Generations of Beauty, Alex and Olivia Chantecaille, Chantecaille Cosmetics
Chantecaille is one of our favorite beauty brands as there is no one that mixes nature and science as masterfully as the women of the Chantecaille family do. We sat down to talk with Alex and Olivia, the impeccably Fren
What has the journey been like to where you are now?
Olivia: My whole life has been building up to this; I grew up in the beauty industry surrounded by products and trips to labs with my mother. It’s in my genes! I have always loved and studied art and color, plus my experience as a model was an amazing school for the world of makeup.
Alex: Our mom had a vision to give women (and men) better products than they knew they could even ask for…her vision was really to help improve people’s immune system through eliminating unnecessary toxins in their skincare and makeup. She started with plants, flower waxes, plant stem cells and essential oils, which became the base for our skincare. Much like vegetarian food, plants are easier to absorb into the skin and help improve the function of the body.
How did Chantecaille come to be?
Olivia: Chantecaille is the third cosmetic company my mother has created. She and I have always had a very good instinct with health and beauty, and we saw a large gap in the industry for botanical, pure and healthy products that were made with the utmost quality and technology. We wanted to create products that were better for us and for the environment. We create with passion, love and respect.
Alex: By never formulating our products with carcinogens, such as sulfate detergents, phthalates, petrochemicals, animal-derived ingredients, GMOs, added fragrances or dyes we started off with a super healing, calming group of skincare. Then we added rosewater not only as a spray to soothe and calm a red face, but also as the replacement for regular water in all of our formulas. It is vitamin C-packed, relieves redness and smells delicious. Fresh, pure and uplifting!
What inspiration do you get from you mom?
Olivia: So much! My mother is a very creative, modern thinker and a true pioneer in this world. I am inspired by her vision, her passion for beauty, quality and nature. When we were working on the skincare line, her idea of replacing plain tap water in the creams with our Rose de Mai water was such a revolutionary concept.
Alex: To strive for authenticity, quality and honesty. To always be kind. To derive joy from life and to bring it to others and to have some fun!
We love the concept of passing things down from one generation to the next — which you clearly are doing with Chantecaille. Are there other things you are passing down?
Olivia: I have a 2-year-old daughter and I can clearly see that I have already passed on my love and respect for animals and flowers. She is inspiringly considerate and thoughtful. I can tell that she will help to protect the natural beauty in this world that we so value.
Alex: Our French culture. Olivia has done a fantastic job of speaking to her 2.5 year-old daughter 100% in French. Delphina gets English from her dad, nanny, and friends—but the French is her language of love through her mother and from her maternal family. It’s amazing to see her navigate comfortably across the two languages.
As a family from ex pats, all of our extended family is French and barely speaks English. Speaking French is imperative to being able to maintain our heritage, our connection to our 98-year-old grandmother and the rest of our large family. I try to visit them in France every summer to remain close to them. They have homes near Bordeaux where my Dad’s is from on the beach in the Cap Ferret on the basin d’Arcachon. It’s relaxed and gorgeous and the spot we spent every August growing up.
What has it been like building a family business?
Olivia: I love it. It may not work for everyone, but it works for us. I love my family and working together means I actually get to see them, which surprisingly is not that often because of how busy we all are. Working with your family means that there is a built in sense of trust and a desire everyone to succeed. Sometimes on business trips we all pile into bed and break into the mini-bar and watch a great comedy. You don’t do that with your co-workers!
Alex: Well, how much do you really want to know ?? Ha, just kidding. The great thing about our matriarchal head is that she recognizes the talents (and weaknesses in each of her children—we have a younger brother who also works with us now) and that has ensured that we’re not only fulfilled but separated. We don’t step on each other’s (professional) toes and it allows us to collaborate as siblings and equals with out letting any of the ol’ sibling rivalry rear it’s head.
Truly there is no better feeling than knowing your family has your back. They are there to support you and work as hard as you. We joke around a lot and chill on the sofa with the family dog which is awesome. The “bad” is that sometimes you’re relentlessly teased by your sibling in front of your staff or your mom asks how your date was last night in front of a retailer…awk....ward….
What is everyone's superpower?
Olivia: The beauty of working with my family is that everyone has their unique strengths, which balance out the business perfectly. My mother is the visionary with unbelievable strength and passion. I work on the creative side — making products and the visual for PR, marketing, web and social media. My father’s strength is in numbers on the financial side. My sister, Alex, runs the sales and is amazing at connecting with people. My brother, Philippe, has a great eye and shoots photography and video for us.
Alex: Well I shoot laser beams out of my eyes….No really—Olivia is amazing at color, and has a great sense of style. She also has a keen understanding of what is a good business venture when it comes to new partnerships. Philippe is hyper-visual and produces beautiful videos on our philanthropic collaborations, instructional how to videos, and now shoots our seasonal campaigns. I’m pretty good at motivating and romancing product and what it will do—I head up training, and the relationships with the buyers. Mom is tremendous at seeing the future and making it happen. She is tireless and motivates others to push themselves and to follow through and to think big. She’s the most exhaustive visionary I know. Her motto is practically “Why not?” It’s thrilling to see her ideas come to life. We just opened our first stand alone store in Hong Kong. She designed each element, down to finding the Gio Ponti vintage sofa in Dallas on 1st dibs and having it recovered in a lipstick pink velvet, to designing the private marble-clad spa area for deluxe facials. Now we have our name writ large on the streets of Hong Kong with the chicest store ever inside—it’s so thrilling!
