How the French founder of Caudalie grew her family vineyard into a global skin care brand.
Written By CAT BUCKLEY
In a new series, VIOLET GREY profiles female beauty entrepreneurs who are considered industry game changers for their individual approach to business. Each one entered the conversation in her own manner and maintained a steady, if not unparalleled, trajectory with her indomitable spirit. Here, we talk to Mathilde Thomas, the founder of French skin care brand Caudalie.
Mathilde Thomas’s trifecta of talents—top-shelf taste, business savvy, and the ability to think outside the box (or, in her case, the bottle)—has helped to build her company, Caudalie, into one of the premier cult French eco-friendly skincare brands. In 1993, the enviably fashionable Thomas—who brings to mind a young Isabelle Huppert—had an auspicious talk with Professor Joseph Vercauteren of France’s prestigious Université de Montpellier. The conversation took place while on a trip to her family’s vineyards, Château Smith Haut Lafitte in Bordeaux, during harvest season.
Vercauteren, one of the world’s leading experts in polyphenols—a micronutrient with antioxidant activity—asked Mathilde and her then-boyfriend (now husband) Bertrand Thomas, “Do you know you are throwing away treasures?” He explained that grape seed polyphenols are the most powerful antioxidant in the plant world (remember when studies came out revealing that red wine is good for you?), and that from the grapevine stalks comes resveratrol, a formidable compound in the fight against aging. Following meticulous research and consultations with biochemists, in 1995 Mathilde and Bertrand registered a patent for extracting and stabilizing grape seed polyphenols. With that, Caudalie was born.
Caudalie, which literally translates to “the unit to measure how long the flavors of a wine linger in the mouth” (one caudalie is equivalent to one second), debuted in a handful of Bordeaux pharmacies in the form of two face creams and nutritional supplements. Customers and pharmacists alike became obsessed with the anti-aging effects of the potions, and word spread like wildfire. The Thomases went on to set up their own team of researchers, and over the past few years their line has become a coveted skincare brand on both sides of the Atlantic. Products now range from the signature Beauty Elixir to the Moisturizing Sorbet Cream, Grape Water mist spray, and Crushed Cabernet Scrub. High-profile devotees include Audrey Tautou, Alexa Chung, and Jennifer Lopez, among others.
In 1999, Mathilde and Bertrand quite literally tapped into another lucrative find. During groundwork at the Château Smith Haut Lafitte, a hot spring was discovered 500 meters underground. They combined the spring’s natural properties with grape extracts to create unique, luxe facial and body treatments. This site became the first of eight Caudalie Vinothérapie Spas, which can also be visited in Bilbao, Paris, Toronto, Istanbul, and Porto, Portugal. Ever the forward-thinking businesswoman, in 2015 Thomas also authored The French Beauty Solution: Time-Tested Secrets to Look and Feel Beautiful Inside and Out (a New York Times bestseller, thank you very much). While Thomas is known as an anti-aging guru, she has ultimately created a timeless assemblage of products that will benefit generations to come. Plus, doesn’t wine make everything a little better?
What is the atmosphere of your bedroom?
Right now I live in Hong Kong, and my bedroom has a fantastic 180-degree view of the water. There is so much happening out there each day. Every morning at 6:30, the Hong Kongese training team swims, rain or shine. They are training for the traditional Dragon Boat Festival. It takes place on a huge yacht that spends the weekend in the bay. There are always local fisherman out in the water, and a ton of wakesurfers. Our good friend rented a tiny boat for us to use for wakesurfing on the weekends. My bedroom itself has gorgeous wooden walls and flooring, neutral linens, and a soft pink linen bedcover. I have this really cool Carl Hansen CH25 accent chair.
Please describe your bed and your favorite thing about it.
I have a queen-size bed that is so comfortable it’s hard to get out of. And the view from my bed is so good, it’s even more of a challenge!
What time do you wake up?
How many hours of sleep do you require?
Do you drink coffee or tea, eat breakfast?
I drink liters of green tea. I like a blend of different nuts and seeds, including almonds, barley, oat, chia, sunflower, flaxseed, crushed walnuts—whatever I can find—that I blend with cardamom and a pinch of salt. I slowly roast all the ingredients together for one hour on the weekend with almond milk and shredded fresh turmeric.
Do you work out in the a.m.?
I swim once a week, and I do yoga on Saturday mornings.
What is your morning skincare regimen?
I clean my face with a blend of Caudalie Cleansing Oil and Foaming Cleanser. I spritz the Beauty Elixir, add my new Vinoperfect Brightening Essence (which launches in May), layer the Vinoperfect Brightening Serum (it’s rich in plumping hyaluronic acid), and finish with the Premier Cru Moisturizing Cream and Eye Cream. All in less than a minute!
What’s your hair situation in the a.m.?
Messy, curly. I typically put it in a bun.
What’s the first thing you read each morning?
My emails from the Caudalie team in France and the U.S. (I live in Asia and go to bed when they are awake!)
What business do you conduct before 10:00 a.m.?
I do my Skype calls with the U.S. (there is a 12-hour difference) and I finish reading through all my emails.
What time do you head to your office?