VANILLA PALIFONIA, BEYOND THE JAR PROJECT, COURTESY CHANEL
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How can the cosmetics industry become part of the upcoming circular economy?

Open sky-laboratories and hotspots of biodiversity. How Chanel incorporates transparency into the roots of its business 

Andrea d’Avack, President of Fondation Chanel & Global Head of Corporate Responsibility at Chanel claims that preserving not only hotspots of biodiversity but as well as craftsmanship, through the Métiers d’Art, is the corporation’s ode to the future. These processes are not taken for granted by the corporation as transparency is integrated at the roots. D’Avack puts it simply: «There is clearly no luxury without sustainability. It is an integral part of the Chanel brand». The corporation’s chosen attitude towards farming natural raw materials is described as «low-carbon» and «regenerative». According to d’Avack, in all of Chanel’s endeavors, whether it be from acquiring textile fibers, metals or the ingredients for their cosmetic products: knowledge is the key to the future. «For our core raw materials, we have a good understanding of our supply chain that goes all the way to the farmer’s field. We work in collaboration with local suppliers and improve traceability, supporting our partners to help evolve agriculture, breeding or extraction – the processes that transform the materials for our use». This partnership with local suppliers is where Chanel has ensured innovation in their plant-sourcing approach for cosmetic products. The act of preserving biodiversity is a statement in itself by Chanel that «the world’s treasures should not be lost». Nicola Fuzzati – Ingredients Innovation and Development Director for Chanel Research affirms this statement even further, «This is true for the luxury sector. We have undertaken an approach by developing sustainable supply chains for the plant material that we source. We promote innovative cultivation techniques such as agroforestry, organic cultivation, and permaculture. These techniques respect the local communities».

Fuzzati – a key member of the Chanel corporation to speak to regarding biodiversity – is a plant scientist and researcher, adding his scientific expertise and perspective to the corporation. He affirms that through working with local partners, the respect of the specific local characteristics — of not only the specific environment, but also the culture — is able to be best preserved. In such a way, it transforms into an implementation of an agro-ecology approach. «We are committed to federate the botanical and phytochemical researchers with traditional farmers and local partners who are familiar with their ecosystems and their land. They allow us to identify their needs in order to ensure sustainable crops, rooted in their territory». The Maison’s precise methods of flora cultivation and mastery of plant extraction is embedded in continuous learning. The creation of both active and functional ingredients comes from studying the different elements of each plant chosen before cultivating. An example of this can be seen through the creation of their first active ingredient in 2005: using ripe vanilla pods and from then on, it was clear to the team that every component of the vanilla plant was valuable. Chanel continues to extract the plant from top to bottom, even using the vanilla seeds as an exfoliating agent for the scrub. No element of a single plant is to be overlooked. 

Solidae Virgua Chanel
Solidae Virgua, Chanel open sky laboratories in Provence

Chanel’s open-sky laboratories, dedicated to creating natural ingredients, exist in different corners of earth with contrasting climates that allows the teams access to a wide variety of plants. Fuzzati notes that biodiversity hotspots make up a large part of his research. «The ‘hotspots of biodiversity’ are ecosystems located in different climate zones in the world that allow us to have access to a great variety of plant species. We have three research axes on highly potential plant categories: tropical plants, alpine plants and horticultural plants». The process starts with an evaluation of the traditional usages of specific plants, done either through studying scientific literature or conversations with locals. The next step is looking at the chemical composition of the plant as according to Fuzzati, every herb produces molecules such as flavonoids, sterols, terpenes to name just a few. All of these molecules generate different biological activity when in contact with the skin. Intense study of every plant is of great interest – knowledge that is then expanded by the team’s expertise in phytochemistry where they are able to isolate the most promising ingredients for cosmetic products. Fuzzati adds that they study more than five hundred plants yearly which only an exclusive dozen of ingredients are then created.

The PACA region, specifically the southeast of France: here Chanel developed a program dedicated to the valorization of the alpine flora. In the southern French Alps, the flora is vast and accounts for about 60 percent of all French flora. Diversity is at its highest here due to its geographic position between the Mediterranean and Alpine habitats. 

Fuzzati claims that plant study in this area is valuable, upon finding the Solidago virgaurea var. Alpestris which provides intense anti-aging properties in a single plant. «Usually, when you walk in the mountains, you do not even notice this small plant. Indeed, people do not realize that this region is a true hotspot of biodiversity». It is clear that synergy and passion must exist within these processes which the team and its members also embodies. Fuzzati differentiates as one team being ‘the eyes’: a cohort of employees that study and analyze the plants for the details and benefits, this knowledge accumulated from looking at traditional usage, toxicology and molecular composition while ‘the hands’ are able to «develop tailor-made extraction technologies and concentrate on active molecules» which end up in the Cellular Biology Laboratory: the solutions are tested for their efficiency in achieving specific skin biological targets.

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