my life. So I thought that if I put all my knowledge into something really natural, using the next level of science, we’d get amazing products.”

Given the number of brands with similar claims now, this may feel a little been there, heard that. But Chantecaille was one of the first to embrace clean beauty before “free of synthetic colours, fragrances, petroleum and various chemicals linked with dermatitis, cancer and hormonal disruptions” became the vernacular.

The brand is also open to combining science with traditional wisdom. “We were at the forefront of many new things, like being the first to use plant stem cells. We work constantly with the future; that’s what interests us. But it has to be in a way that works naturally with the body,” says Chantecaille.

“I have always been fascinated with traditional Chinese medicine and, personally, have used it to take care of myself for years. Its principles really shine in our Gold line, which delivers the rejuvenating benefits of 24K gold. Gold is incredibly healing and has been used in Chinese medicine for hundreds of years to treat emotional and physical trauma, and stress. It’s an antioxidant, and it boosts circulation. We are about to launch our first Gold Recovery Mask, which energises the skin. It’s proven to make skin look seven years younger!”

Chantecaille’s passion for nature goes beyond its applications: The brand gives back to conservation and environmental causes. In addition to launching philanthropic products every season that benefit various endangered animals, it takes care to ensure that its products are made sustainably.

“We implemented plant stem cells in our products before anyone else because these ingredients are easily renewable and have minimal impact on the earth. We use plants harvested sustainably, and were early supporters of the Fairwild Standard that ensures protection for wild plants. Everything we do at Chantecaille stems from an inherent passion to protect the environment and its wildlife.”
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1 Sylvie Chantecaille with husband Olivier in New York City’s Central Park.
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2 With eldest daughter, Olivia, when the latter was a baby. Olivia is now the brand’s creative director.
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3 The rare Rose de Mai is harvested at first bloom in May from the brand’s fields in Grasse, France.
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Sylvie Chantecaille’s Top Picks

4 She’s most proud of… “The Bio Lifting Collection, which treats skin with increasing sensitivity, wrinkles and dryness. It has gold to help skin regenerate, and maximise its energy to fight stress.” 
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5 First-time Chantecaille users should try… “The Anti-pollution Collection. The dewy serum and the whipped moisturiser don’t just treat the effects of pollution damage on skin but prevent damage from occurring.” 

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6 She can’t live without… “The Pure Rosewater. It sets makeup and refreshes my skin, mind, and spirit. I reach for it all day, and even in the middle of the night! It’s the only rosewater that’s 100 per cent made of the very rare Rose de Mai. Each bottle contains nothing but the extract from 1,000 petals.”