It might come as some surprise to learn that the origin of Caudalie, the beloved French pharmacy brand, was quite accidental. Co-founder Mathilde Thomas had a promising career as a perfumer plotted out in front of her, before a chance encounter with a scientist inspired her and her husband, Bertrand, to create a line based on grape-seeds - thus transforming a formerly discarded byproduct of the harvest process into skincare gold. I sat down with Mathilde in Caudalie’s elegant hôtel particulier in Paris, where she generously shared her insider guide to some of the city’s hidden gems (including the niche brand who have perfected the art of the white shirt) and why seeking pleasure and looking and feeling your best are completely reconcilable.

I first got interested in the world of beauty when I turned 15. I would spend afternoons in perfumeries smelling all the fragrances, and then my mum would throw a dinner party and I would recognise all the fragrances of her friends. 

They would be embarrassed and say “did I put on too much?”. My wonderful dad told me, “Mathilde, you have a talent with your nose, so you should find an internship in the perfume industry.” So that’s how I started. My first internship was when I was 15 at L’Oréal Spain working for Cacharel, which was big at the time with their perfume Anaïs Anaïs – they put me on deodorants. I did another internship for a perfume company, and then another one with Robertet, who are specialists in essential oils and fine fragrances in Grasse, and I was about to start my career with them.

My boyfriend – now my husband – is an entrepreneur at heart and was looking for a project. 

One day during the harvest season in 1993, we were at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, my parents’ wine estate near Bordeaux, and my dad told us that there were a number of university scientists who had come to study the byproducts of the vines. He suggested it would be interesting for us to give them a tour. And this is how we met Professor Vercauteren, who told us that grape-seeds were among the most powerful antioxidants in nature. By the next day, we were at the university asking him tons of questions about polyphenols, the antioxidants found in grape-seeds, and how we could use them in skincare.

Mathilde at Château Smith Haut Lafitte. Image credit: Instagram @mathildethomas

When I lived in Hong Kong, I travelled to Korea a lot and I saw those beautiful ladies applying more than 15 layers of skincare morning and night.

I don’t have the time for a routine like that; I have three kids and the company’s growing! But I did take some tips from Korea: I always double cleanse but because I am in a hurry, I do a little ‘mixology’. I mix my cleansing oil with my foaming cleanser, or, depending on my skin, with another cleanser, apply it, and rinse with water. Then a spritz of the Beauty Elixir, a drop of serum, and my all-in-one, one-and-done moisturiser.

I love my Beauty Elixir, as it puts you in a good mood, minimises pores and sets makeup, and is very easy to use. 

The Vinoperfect serum is my absolute favourite serum as you can see a difference: it diminishes dark spots really well, and works even better if you have a darker skin tone. As for moisturisers, I love our Resveratrol-Lift Firming Cashmere Cream because it features a Harvard University patent to boost firmness; it’s a huge bestseller here in France, it illuminates the skin and immediately gives you that glow. I’m also particularly keen on our ‘Tisane de Nuit’ Firming Night cream.

Shelfie via Instagram @mathildethomas

Usually I do my makeup in three minutes: I focus mostly on skincare and then makeup is fast.

If I’m doing a photoshoot, I will put on our tinted moisturiser (Ed. note: not sold in Australia). I always wear mascara: I like the one from clean Canadian beauty brand Ilia. I use the clear brow gel from Anastasia Beverly Hills which keeps your brows up. For lipstick, I think Ilia is a cool brand.

I’ve tried everything for my hair. I’m a big fan of Christophe Robin: the Cleansing Mask with Lemon is a good one for damaged, dry, and coloured hair. It doesn’t foam much, but it’s a good product. Their Prickly Pear conditioner is good too. Another brand I like is Cut by Fred: Frédéric Birault is a famous hairdresser who launched his own line, which is cool and natural.

For the past 12 years I’ve been riding my bike to work – a British Brompton bike that I love – so that restricts my clothing possibilities. I either have to wear pants or shorts, or long skirts, but I cannot wear pencil skirts anymore.

I have tons of white shirts. There’s this new brand that I adore called Bourrienne Paris X in the 10th arrondissement: it’s a small brand, but it’s very well done and chic. White shirts are what I’d wear most of the time.

