We Adopted Chanel’s Camellias Dwelling

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Anne Combaz and Zoé Joubert, Retailer, Asia Milia Ware

Have you ever wondered why white flowers are popping up on brooches, shopping bags and … Rihanna? If you are curious, first of all, they’re called camellias. Second of all, they were Gabrielle Chanel’s favorite flower. For Chanel the brand, the camellia is more than an accessory, it’s one of the main ingredients in skin-care products like its Hydra Beauty and Chanel No. 1 collections.

I was curious about the camellia, so I recently traveled to Chanel’s Château de Gaujacq in France, where over 2,000 varieties of the flower are grown and harvested on the farm.

Why now? Well, it was the height of the camellia’s blooming season, just a few days shy of the start of spring; the trees were still bare from winter. But more important, last month Chanel debuted a new product in the Hydra Beauty line: a lip serum. And not just any lip serum — a micro-droplet-technology lip serum that encapsulates a highly concentrated form of camellia oil. Now, mind you, I am a lip-oil girl, so I had to try it for myself. On first wear, I instantly noticed the glide it had, almost like water. Then I noticed the tiny liquid beads that dispersed as they hit my lips. After a few days of use, my lips felt hydrated and plump. Sure, I’ve used face serums before (and other products with camellia like Chanel’s gel-based lightweight Micro Crème moisturizer, the Micro Sérum, and the Camellia Repair Mask, which brings my skin back to life when it needs its radiance replenished). But a lip serum? Never.

From left: Photo: Anne Combaz and Zoé JoubertPhoto: Courtesy of Asia Milia Ware

From left: Photo: Anne Combaz and Zoé JoubertPhoto: Courtesy of Asia Milia Ware

Jean Thoby has dedicated his career to plants, specifically the camellia. He greeted us at the farm wearing patchwork denim, a beige vest, and muddy boots while displaying an enthusiasm about plants that was contagious. I learned from him that these flowers grow best in specific climates — usually lots of rain and practically no wind. So I followed his lead and slipped on Chanel rain boots and a lab coat for a day on the camellia farm.

Thoby took us through an open-sky laboratory where we met Nicola Fuzzati, the director of innovation and development of cosmetic ingredients at Chanel, who works alongside the plants in the lab. He showed us the process by which the molecules are extracted from the camellia’s petals; those molecules become the active ingredients in the skin care we use. From white camellias, properties like ceramides are extracted, which are great for hydrating the skin, boosting the skin barrier, and retaining moisture. In red camellias are antioxidants that aid in the anti-aging process and prevent cellular damage. (This is the ingredient in products including Chanel’s No. 1 Revitalizing Serum and Revitalizing Mask.) Growing these flowers and completing the extraction process in Chanel’s laboratories ensure that the ingredients used in the brand’s products are exclusive and unique to it, which makes them special.

From left: Photo: Courtesy of Asia Milia WarePhoto: Courtesy of Asia Milia Ware

From top: Photo: Courtesy of Asia Milia WarePhoto: Courtesy of Asia Milia Ware

I was surprised to learn that camellias have no scent. But Chanel experts imagined what the flower would smell like and created a fragrance that told the story from their imagination. It’s a fruity, floral scent, yet it’s crisp, like something you would smell in a garden full of flowers.

Learning about the process of creating these products was an a-ha moment. This makes luxury beauty what it is. It’s not just that it says “Chanel” on the label (though the packaging is chic); it’s about the premium ingredients and the intentionality from the beginning of the process to the moment the product lands on our beauty shelves. My experience at Gaujacq may have taken only a day, but the deeper understanding of how beauty products are made will stay with me whenever I slather on my lip serum. Which is quite often, bien sûr. 

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