The nature of beauty

Sylvie Chantecaille has combined her passions for family, philanthropy, cosmetics and the natural world into Chantecaille, a cosmetics company celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Growing up in Paris — the only child of aristocratic, art collecting parents — the former Sylvie de Bois de Soheit was an early fan of creatures real (dogs, spiders) and imagined (mermaids). Her mother’s love of gardening at the family’s country home and devotion to cosmetic rituals also gave young Sylvie a respect for beauty in all its forms.

Sylvie Chantecaille. Image courtesy Chantecaille.

Her 1963 society debut underscored what she called “the magic of makeup.”

“We used to wear those big gowns to balls, with our hair up, and so we needed good makeup to carry off the look,” she told The Telegraph’s Justine Picardie in 2011. “I wore pale Chanel lipstick to match a pale embroidered evening dress by Patou, and I borrowed a coat made of swans’ feathers to go over it.”

That unerring sense played well in Manhattan in the 1970s, where she met her husband, Olivier Chantecaille — a Bordeaux native working in the wine business — and founded a cosmetics company with Diane von Fürstenberg. That led Sylvie Chantecaille to develop the Prescriptives line for Esteé Lauder.

But Chantecaille wanted to establish a brand that would reflect all her passions, including the natural world and philanthropy. Enter Chantecaille the company, which not only makes use of botanicals but supports a number of wildlife charities. (No wonder Sharon Stone, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston and March WAG cover guy David Beckham are such fans.)

Chantecaille the woman — who works with her husband, son Philippe and daughters Alex and Olivia in the business — has the timeless elegance that defines Frenchwomen. (Think Brigitte Macron.) There’s also a soupçon of Helen Mirren about her.

We might not all achieve the glamorous effect of a Sylvie Chantecaille. But she would say we can use her animal-inspired products to help achieve our best selves:

When did you first become involved with animals?

“I’ve adored animals since I was a tiny child — since I was born, really. My mother was once utterly terrified when she discovered me sitting in her garden, gently petting a giant tarantula. I couldn’t believe how magnificent its fur was and how beautifully he crawled and climbed around. I have always loved all creatures, big and small, and have always had a fascination and respect for animals rather than a fear.” 

Did you have a pet or a favorite kind of animal growing up in Paris?

“I had an Irish Setter named Ajax, and he was my best friend growing up.  There is a certain bond formed between a child and their first pet, something magical that I will never forget. Growing up with pets forged my adoration of and dedication to animals.”

How does the Philanthropy Collection of Cheek Shades benefit animals? Are there several charities involved?

“Our new Philanthropy Cheek Shade Collection is permanent to the line — not just seasonal as many philanthropy items of ours are. It benefits six charities that Chantecaille has been honored to support in the past. The launch is a reissue of six best-selling cheek shades ranging from soft pink to vibrant coral. Each cheek shade benefits a unique conservation effort and is embossed with the animal it supports. We’re so pleased to have more opportunities to support the American Wild Horse Campaign, The Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary Foundation, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Marine Conservation Institute, Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation and Widecast (Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network Inc.).”

Chantetecaille’s Philanthropy Cheek Color Butterfly (Bliss) supports the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary, protecting this endangered species. Image courtesy Chantecaille.

Tell us about your work with The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

“The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a world-renowned wildlife haven in Kenya known for their work rescuing orphaned baby elephants and caring for them until they are sound in body and spirit. Angela Sheldrick has committed her life to elephants, continuing the legacy her parents built by becoming a tenacious anti-poaching advocate. She and her swift team are dedicated to preserving the elephants’ natural habitat in Tsavo by monitoring the area via aerial surveillance and on the ground, dismantling snares and arresting wildlife offenders. Her strength and natural leadership in such a critical arena of the wild is a huge inspiration to us. 

“Throughout the years, we have supported them with The Elephant Palette in 2012, our 15th Anniversary Palette in 2014 and our Spring 2017 Mermaid Matte Trio. I am delighted to launch the limited-edition 20 Year Anniversary Palette this spring. It continues our support for Angela’s efforts. Smitten, one of our best-selling cheek shades, is also part of the Philanthropy Cheek Shade Collection. It is embossed with an elephant and was created to give evergreen support to The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.”

Twenty years is a remarkable achievement. Why did you found Chantecaille?

“After working on Prescriptives at Estée Lauder, I was ready to do something with my name on it, something that represented my passions, background and beauty ideals. Launching my own brand was the perfect vehicle to combine my spiritual and holistic philosophy and interest in flowers, botanicals, aromatherapy and traditional Chinese medicine with my dedication to animals and conservation.  

In 1997, I launched Chantecaille as a small fragrance house with four scents based on natural essential oils. My niche fragrances didn’t remain small for long. Quickly, I discovered my desire to create more — to be the first skincare company based on florals, botanicals and luxury. If I was going to do it first, I had to commit to doing it best, which is why all of our ingredients are scientifically proven to not only be tremendously effective but also pure and healthy for women.

Chantetecaille’s Philanthropy Cheek Color Elephant (Smitten) supports the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, an organization that fosters orphaned baby elephants. Image courtesy Chantecaille.

Is that what makes Chantecaille special?

“What sets Chantecaille apart is our true, pure passion, our passion for products, animals, the earth and our clients.”

Before Chantecaille, you had a cosmetics company with Diane von Fürstenberg and then, as you’ve said, Prescriptives. Why did you choose cosmetics as a profession?

“Cosmetics chose me.”

What one skincare or makeup principle do you think everyone should adhere to?

“Everyone should use naturals and botanicals. They work in harmony with your skin. Use products that help you feel beautiful while also being healthy for you. Our bodies are most at ease with nature because there is an understanding between our bodies and cells and the cells of plants. We proudly fuse pure, luxurious quality, scientifically-forward technology and botanical ingredients in all we do. We think of it as wellness, not just beauty.”

Your family shares not only your passion for the environment but your work at Chantecaille. How does that dynamic play out at the office and at home?

“Chantecaille is truly a family business — committed to the same vision for the brand and dedicated to philanthropy and conservation. We are passionate about our work and a very close family unit. We are in the (Manhattan) office five days a week together, then spend weekends together at my home in East Hampton. As a mother, it’s marvelous to see my children flourish in their unique ways. Everyone has their own strengths and talents, and everyone works so differently. Something about being related must mean we can read each other’s mind. I notice we can predict each other’s opinion or next move. I find it incredibly efficient.”

Chantetecaille’s Philanthropy Cheek Color Coral (Laughter) supports the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, which is working toward protecting 10 percent of the world’s oceans by 2020. Image courtesy Chantecaille.

Finally, our opening essay for April is all about mermaids, and you mentioned Chantecaille’s Mermaid Matte Eye Trio. Do you share any qualities with a mermaid?

“The first time I ever dressed up in a costume as a child in France, I was a mermaid. My mother hand-painted each scale on my long turquoise and purple tail, I wore a net over my shoulders, and I had long blonde hair. I loved mermaids. Like a mermaid, I am always moving, always swimming, going forward.”

For more, visit chantecaille.com.

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