Seeking perfection in a serum
Edouard Mauvais-Jarvis is both a scientist and a communicator. And in Dior’s ‘greatest discovery’, Capture Totale, he is bringing each role to the fore, as Martin Moodie discovered in a compelling interview.
It’s barely six months since I last sat down to talk with Dior Scientific Communication and Environmental Director Edouard Mauvais-Jarvis but in the intervening period it feels like the world has changed.
Last time we spoke, it was face to face on a brisk but sunny late Autumn day in Paris, at Dior’s elegant new offices in Avenue Charles de Gaulle, Neuilly Sur Seine. This time around the sun is shining much more warmly but we’re engaging through Zoom, that now ubiquitous online platform that will forever be associated with the COVID-19 outbreak. It is a working day but courtesy of the pandemic, Mauvais-Jarvis is at his home near Paris, me at mine in West London.
As we chat, the sweet-sounding arias of the birds outside his window can be heard. “I live in a house not so far from the city. I can commute on a bicycle in 25 minutes, so it’s not far. But at the same time, I’m almost in the countryside. I have the birds singing, I have a garden, and I have roses. So I have the best of both worlds,” he comments.
But these aren’t just any roses. The variety is the Rose de Granville, born of a flower beloved by Monsieur Christian Dior at his childhood home in Villa Les Rhumbs (now preserved as the Christian Dior Museum) in Normandy. There a pink rose grows wild on the windy cliffs; one whose fineness conceals an extraordinary resilience that enables it to bloom continually despite the often harsh maritime climate.
“I’m going to show you, so you know I’m not faking it,” says Mauvais-Jarvis with a chuckle, picking up his laptop and escorting me via the power of Zoom into his garden. “These are the actual roses… the same bush, the Rose de Granville.”
The reference is important to our interview. The Rose de Granville plays a central role in several skincare products within the Dior Prestige range, helping to offer the skin a new vitality. And Capture Totale C.E.L.L. Energy [the C.E.L.L. acronym stands for Cutting-Edge Long-Lasting Energy], Dior’s latest skincare breakthrough, is centred on a marriage of floral science and stem cell science.
“Developing a product is a never-ending subject, because you always want perfection. And the only enemy of perfection is perfection itself, because otherwise you can always do better.”
Dior Scientific Communication and Environmental Director Edouard Mauvais-Jarvis
It was this marriage that formed the greatest scientific discovery in Mauvais-Jarvis’s long and distinguished career – that stem cells do not decrease in number over time but simply decrease in energy potential. That revelation drove the creation of breakthrough skincare line Capture Totale, which was launched into travel retail at the beginning of the year. Today’s interview is focused in particular on Capture Totale Super Potent Serum, described by the beauty Maison as Dior’s total age-defying serum.
“We are focusing more and more on what we call the floral science in Dior,” says Mauvais-Jarvis. “It is one that has been part of the DNA of the brand for many years, but we’re trying to develop this aspect more. We have been putting a lot of effort into taking the best of the plants that we cultivate and going as far as possible in terms of extracting the best of them – and in developing new methods of extraction.
“But we’re going even further than that, because we are working on the understanding of the composition of these plants. We are trying to develop made-to-measure extraction processes in order to have the best ingredients. So we are really creating some new richness out of these natural resources.”
The notion of nature and naturality is integral to Dior, Mauvais-Jarvis explains. Commenting on Capture Totale Super Potent Serum, he says, “We have a very important asset, in that this product is one of the most natural serums, but at the same time it’s one of the most efficient.”
Blind tests using unlabeled products have seen Capture Totale outperform the market leaders in key aspects, he says. “So we were pretty confident that we had an extremely interesting serum. However, making it so natural, starting from what we had been doing before, was a real challenge. In fact, one of the biggest challenges of its development was to be able to combine this efficiency with the naturality – because we had to remove many of the ingredients that we were in the habit of using but which were not natural. So we had to reinvent completely the palette of the ingredients we use in order to achieve that.
“For example, we decided not to use phenoxyethanol, which is a preservative. But it’s not as simple as saying, ‘Bon, I remove preservative and I replace it with something else’, because when you use some natural ingredients in your formulas, they come from providers, and they have to be protected because they come in big containers.
“So we had to develop a full change among all our external providers in order to remove the non-natural molecules that we didn’t want and develop new qualities of the same ingredients in partnership with the ecosystem of the cosmetic formulation world. We wanted to achieve 90-92% of natural ingredients in our serum.”
It was a huge challenge, Mauvais-Jarvis recalls. Formulating with vegetal oils rather than mineral products, for example, is much more difficult. Vegetal oils are more fragile, so he and his team had to find new ways of protecting them without adding lots of preservatives. But the effort was worth it, he says, allowing Dior to develop the serum’s characteristically high penetration – including an immediate effect of plumpness. “Usually, vegetal oils are heavier. The difficulty was to have something that remained light and fresh, and really that is the wonderful thing that was achieved in this formula. When you use it you can feel immediately that it penetrates extremely quickly.
“We have achieved something that is really efficient. We have a product that is really delivering. We can see that today, because not only do we have people that are buying the product because it is new, but they are coming back and buying it again. So we have a product that is going to bring loyalty and fidelity, which is really important.”
A quest for perfection
I ask him about the evolutionary development of a product such as Capture Totale. Is it a case of constant refinement?
