Jungle Lab

Paris correspondent Elisabeth Franck-Dumas speaks with Chanel’s beauty anthropologist, Xavier Ormancey, who travels to remote locales in search of rare, potent botanicals.

How do you discover new active ingredients?

I look to traditional medicine, using a process called molecular modelization. I also study botanicals that survive in extreme conditions. In our Hydramax moisturizing line, for in- stance, I incorporated a natural molecule that adjusts itself smartly to lack of water.

What’s one of your best discoveries?

The Vanilla planifolia orchid that grows in Madagascar. We now farm it [left] and put it in our Sublimage line. It works on everything, from wrinkles to loss of firmness to lack of radiance.

How do you hear about traditional beauty rituals?

Places like India, China, and Amazonia are known for their traditional medicine practices. But sometimes it’s just chance. A friend who was traveling in Indonesia noticed women carrying bottles of oil that they used on their skin and thought it sounded like something for me. I went to investigate, ran some tests, and discovered a botanical extract, the purple bengle, which helps skin firmness. We now use it in our Body Excellence gel.

Do the rituals have scientific backing?

What I find fascinating is that there’s always a rational explanation for the rituals, even the most esoteric. When I’m advised to pick only the leaves that turn toward the sun because there’s a demon lurking behind the others, it could simply mean that exposure to the sun yields more active ingredients.

Is there a special plant you would like to discover?

One with a molecule that has an immediate, long-term effect on wrinkles. What we have works, but natural ingredients take time. I have a few good candidates….