It’s a rainy and rather chilly morning somewhere in France, and I am sitting in a booth in a gleaming white science laboratory, with three syringes of beauty creams laid out in front of me. A chart, along with three fabric samples and several cards are spread across the table.
The cards contain keywords meant to describe each cream, such as thin, thick, enveloping and unctuous. The syringes are labelled No 1, No 2 and No 3. I am told to test the creams on my hand, spreading them across my skin and pinching them between my fingers, in order to match the correct product to its correct characteristics.
This interactive activity is part of my visit to Chanel’s beauty and skincare research innovation centre located in the Paris suburb of Pantin, about an hour’s drive from the city. A select group of journalists and key opinion leaders from around the world has been invited for a rare, behind-the-scenes visit to the lab to discover the house’s approach to integrative beauty.
One cannot simply walk through the hallowed halls of a Chanel lab where real scientists conjure up magical vials of youth in a bottle without looking the part. So to ensure we look and feel like scientists for the day, we were each given a lab coat to wear, specially customised with our names.
Chanel has been in the beauty and skincare business since the 1920s, when founder Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel began creating beauty products that catered to the lifestyle of the modern woman. Some of the house’s current skincare lines include Sublimage, known for its luxurious formulas and regenerative properties around anti-ageing; Hydra Beauty, centred around hydration; Le Lift, targeting firmness and lifting and N°1 de Chanel, its new generation of holistic anti-ageing products.
Some people may have the misconception that Chanel Beauty is merely a designer-branded skincare line. But as I discovered on my visit to Pantin, every single product is scientifically and meticulously crafted.
Chanel’s approach to skincare is guided by its “integrative beauty” strategy, stemming from a holistic vision by Gabrielle Chanel where a woman’s wellbeing, in body and mind, is fulfilled in harmony with her environment. It is “nourished by the past, linked with the present, and looks to the future”.
“Integrative beauty, according to Chanel, is guided by an expert and virtuous approach,” Armelle Souraud, international scientific communication director at Chanel said in an opening speech. In addition, “it is based on an integrative network of scientists, partners, all over the world, all connected, at the service and excellence of Chanel creation”.
In addition, Chanel has five “open-sky” laboratories around the world, where the main active ingredients in its skincare products are harvested. In Madasgascar, for example, vanilla planifolia is cultivated, and in Bhutan, swertia is harvested. The other three open-sky labs are located in Gaujacq, the French Southern Alps and Costa Rica. These open sky laboratories are sites of experimentation for plant production, as well as social and environmental innovation.
Gabrielle Chanel was certainly a woman ahead of her time, evident from the innovative products she launched. But what also struck me was the minimalistic design of the product packaging, which has now become iconic of the house. So modern was the design that a product from the 1950s won’t look out of place on a beauty shelf of today.
We took a peek at some scientists (yes, real ones!) at work, who were infusing Chanel’s active ingredients into skin samples. While senescence is a natural process that occurs, each person has their own cellular heritage, I learnt. Some develop senescent cells earlier, others at a more advanced age.
But this is also dependent on one’s lifestyle, with factors including UV radiation exposure, stress, diet and lack of sleep. I made a mental note to always wear sunscreen, and to bid adieu to late nights for much needed shut eye. “Beauty sleep” is a real thing after all.
FEEL GOOD, LOOK GOOD
Chanel believes that beauty begins with feeling good – and with that, Chanel Research was one of the first in the cosmetics sector to integrate a Sensory Evaluation Laboratory, first in France in 1993 and then in Japan in 2002. The goal is to understand the various effects that products can have on women. It takes years to develop a Chanel skincare product as each formula is given a unique sensory profile.
With that, one of the day’s activities included a visit to the neuroscience department, which evaluates people’s reactions to touch, texture and look of products. We were invited to test out a neurosensory device. Placed on the head, this device is capable of reading brainwaves that translate to one’s emotions. A little intimidated by the device (who knows how much it can actually read? One needs to have some secrets), I chose not to volunteer and instead watched as two participants gave it a go.
So sensitive is the device that Chanel requires those who participate in their tests to have an adequate amount of sleep the night before, added Bardel.
INTEGRATING BODY AND MIND
How can one enhance the clinical benefits of your beauty products? We were treated to a workshop detailing La Fascia De Chanel – the house’s exclusive stretching and massage technique developed in partnership with fasciatherapy expert Helene Bourhis-Bois. The fascia, Latin for band or strip, refers to the connective tissue that envelops the organs and muscles, and links each part of the human body. It is considered to be the largest sensory organ in the human body.
As we left Pantin and headed back to Paris, a quote by Gabrielle Chanel echoed in my mind: “The face is a mirror that reflects the events of your inner life. Take good care of it.” That’s a nugget of wisdom I won’t soon forget.
CNA Lifestyle was in Paris at the invitation of Chanel.