Beauty secrets from the woman who gave us prescriptives and her own successful niche brand
Beauty had a big night at the Golden Globe Awards last January, but we aren’t talking about the bounty of event-ready hair and makeup on the red carpet. About an hour into the show, the cameras panned to an Atelier Versace-clad Angelina Jolie who, at that very moment, dipped into her clutch, pulled out a tube of lip gloss and slicked it on as the tape rolled. The Twitterverse erupted with commentary. What was Angie reapplying in public, for the entire international viewing audience to see? The answer: Chantecaille Brilliant Gloss in Love.
It was an important moment for the brand Sylvie Chantecaille built, but a mere blip in her success story. Chantecaille cut her teeth on a very well received primping project with Diane von Furstenberg in the late seventies before pioneering the concept of custom-blended makeup as an Estée Lauder creative director. In what was a first for the industry, Prescriptives offered women of all colors a myriad of complexion-perfecting options. Chantecaille branched out on her own in 1997, leading the charge in the rise of cosmetics that combine the best of science and nature—with a hearty bit of altruism thrown in for good measure. After a fall “cause-metic” campaign to save endangered African elephants in Kenya, the maquillage master has just debuted a blooming good holiday collection in homage to the rose—which, it should be noted, would not smell as sweet by any other name.
Better Off DebWhat started as an appreciation for fine art developed into an obsession with face-painting fairly quickly. “At 14, my mother took me to her facialist and allowed her to put makeup on me. When I got up from the lounge and looked at myself I thought: This is brilliant.” A fast learner, Chantecaille became adept at doing her own contouring, eyeliner, and lipstick. “I was photographed all around Paris, I think because I did my makeup so well,” says Chantecaille, pictured here in Patou couture at her coming-out party in 1963.
American BeautySylvie moved to New York in the late sixties to become a rep for art stars like Victor Vasarely, but got derailed by a little thing called love. “I met my future husband [Olivier Chantecaille] in New York City and we went back to France and married.” When the couple returned to the Big Apple in 1977, an influential friend wooed Sylvie back to beauty. “I met Diane von Furstenberg through her husband Prince Egon. He and I had gone to school together. Diane said, ‘Why don’t you work with me?’ We took a storefront on Madison Avenue and turned out eye shadows, skin creams…the store was très chic. I think we did 21 cities in 23 days promoting [it] because other retailers wanted to carry our line. It was how I first saw America, really.”
Inventing the (Color) Wheel
By this time, Estée Lauder executives had started sniffing around the Madison Avenue boutique, and liked what they smelled. As DVF took up other preoccupations, including a little wrap dress you may have heard something about, Sylvie was recruited to help launch a new Estée Lauder brand, Prescriptives, in 1979. “Estée was a product junkie, just like me. She would always ask, ‘Where is the glow? I need the glow!'” Sylvie obliged. Putting her art background to work, Chantecaille came up with the Prescriptives Color Wheel, a circle of myriad possibilities for warm and cool tones with variations on the Roy G. Biv spectrum. Bespoke makeup and foundation shades for nearly every complexion were born.
After nearly 20 years at Prescriptives, in 1997 Sylvie launched Chantecaille, an eponymous line of cosmetics that began with three, exclusively distributed signature scents: Frangipane, the water hyacinth, violet leaf, ylang-ylang, and amber-tinged eau created with perfumer Jean-Pierre Bethouart; Tiare, the Tahitian gardenia scent infused with lily of the valley, bergamot, jasmine, and red rose that was composed with Frank Voelkl; and the now discontinued Wisteria, devised with Annie Buzantian. The hits just kept on coming. The new and existing fragrance collection was reformulated and repackaged in 2010 when it was also joined by Kalimantan, a Borneo-inspired ciste absolute, incense, thyme, and agarwood eau.
Sylvie’s next cosmetics coup came by way of an old one. Based on the success of Prescriptives’ Virtual Skin foundation, she launched Future Skin, which boasts an oil-free gel formula with an incredibly lightweight texture. Offshoots in the form of Real Skin, a translucent foundation compact, and Just Skin, a sheer tinted moisturizer, followed shortly thereafter.
From the beginning, Sylvie has kept one eye on business and the other on the environment, partnering with organizations engaged in raising money and public awareness about the plight of endangered species—and creating some of the most beautifully embossed makeup palettes in the process. Having already taken up the cause of the Bengal Tiger, the sea turtle, and the blue whale, Sylvie designated a special Fall 2012 palette to L’Elephant, inspired by a trip to Kenya with her younger daughter Alex, now director of sales for the company. Proceeds from the sale of the eye shadow quad go to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Having been a longtime fan of the cleansing and hydrating properties of rose water, Sylvie has dedicated Chantecaille’s holiday offerings, Les Fêtes, to the flower. The range includes a standout eye shadow trio with micronized pearl pigments; a Brilliant Gloss in Glamour, a sheer wine stain; and Les Pétales de Rose, a limited-edition highlighting powder—a tribute, Sylvie says, to Estée Lauder’s search for “the glow.”
The Constant Gardner
Since passing the creative director torch to Olivia, Sylvie has moved full time to her home in East Hampton where she tends to her well-stocked garden, using her blooms in aromacologie formulations, as well as signature cocktails and canapés that have appeared in Food & Wine
magazine. One of her all-time favorite recipes? Rose martinis, of course.