A Botanical Beauty Legacy
As our 25th anniversary year continues, Chantecaille founders Olivia and Sylvie take a look back at the early days of the brand. The mother-daughter team share their memories and reflect on the journey they embarked upon together as beauty industry pioneers.
Tell us about the beauty landscape 25 years ago, at the time of your idea for Chantecaille.
Sylvie: Science was new. What I did at Prescriptives was to bring science into the conversation, and this felt like the next step. There were also absolutely no naturals. And there were no alternatives—today we have a million beauty lines to choose from! Back then, there were big counters at department stores, and that was it.
Olivia: Makeup was so different. It was very thick—you could see it on your face. The trend wasn't about being yourself or highlighting your beauty. It was about completely erasing your face and then painting it back, with heavy contouring and very uncomfortable makeup.
What was the very first step?
Olivia: Sylvie had created a fragrance line which Neiman Marcus loved—and they asked if she’d create a makeup line, and told her if she could do it in nine months, they’d give her prime counters at all their best locations.
Sylvie: I had my first order in my pocket!
Did anyone tell you that you couldn't do it?
Sylvie: A buyer told us that we could make a skincare line or a makeup line, that no company could be successful in both, which at that point was true. What happened is the customers asked for skincare, because they loved the textures of the makeup so much. That’s what allowed us to expand. But they told us the skincare had to be cheap—that people wouldn’t pay a lot for it. The cost of manufacturing everything was so expensive, and it took quite a long time to be able to actually grow, because we had very little money. We didn't pay ourselves, we paid bills and put everything we earned right back into the products.
Olivia: I think it was the opposite—people were excited to do something interesting and new. When we brought flowers into the labs, the chemists were ready to see what they could do with the botanicals we were suggesting could be turned into skincare.
Looking back now, 25 years and 300+ products later, how do you feel?
Sylvie: Our family is super visual, super creative. We're always interested in new things and we always want to create the best. And we're not lazy! We are also very fast at decision making, which is unusual. That’s why we were able to create so many incredible products.
Olivia: Incredible products of amazing quality—the number one thing in our mind from the beginning, and what has always been the driving force, is quality. If it's not the best, don't do it. What’s so nice to look back at now is to see how innovative we were, how we were willing to try new things, even when other brands weren’t up for it. When we first created those beautiful eyeshadow molds with our lab in Italy, they were true works of art. That really was exciting. And when Sylvie had the great idea to merge the beauty with her passion for conservation, that’s when everything truly blossomed.
That’s a great segue into talking about conservation.
Sylvie: When I realized that I could use my day job to do the stuff I love on top of it, I just thought “wow”. It was like merging two things I loved, and that really was incredible. Our first philanthropy products were The Les Papillons collection, which had those beautiful butterfly molds. This was our first step into trying to use our beauty to tell a bigger story. When the customers connected to the issue, and I realized that I could get them to care about these animals and our planet while they were shopping, that was just huge. It’s important to remember that this was in 1996—no one was adding in this idea of giving back. We really took a chance, and now it’s the thing that people love so much about us, how we are more than just a beauty company. We have a heart, and we want everyone to see that no matter how small, every action can have impact.
Olivia: It’s so moving to see wild animals in their environment. Protecting them, and their wild lands, is essential for the planet but also for us—preserving nature so future generations can experience it is really important. Having just come back from a press trip to visit our partners at the American Wild Horse Campaign in Utah, and seeing our guests experience the animals in the wild for the first time showed me how that connection to the animals and nature is a universal thing that is just so powerful.
Was there a turning point moment where you thought ‘we've arrived’?
Olivia: There are countless exciting moments, but I think one of them was definitely when Angelina Jolie put on our Brilliant Goss on camera at the Golden Globes. The next day, that image was everywhere.
Sylvie: Yes. When we launched Bio Lifting Cream, we had a window display at Bergdorf Goodman. That was a big deal. Because they didn't put skincare in the window, it was always just fashion. And there was this big window full of our jars—it was so exciting. When I opened our store in Hong Kong it was also personally very exciting. It was designed so beautifully and was in such a prominent location, right there with all these luxury brands. It really felt like a huge achievement.
Let's talk about the decision to work as a family.
Olivia: It was organic, I don't think it was a decision. We always have gotten along really well. Sylvie had done some freelance projects that I was lucky enough to be involved in, then my dad joined, and then it was Philippe, and then Alex was the last to join us.
Sylvie: I did think that they should have jobs in other places first. Because I wanted them to learn from someone else that you have to get up in the morning! Not me. But our working together was a very natural thing that I always hoped would happen.
Across the years, across all the products, what is your number one favorite product?
Sylvie: I’ve always loved the Bio Lifting Serum, and the new 24K Gold Serum Intense. But the one thing that kills me not to have is Pure Rosewater. I can’t live without it.
Olivia: I also have to say, Pure Rosewater is indispensable. And I need a good serum, Vital Essence is what keeps my temperamental skin calm.
As we look to the future, what is your vision for the next 25 years of Chantecaille?
Sylvie: That we continue to be a brand that stands for elegance, purity and generosity.
Olivia: To continue our legacy of being a voice for wild animals and spaces. It is so powerful and unique and really merges our passions. I'm very proud of what we’ve accomplished and know it will continue on. It is such important work for the generations of the future.