Rare, resilient, extraordinary: such are the words used to describe the black orchid, otherwise known as the Cycnoches cooperi. Native to the Peruvian Andes, the 50cm plant’s flower boasts midnight petals and golden edges. Its most distinct feature, however, remains the curved shape—or ‘swan’s neck’—of its bloom, which comes to life for three weeks despite harsh conditions such as sparse sunlight, high altitudes and relentless heat. Embodying this very strength and self-preservation is the 194-year-old skincare, make-up and fragrance house, Guerlain, and their groundbreaking new cream, Orchidée Impériale Black.
“From plant to sculpture, petal to gold leaf, paper to porcelain, beauty talisman to work of art—the orchid enhances the art of skincare at Guerlain”
Guerlain, a maison steeped in history and innovation
Founded in 1828 by chemist and perfumer Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, the brand’s widespread acclaim is often attributed to its founder’s matrimonial gift to France’s first president Napoleon III and his wife, Empress Eugénie. Named Eau de Cologne Impériale, the complex fragrance—a fresh blend of lemon, bergamot, neroli and petitgrain—was housed in an equally remarkable bottle.
Today, it is recognised by its constellation of 69 bees in tribute to the French empire. Over the years, the fifth-generation brand has hit milestones both historic and innovative. From Aimé Guerlain’s Jicky—dubbed ‘the first modern perfume’ due to its incorporation of synthetic molecules—to a million-dollar pledge to bee protection and repopulation, the brand continues to redefine modern-day luxury under its current CEO, Veronique Courtois. The latest example of this?
A reintroduction of its lauded Orchidée Impériale Black cream, initially launched in 2016. The cream is part of a larger Orchidée Impériale Black pro-youth range which consists of a serum, eye and lip contour cream as well as an intensive treatment. The first iteration of Orchidée Impériale, dubbed the ‘fountain of youth’, debuted in 2006 after seven years of intensive research.
A floral muse
It is no small coincidence that the black orchid anchors this coveted line-up. Guerlain’s Orchidarium—a protected enclosure that provides orchids with optimal conditions for growth—remains the pioneering research and preservation centre dedicated to the anti-ageing science behind the flower. With three centres of expertise stationed across Switzerland and China, Guerlain’s director of scientific communication, Frédéric Bonté, and his team have long observed the orchid’s cellular longevity. The centre has hand-picked four variations of the flower: the gastrodia elata, the new dendrobium fimbriatum, the light orchid and as seen with the Orchidée Impériale Black, the black orchid.
Shares chief sustainability officer, Cécile Lochard: “Guerlain has a pioneering vision when it comes to sustainability.We took this avant-garde position 15 years ago and have been connected to nature for almost 200 years.”
The maison has taken great care to extend this to its sourcing practices, an aspect, among others, that is regularly reviewed by various external parties. “We have become a member of the UEBT—the Union of Ethical Biotrade. It’s a non-profit organisation that certifies that our natural ingredients are ethically cultivated.”
Selected from 30,000 species, the black orchid is singled out for various impressive properties, from adaptation to self-defence. This is encapsulated via the Orchidée Impériale Blackline’s patented Black Immune technology. While targeting epidermal cells, the technology also serves as a barrier by safeguarding Langerhans cells (which help to determine our immune responses, be it tolerance or inflammation) as well as regulating toll-like receptors (a network of molecules that serve as a buffer for inflammatory pathways in the gut).
Due to this protection, the skin is able to entirely focus on regeneration.These qualities are most potent in the Orchidée Impériale Black cream. Smooth and velvety to the touch, it boasts a silky yet balm-like application and luxurious botanic scent. Upon use, the skin feels soothed, hydrated and protected but its maximum effect—increased luminosity, radiance, hydration and slight but visible lifting—are seen clearest after a full day. It is suggested that with one month of use, the rejuvenating results of the cream will be the most apparent.
The axis of sustainability and luxury
To limit its products solely to its formula would be a stride unfamiliar to Guerlain. Which is why the brand’s ongoing collaboration with renowned, Limoges-based, porcelain manufacturer Maison Bernardaud is as organic as they come.
Established in 1863, Maison Bernardaud mirrors Guerlain’s five-generation legacy. Keeping true to its pillars of luxury and sustainability, Maison Bernardaud’s collaboration with Guerlain sees the creation of a refillable, handcrafted jar.
To complement the essence of the black orchid, the jar is glazed and then fired to reveal an inky, magnificent black with all but a sliver of white porcelain left on the rim. Maison Bernardaud, though once solely focused on just dinnerware, has since expanded to the likes of interior decorations, ornaments and jewellery. It also paved the way for decorating porcelain with gold leaf.
This is reimagined through the hands of Chinese artist and paper sculptor, Li Hongbo. “Li studied the world of this astonishing black orchid from Guerlain and discovered a link with paper’s symbolism: the ability to adapt and a fragility that becomes a strength,” shares a source at Guerlain.
As such, the artist brought the flowers to life through a carved, white paper sculpture created solely to house the jar. For lovers of art and skincare, the Orchidée Impériale Black cream comes in two versions. Those looking to own a rare iteration of the cream can opt for the limited-edition art collection variation—only 15 are available—that boast Li’s floral motif.
For those in the market for a full routine, the Orchidée Impériale Black trilogy—which consists of the original version of the cream, serum and eye and lip contour cream—comes in a decadent lacquered wood box. Multifaceted and considerably complex, this latest launch is described perfectly by the maison: “From plant to sculpture, petal to gold leaf, paper to porcelain, beauty talisman to work of art—the orchid enhances the art of skincare at Guerlain.”
The Orchidée Imperiale Black cream is available at the Guerlain boutiques at ION Orchard and Raffles City. The original version retails for $1,997 and the limited-edition version at $2,168. The full trilogy set, which consists of the original Orchidée Imperiale Black cream, retails for $5,385.