What is the philosophy of Chantecaille that makes it different?
Olivia: A key impetus for Sylvie when she launched Chantecaille was to establish a platform with the power to make a difference. At the core of our company is our commitment to conservation and global sustainability. Since 2006 we have launched 18 limited edition “cause-metics" collections with cause-backed campaigns — a percentage of proceeds are donated to a philanthropic partner. Our intimate relationship with women has been instrumental in establishing a platform for sharing these ideas and for providing opportunities for greater involvement in global issues.
The spirit of the Chantecaille is based upon modern science coupled with the purest ingredients from flowers and botanicals. The heart and soul is the Rose de Mai. This rare rose grows in the South of France and is harvested once a year during the month of May. It is known for its incredible healing properties that are transferred into the water. All of the water in Chantecaille skincare is replaced with pure Rose Water. Chantecaille products are not tested on animals, the skincare products are free of synthetic colors and fragrances, and do not contain any sulfate detergents, phthalates, nor petrochemicals.
Alex: To be modern, fresh and effortlessly chic. We always want our clients to look natural, youthful and beautiful. We are passionate about animals, nature and committed to conservation. We do all that we can to support and raise awareness on issues surrounding global sustainability—specifically wild areas and endangered species. This is one planet and we need to live on it together, respect each other and be the voice for those who do not have one.
We also offer dramming programs wherein clients can refill their glass jar of Jasmine and Lily Healing Mask on Earth day, refill their glass Rosewater bottle in May to celebrate the annual rose harvest, and in October we offer a Bio Lifting Serum dramming of their glass dropper. And our palettes for eyes and cheek are all refillable, in the aim of creating less waste.
Beauty is BIG right now, what trends do you see in the market and what role is Chantecaille playing in it?
Olivia: We are always looking for amazing new scientific breakthroughs and innovations, because we are very nimble we can act fast and send a product to market swiftly. A big trend we are seeing is the use of plant stem cells. They are incredibly precise and effective to change the health and performance of our skin cells while being completely safe.
Alex: Naturals are huge and we’ve always had between 74-99.9% natural, with our Rose Oil that recently launched being 100% natural. We have never really tooted our own horn with our “no no’s” but it’s great to see other brands speaking to it. Along with no GMOs, petrochemicals, sulfate detergents, phthalates, animal derivatives or tested ingredients, artificial dyes or fragrances we also do not use palm oil and that is because they burn down old growth forests when they plant short term palm trees. This reckless deforestation is seriously threatening the homes of orangutans in southeast Asia and recently created uncontrollable and highly dangerous fires affecting the people of Singapore. Although some tout it’s health/skin benefits, its ramifications on a global level make it a super un-healthy ingredient in our book. It has to be healthy for the planet not just for your skin.
Also having a charity component is more and more important-especially to millennial consumers—which is awesome. We have always believed that if you have a company it’s practically your duty to bring attention to causes that are important to you. For the past 10 years or so we’ve donated 5% of our seasonal palettes to support conservation efforts. We like to work with smaller NGOS as we know our donations go far and are impactful, and it’s also great to put a spotlight on slightly lesser known organizations that are doing tremendous work. It started out purely animal-based causes but always with the knowledge that what affects animals and the oceans ultimately affects humans, but now the issues we’re highlighting are more and more intricately linked between the human and nature element. Modern conservation has to address both, especially as the planet is shrinking, and indigenous people living with wild animals wont help endangered animals or plants unless it helps them in some way too. Which is fine. It just means more practical solutions need to be applied and less idealistic ones. It’s a realistic approach to conservation and one that ensures adherence. So specifically, that means training and paying killers of elephants to change from being poachers to protectors of them—and that requires funds because ivory is currently worth more than gold on the black market. So to be competitive you need to find ways to support people financially as an incentive.
What was an "aha" moment that helped you recognize you were on the right path?
Olivia: I knew it the second my mother asked me if I wanted to team up with her to create Chantecaille. There are few things in life that you know with such certainty. That and the moment Angelina Jolie applied our lip-gloss on camera at the Golden Globes!
Alex: With our Charity palettes - when clients would ask us, 'So what’s the next animal we’re going to save?' And when we learned that many clients were buying two palettes—one to use and one to keep untouched as they’re so beautiful.
What are some practices you guys do as a family to stay balanced, grounded, and tied to your mission?
Olivia: We love to go on trips to study and learn more about different causes we care about. We have been to Africa for the elephants, Colorado to learn more about the wild Mustangs and Montana to see wolves.
