Agroforestry, organic cultivation, and permaculture, techniques for preservation of local species: an introduction to Chanel’s open sky laboratories
Biodiversity and its protection for a circular beauty sector
The question is: how can those in the cosmetics world become part of the upcoming circular economy; overwhelming every commercial consideration in the Twenty First Century? The answer lies within biodiversity and its protection.
The majority of beauty products created today derive from natural ingredients cleverly extracted from plants. However, the current rising consumer demand is in their concern for sustainability; as companies are dealing directly with raw materials, components of the Earth. It has become a requirement that lives at the heart of modern manufacturing processes of cosmetic product making.
Andrea d’Avack, at the time of this interview (in 2020) Chief Sustainability Officer at Chanel claims that preserving not only hotspots of biodiversity. But as well as time-honored craftsmanship that was on the verge of disappearing, 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 and dialogue are integrated at the roots. Mr 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 and cultivating natural raw materials is described as «low-carbon» and «regenerative».
d’Avack goes on to say that in all of Chanel’s endeavors; whether it be from acquiring textile fibers, precious 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.
Sustainability: an integral part of the Chanel brand
Biodiversity is not only limited to creating cosmetic products. But the act of preserving biodiversity is a statement in itself by Chanel that «the world’s treasures should not be lost».
D’Avack affirms this statement even further, «This is essentially 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, are efficient for both production of active ingredients and preservation of local species».
Nicola Fuzzati – Ingredients Innovation and Development Director for Chanel Research – is a key member of the Chanel corporation to speak to regarding biodiversity. Fuzzati, a plant scientist and researcher, adds his scientific expertise and perspective to the corporation.
He affirms that through working with local partners, the respect of the specific local characteristics, if not only the specific environment but also the culture is able to be best preserved and transforms into an implementation of an agro-ecology approach.
Chanel’s precise methods of flora cultivation and mastery of plant extraction
«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.
Chanel’s expertise in phytochemistry
Chanel’s open-sky laboratories, dedicated to creating natural ingredients, exist in different corners of the 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; Allowing 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.
Alpine flora and the Cellular Biology Laboratory
The PACA region, specifically the South East of France: here Chanel developed a programme dedicated to the valorisation of the alpine flora. In the southern French Alps, the flora is vast and accounts for about sixty 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.
On the other hand, ‘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.
Researcher and phytochemist Nicola Fuzzati is cosmetic ingredients innovation and development Director at Chanel Research