The New York-based brand was founded by Sylvie Chantecaille, a French make-up artist and parfumeuse. She moved to New York in the 1970s and started a cosmetics line with Diane von Furstenberg. Based on Madison Avenue, their small but successful business caught the attention of the Estée Lauder company, which lured Sylvie away to develop new products. (Diane, of course, went on to become the famed fashion designer whose iconic wrap dress launched her fame and fortune.)
In 1979, Sylvie launched Prescriptives for Estée Lauder, and it went on to become a best-selling cosmetics line, injecting a new level of scientific emphasis in a wealth of ground-breaking formulas. Fast forward to 1997, when Sylvie launched her own brand. It started with four fragrances based on her interest in aromatheraphy before expanding into cosmetics using natural botanicals. The brand’s promise and premise: to perpetuate not only beauty and wellness but bring spiritual and holistic values to the beauty business, along with ethical practices (no animal testing, for instance).
The Chantecaille brand’s other core value is family, as Sylvie’s husband, Olivier, serves as CFO, oldest daughter Olivia serves as creative director while daughter Alex heads up the international sales team.
The brand’s Facebook and Twitter pages aren’t just vehicles for promoting its products and in-store events, but for creating a dialogue to inspire the public about its corporate social responsibility platform, such as links to messages and articles concerning pressing conservation and environmental issues.
A recent Twitter message: "Our thanks to all of you for helping ensure that the moratorium (ban) still stands and commercial whaling is not endorsed at this year's IWC" or International Whaling Commission. Its Facebook page highlights its mission statement: "Nature inspires us, and that inspiration is reflected not only in the products we create, but in the work we do to sustain this remarkable world all around us."
It’s also a signatory to the Too Precious to Wear pledge, which features a growing list of luxury brands including Tiffany, Michael Aram, Lilly Pulitzer and others who vow not to use coral. In 2007, Chantecaille embarked on a major campaign to heighten awareness about the global destruction of coral reefs by creating Le Corail, a special compact featuring the endangered coral as the design. More than $11,000 from the sale of the companct were donated to the Pew Institute for Ocean Science. Its “cause-metics” marriage of cause marketing and innovative beauty products has also included Les Papillons, a line of butterfly-inspired eye shadows launched in 2005, the proceeds from which helped establish a fund to protect the Monarch butterfly’s winter habitats.
The face on its Twitter and Facebook pages, by the way, is that of daughter Olivia, who’s the public face of the brand in many ways. Raised amid her mother’s lab samples and color charts, she literally grew up in the company, which she joined after studying art and working as a model. An active philanthropist on the New York and global charity circuit, Olivia is an integral part of the brand’s involvement in the Pew Institute’s marine conservation efforts along with her sister Alex, a scuba diver who also manages the Chantecaille Energy Spa at Barney’s New York flagship.
So committed is the family—which spends weekends on the water at their house in the Hamptons—to eco-causes, the brand’s website links to news articles on endangered species, global warming and an “easy to use” seafood guide. At an event last month at Neiman Marcus in Washington, D.C., Olivia and Alex discussed their products’ ingredients and botanical focus as much as they talked about how the brand is “giving back” and supporting efforts to protect nature.
The line remains committed to Sylvie’s original goal of creating a marriage between science and nature, marrying extensive research and technological innovation with the purest ingredients. To this day, all Chantecaille skincare items are created from the same Rose de Mai pure rosewater base that Sylvie pioneered when she struck out on her own.
While it’s not cheap—this is a luxury beauty brand after all, with products such as a $290 Nano Gold firming treatment—each season’s collection looks for a fresh opportunity to promote and protect endangered species and spotlight global sustainability issues.
So for those who are concerned about the plight of marine creatures, consider Les Dauphins, both a product (eye shadow) and campaign. At $77, the eyeshadow quad compact may seem a tad pricey, until you think about the namesake creature it’s helping to protect. Chantecaille is giving 5% of its sales to support Giovanni Bearzi, a Pew Fellow of Marine Conservation who runs the Tethys Research Institute, a non-profit NGO dedicated to conserving the marine environment in the Mediterranean. Its website also recommends watching The Cove, a documentary about the brutal culling of dolphins, to learn more about the creature’s “countless threats across the globe.”
Chantecaille’s La Baleine collection is also supporting the Blue Whale through donating 5% of sales to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, a network of scientists and researchers engaged in conserving biodiversity. Other "cause-metic" campaigns are outlined on its website.
It would be foolish to dismiss the Chantecaille family or brand as airy-fairy eco-activists. Far from it. Sylvie’s as much a technologist and scientist as she is a makeup and fragrances savant, and her husband and daughters are hard-nosed business and creative executives. The brand is not only held in high regard by discriminating luxury shoppers (and celebrities – although the brand doesn’t divulge its VIP clientele, apparently David Beckham and Brad Pitt are fans, showing its skincare is not just for women), but around the world. Its growing global network extends from North America and across Europe (where it can be found at Harrod’s, Harvey Nichols and Space NK) into Asia, where it’s in high demand in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
The family also find inspiration on their travels, including closer to home. Olivia’s visit to the rose gardens at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., inspired Lip Chic shades, for instance. But it’s on the water—particularly at the family’s East Hamptons getaway outside New York—that the Chantecailles, and thus their brand—are most at home.