In 1998, Chanel descended upon the sleepy town of Gaujacq, in the southwest corner of France, a region where founder Coco Chanel’s favorite flower, the camellia, is grown. The idea was to explore and cultivate the beauty and botanical benefits of this signature bloom.
What began as a collaboration with fifth-generation botanist Jean Thoby, whose conservatory garden features 3,000 plants, as well as 2,000 varieties of camellias, is now the pipeline for some of Chanel skincare’s best-loved products. In fact, scientists there discovered the revitalizing properties of red camellia—specifically a variety of Camellia japonica named the Czar—and infused them into the brand’s newest beauty range, N°1 de Chanel.
“The Czar is a flower unlike any other,” says Nicola Fuzzati, director of innovation and development for cosmetic ingredients at Chanel. “It supports skin vitality, thereby enabling skin to remain healthy looking for a longer period of time.” That highly concentrated red-camellia extract is in the N°1 de Chanel Revitalizing Serum, which tones and preserves the youthfulness of skin by combining the nourishing and soothing power of the extract with the freshness of camellia water.
The brand is busy bottling those same active ingredients into a formula for the body: Revitalizing Body Serum-in-Mist is slated to come out in September. While all of this alchemy is happening inside the lab, the garden outside feels like a fairy tale. On any given day, Thoby and his team can be seen in their galoshes, ducking through thickets of camellia bushes, handpicking the flowers in the early morning. Plucking the dewy red, white, or even black blossoms, they examine each as a jeweler would a diamond. “We have plants to be studied for the next hundred years,” says Fuzzati. “Nature is our most advanced laboratory.”
Chanel’s camellia farm has earned a Level 3 HVE (High Environmental Value) certification from the French government, which means there is minimal stress on the environment. In fact, the carefully cultivated land has become home for some animals that experts once thought had vanished. Hawks and butterflies were recently spotted on the grounds. “Everything about camellias is precious,” says Fuzzati.