Diamonds might be a girl's best friend but fashion legend Coco Chanel was passionate about pearls. According to Dominique Moncourtois, Chanel's international director of make-up creation who worked with the grande dame in her Parisian atelier in the 1960s, she not only wore them religiously but used them as weights on the hems of her famous jackets so the fabric would hang correctly.
Fast forward several decades and they are still being used - this time as the inspiration behind the beauty house's Autumn Make-up Creation, which was launched in Hong Kong last Thursday. Chanel has stopped developing cosmetic collections relating to spring/summer and autumn/winter fashion, preferring to introduce limited-edition 'Star Products' throughout the year as well as permanent items to add to the existing range.
'Every collection has a thread running through it and this one is all about pearls,' explains Moncourtois, in Hong Kong to launch the range with newly appointed beauty spokesperson and make-up artist Susan Sterling. 'The products are all very modern in colour, texture and technology. Sheer and delicate, they emulate the iridescence of real pearls without being frosted or glossy. This new generation of pigments goes way beyond anything that has come before.'
Central to the range is the Star Product Les Perles de Chanel ($285; above), a compact containing 13 'pearls' in shades of green, pink, gold and white. A soft powder-cream texture, the product has been specially formulated to be used on eyelids, cheekbones and lips (with or without lipgloss) to give different effects. And no matter how popular they prove to be, once the compacts have been sold, that's it.
Complementing Les Perles are six shades of pink Hydrabase lipstick ($130), lip gloss ($120), blusher ($240), a Pro-Corrector compact of four concealers ($270), a palette of four eyeshadows in green, golden pink, brown and ivory ($280) plus a separate iridescent beige (given a quilted look reminiscent of a Chanel handbag; $180). 'The key is versatility,' says Moncourtois. 'These are multifunctional products which can be mixed and matched, used wet or dry, applied with the accompanying tools or fingers.'
Sterling adds: 'Make-up has its own spirit, individuality and style. It's very personal. Women shouldn't become make-up victims, slavishly following what they see on the catwalk. That kind of make-up is great for experimentation but red-rimmed eyes, for example, don't work on a daily basis for office wear. If a shade works for you, wear it regardless of what seems to be on the fashion pages.'
In her opinion, the absolute essential is a good foundation, something that will make you look and feel good instantly. 'Foundation is an investment,' says Sterling. 'Choose two colours and test them on your jawline. Let them sit for five to 10 minutes; whichever shade seems to 'disappear' is the colour for you. You should also have different shades for different seasons because your skin tone and colour changes even if only slightly. Once you've got something that evens tone and gives a glow, you can just throw on a bit of mascara and go.'
But mascara's days may well be numbered. According to Moncourtois, the traditional tube, brush and colour we know and love will be replaced in the not-too-distant future with something more permanent. This will be applied at the beginning of the week and 'removed' after several days without damaging the lashes in any way. It has been in the Chanel pipeline for four years and may be introduced in 2004.
Watch out, too, for a new generation of gold pigments to help hold make-up, set to be available next year (the technology echoes a process the United States space agency Nasa used to protect its satellites); thermo-pigments, which change colour according to heat, will also be big news in the next year or so.
'I follow progress in other industries even if they are totally unrelated to the beauty world,' says Moncourtois. 'Nasa thought we were mad when we approached them two years ago but we are now working closely with them. In another case, we found a whipping technique used by a yoghurt manufacturer is fabulous for creating foundation emulsions. On Les Perles, we worked with a Belgian chocolatier to find the right moulding.'
Technology even plays a part in the packaging. Although designs remain faithful to Chanel's timeless originals, many of which were conceived in the 1950s, their functions have been updated. The monochrome casing around lipsticks, eyeshadows and blushers, for example, are specially treated so they don't scratch; the mirrors are so tough they are almost unbreakable.
'These days you can't just be creative,' says Moncourtois. 'You also need passion and imagination but innovation is the key. Innovation gives you the opportunity to be creative and give your customers the best quality and that's what Chanel Beauty is all about.'