And then a good pair of jeans: Celine does great ones, and APC is always a go-to, their cut is always perfect. We have a lot of brands I love in France: Isabel Marant, Vanessa Bruno, anything you’d find in Le Bon Marché – good, edited brands. BASH is great as well. 

In Paris, my favourite museum is, curiously, the Museum of Hunting and Nature: it’s so pretty, you have to go. 

It’s in Le Marais, metro station Arts et Métiers; there’s currently wood installations from a famous artist, Eva Jospin. The newly restored Hôtel de la Marine, the Musée Carnavalet, the Louvre – I love it all. My favourite is the Musée d’Orsay, c’est magnifique, and I love the Musée Rodin. Lots of choices!

For dining, I like the Bar des Prés by Cyril Lignac, rue du Dragon, so good: they do sushi, it’s sophisticated, the decor is pretty, in a neighbourhood of Paris I like. There are so many good restaurants in Paris, it’s hard to pick just one! And in New York, I love going to the Hamptons – it’s wild, so beautiful.

I also love my sister’s boutique hotel, Sources de Cheverny. It’s an hour and fifteen minutes from Paris in the Loire Valley; you can even go by bike, you just put your bike on the train and ride from the station. There are a beautiful Caudalie spa and a gastronomic restaurant, in the middle of 40 hectares of forest, surrounded by vineyards. I also love the Sources de Caudalie, my family’s wine estate, which is very beautiful, and two hours by bullet train from Paris. 

Image: Instagram @mathildethomas

The environment matters so much to me because I was born and raised in the French Alps, and my family have always been very outdoorsy. 

Then my family moved to Bordeaux in 1990 and they decided to make organic wine, so our love of nature has always run in our veins. We respect the environment, so for me it was a no-brainer to incorporate that into Caudalie.

We started back in 1995 and we were already upcycling before it was cool. In 2006, we became pioneers of clean beauty: I removed six ingredients from my INCI list, so that was the beginning of my ‘no list’. Today it’s a long list of some 60 ingredients. Our formulas are almost completely natural, so that means a minimum of 95% natural ingredients for most of the range.

Image: Instagram @mathildethomas

In 2012, we became a member of 1% For The Planet and this year, after 10 years, we will have planted 10 million trees.

We have planted nine million so far in 10 different countries. This makes Caudalie the leading contributor among cosmetic brands worldwide for 1% For The Planet and we compensate for our carbon footprint four times over – we are actually carbon negative.

In 2020, we also started 100% Plastic Collect: we decided that we would remove the same amount of plastic that Caudalie produces every year from beaches in Thailand, recycle it locally, and give the recycled plastic in the form of bricks to the local population for their infrastructure. We created this movement and we would like many other companies to join us. It’s great that we plant trees, but we would like to do something about plastic, as plastic is the environmental scourge of our era. 

Mathilde with daughter Louise. Image: @zoefidji

When we returned to Paris after five years in New York and three in Hong Kong, that’s when I decided that my packaging should be composed of recycled, recyclable, or refillable material. 

That was the big revolution at Caudalie and when we changed the look and feel of the packaging as well. In 2018, we hired a team of green packaging engineers and we decided we would 100% repackage everything. We changed all the face packaging last year, this year will be the body packaging – I’m just missing the sunscreen which will be redone next year!

My parents were ski champions, which is how they met – they’ve had three lives.

My mother had an advertising agency and my father took over his father’s business and created a chain of sports gear shops – and then they sold their businesses and settled in the middle of a vineyard. Everything they touch, they do with passion and enthusiasm. 

My mother taught me very down to earth, simple things: to exercise and live a balanced life, to apply moisturiser and SPF, and be careful in the sun. I spent most of my summers with my grandmother because my parents were busy working; we were in the Alps of Upper Provence, which is in the middle of nowhere but very beautiful. She taught me to apply honey on sunburn, for example. She and my grandpa taught me about every plant, we picked flowers and raspberries, and would make our own jams.

After living in New York for five years, I was a bit shocked to learn that for many over there, their motto was ‘no pain, no gain’. 

Instead of eating lunch, my colleagues would eat a protein bar. I had never seen that in my life; for the French, that’s a no go! We want to enjoy life and believe that you can look and feel your best while eating delicious food. You don’t have to suffer to be beautiful – on the contrary.

Interview and story by Tess de Vivie de Régie. Images from Instagram and supplied by Caudalie.

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