“Developing a product is a never-ending subject, because you always want perfection. And the only enemy of perfection is perfection itself, because otherwise you can always do better,” he responds. “But at some one point you have to stop. It doesn’t mean that you stop working, but you stop things at a point in time and you say ‘Okay, we are going to release this version, because we are pretty happy with it.’
“In the meantime, we continue making new trials and we continue to evolve the formula. And when we find something that is improved enough in order to make a new version, we will release it. But we think that we have here a winner in terms of formula, in terms of performance, and also in sensorial terms. We really want to establish this product as a reference and as a hero product, as we truly believe in its performance and its superiority.”
What about extending the range of Capture Totale products? The roll-out would have been different had it not been for COVID-19, Mauvais-Jarvis admits. “We had to postpone some additions, so things that were supposed to come at the beginning of next year will probably arrive in the middle of next year. You know, it’s like the world froze
during a full trimester, and it had consequences on everyone. It had consequences because people were not buying products at the points of sale. And I would say that travel retail was the most-hit market for the cosmetics world in general.
“But on top of that we had labs that were not working. And we had factories in which we moved our manufacturing power to a different purpose and used them to produce hydro-alcoholic gel for hospitals. But even if we wanted to produce, we were depending on the providers of packaging materials, and of raw materials – and they were also closed. So the whole supply chain was stopped. Now everything is starting back, so it’s going to take some time to see real additions and improvements on the market.”
As a fascinating interview draws to a conclusion, I comment on the dual roles that Mauvais-Jarvis fulfils as both scientist and communicator. For most beauty houses those roles are clearly delineated and an interview about a new product would more likely be with a marketing or sales representative. It says much, I note, about where Dior positions science in terms of the creative, commercial and communication processes that he fronts on both levels.
“Yes, I’m a scientist, and I’m a communicator at the same time and there’s not so many in this industry,” he comments. “I have this double role and I’m really working upstream with the labs and with the marketing and the development of products and new concepts. But I always keep in mind the way I’m going to talk about it – I want products to be developed in a way that they could be told, that’s very important. That makes my job interesting, but also makes it interesting for you, because I have all the inside spectrum from the beginning, and I know exactly how the products were developed.
“We really put science at the heart of the development of our skincare products. It is not starting from marketing. We want to make the best product, and then we work together with the labs to find the best technology and the best outcome.
“Right from the start, we start building what we expect usually to be a winner on the market. And along this particular process with Capture Totale, at each step we were more confident about the product. We wanted to make things in a better way. Usually in the development of a product we have an idea of what we want, so we develop it and we test it at the end.
“This time, we tested two or three times during the process to be sure that we were on the right path, that for example it was the right type of texture. We evaluated hundreds of different textures on the market to ensure that we were going on the path of the best performance. We really changed our way of working on this product in order to constantly set the bar higher, and this is what I think that we have achieved with this serum. It really has an incredible performance.
“It’s linked, of course, to all the technology and the ingredients that are in Capture Total and the fact that we are acting on all the vital functions that ensure your skin is working in the healthiest way, in order to build its use on a daily basis. But it’s also the combination of all this technology inside with everything in the formula to be able to deliver it. Sometimes you have a part that works, not the other, or the contrary. Here we have the best combination.”
Capture Totale’s launch came in a year where, as Mauvais-Jarvis evocatively puts it, the world froze. From his perspective as a creator and a scientist, how has the state of the world affected his thinking and that of groups such as Dior? Is it a time to reflect more?
“It was a time of deep reflection, you know, because not only the world froze, but it froze in a way that will leave consequences in the way people behave, the way people live, the way people feel about their environment,” he responds. “And it also gave us new insights. I read something very interesting about the fact that the Maslow pyramid [a hierarchy of needs developed by humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow that ranks as one of the best-known theories of motivation -Ed] that had been forgotten for a long time is coming back to the forefront.
“People are recentered on the very essential aspects of their life, on what is truly essential, like exercising and eating. And I think that we also have a deep reflection in terms of making more meaningful products and focusing on them within our portfolios and ranges. We are more focused on finding ways to answer and reassure people that our products are adapted to this new life that they are living. So it triggered a deep reflection on how we talk about the benefits of our products in relation to the expectations of this new world.
“It’s a very, very interesting reflection… and it led us to dig deeper into some aspects that we haven’t explored in our products. It led us to completely re-observe all the biological aspects of what the product does and see what it really brings in terms of benefits to the skin, and how it can be presented in a different way.
“I’m going to take a simple example. When you bring back some energy to stem cells, they have better cell renewal. In a way it’s building a more regular, efficient skin barrier. And what people want today is to feel protected against the outside world. The first line of defence for your skin is this whole passive immunity that we have on the skin surface, which is very important. And, in a way, when we build a skin that is stronger, it’s also going to get healthier.
“Then, seen from the outside, and as I explained last time, it will be perceived as younger. Because fundamentally, when we assess the notion of youth, we look for aspects of health. It cannot easily be differentiated from the notion of being well-protected. If your skin is efficient and if it’s healthy, it’s going to be more resilient. It’s going to be more resistant to the environment.
“Today, as we are wearing masks during the day, we see that there’s more moisture and you have more rubbing, which is aggressive [on the skin]. So, more than ever, we need skincare that is performant and that really helps the skin to stay healthy in this challenging world. We were already there [pre-COVID-19] but maybe not expressed in this way. We were already on the right path and then it became even more relevant, after what has happened.”