Alex: We travel into wild areas in nature as much as possible. Recently our brother and mother went to Kenya to see the orphaned elephants that graduate from Daphne Sheldrick’s dormitory and move permanently into the wild. Dame Daphne and her daughter, Angela, are dear friends and we have partnered on several collaborations. Once in Kenya, my mom and Philippe discovered a new not for profit organization doing amazing local work on supporting the Maasai tribes to co-exist with a large predator in Africa…more to come on that project.
I also love to travel-even by myself—I am single but firmly believe that I do not need a +1 to go out and experience the world. I recently went to Istanbul, Nashville, and the San Juan Islands off the coast of Seattle. I actually sent my parents there last weekend and connected them with friends I had made there who run whale watching tours—super small operators that support conservation of orcas that are critically endangered mostly due to the over-damming of the Snake River in Wyoming. There’s nothing like seeing a wild animal in it’s own habitat—such a thrill!
Last Spring my dad, siblings and I went out to Yellowstone to see the wolves in the wild—the NRDC brought us out there for what was effectively summer camp for adults—it was amazing —so gorgeous and educational-exactly what I love!
What are some of your rituals for creativity? What do you do to get into a creative mindset?
Olivia: I like to read, look, listen and learn about anything and everything from the world around me. I’ll flip through National Geographic or Architectural Digest and find inspiration there. I’d love to walk through the new Met Breuer extension at the Whitney and the Elizabeth Street garden in Nolita is always a refreshing escape. Then I let it all percolate and it filters into very specific concepts of what’s to come ahead. Sounds like I’m making a very tight espresso from a bag filled with beans from around the world haha!
Alex: I love to draw and color. I recently took pottery classes which are super meditative. I also love being outside in nature—quietly hiking I find is a great way to gain perspective and inspiration. I have noticed that my creativity sours when I’m with small children. Fantasy can be reality with them; as long as you think big with logic and humor, sky’s the limit creatively. I can get into a total zone for hours with them- I’m also born the week of the child so perhaps that’s why I relate so well to them!
How important is exercise and movement to your lifestyle?
Olivia: It is very important to me. As a working mother with no time, it is my only “me time”. It is also my meditation that helps to clear my mind. I always feel happier after I work out. We all need to move in a way that works best for us. I love Soho Sanctuary for Pilates, or it’s also fun to have a yoga session at home— my daughter loves to practice with me.
Alex: Super. I get depressed when I can’t exercise. Recently my knees gave out on me which sucks (!!) so I can’t run or play tennis anymore, nor really do fun high impact activities, like Circuit of Change in NYC which was a favorite. But I loved a quote I came across from Gabby Reece, saying 'My knees have been my teachers' and I think that’s such a great way to look at the evolution of ones body through out life. You’ve got to adapt and not be rigid, learn how to get stronger and more flexible in other ways, which I’m working on. I have a trainer and do PT, plus swimming has helped to achieve that cardio high and release that I love.
What role does food play in your lifestyle?
Olivia: I try to listen to my body and what it wants. The French approach to eating suits me. I eat organic, seasonal, simple foods and with balance. I also don’t believe in depriving myself. Chocolate is always within reach.
Alex: Eating healthy, energizing, beautiful, delicious food is very important to me. I’d rather not eat than eat poorly. Usually its vegetables and fish or lean meats, but I’ll eat fresh pasta or an indulgent potato gratin once in a while but only if it’s made with the freshest and healthiest ingredients—I think that comes from being French. We don’t eat processed food in France. We never grew up with a microwave and everything was homemade and mostly vegetarian. Our mom is an excellent cook.
Are there any secrets or home remedies you’ve gathered over the years?
Olivia: We’re lucky enough to have a Meyer lemon tree by Sylvie’s desk in our office, so we make freshly squeezed lemon water every day which is alkalizing, so good for the body and the skin.
Alex: Sleeping with a humidifier feels great and makes your skin so much less dry throughout the night, and putting in some drops of eucalyptus does wonders to your respiratory system. I have trained myself to sleep on my back—it really helps my neck. And eating activated charcoal helps an upset belly.
Is there a mantra that you keep coming back to?
Olivia: I like the idea of pressing refresh every morning and leaving whatever baggage from the previous day behind me. I also try to stop a few times a day to think about things that make me the happiest, it helps to raise my energy and feel good.
Alex: 'You are loved...' And the advice of 'go to bed' and 'put on some more sunscreen' and 'stay open'—the Universe will fulfill your dreams if you’re receptive. Also work-wise, sometimes it’s better just to pick up the phone and talk to the person rather than sending an email. People respect human contact and you’ll usually get the response you’re looking for, and certainly faster! And it never hurts to ask; most things are a negotiation and we’re all working together to find the best solution. And lastly, never ass-u-me…..
What's your end goal each day?
Olivia: At the end of each day, I like for my daughter to go to sleep happy and healthy and then I count at least 5 things that happened that day that I am grateful for.
Alex: To feel that I did my best and am happy, optimistic, fulfilled and not exhausted.
What do you want your legacy to be?
Olivia: I can only hope that I inspired people to recognize their own love, joy and beauty in their lives.
Alex: To be joyful and empathetic to others (including animals)—and to dance whenever you feel like it!