The Orchid Whisperer: Francois Gerard loves orchids. He really, really loves orchids. In fact, he loves them so much he’s made a career as one of the world’s foremost experts on the rare flower. Gerard is an enthnobotanist in charge of Guerlain’s Experimental Garden in Geneva where he searches for orchids with powerful anti-aging properties that can be used in Guerlain’s Orchidée Impériale line.
“An ethnobotanist studies the relationship between human beings and plants,” he says enjoying an early morning breakfast on a quick visit to Toronto. “As a child, I was attracted to nature. I was fascinated with mushrooms and learned as much about them as I could while in high school. I studied agricultural science and was most attracted to minor cultivation practices.” Instead of going to the mall for shopping or the movie theatre, Francois would visit gardens and hike through parks observing the vibrant plant life.
“There are over 500,000 plant species in the world,” he says. “We use so little of the plant world – only 12 to 30 plants in general. I was fascinated early on with all the different kinds of utilization for plants.” He also works for several food brands searching for new fruit varieties to put in yogurt. He also works for LVMH searching for new scents to be used in designer fragrances.
“We need plants to survive. Few people realize that the most effective way to solve pollution is through plants. They de-pollute our environment and regulate the climate. Trees even protect against high winds and storms.” He says that planting trees can quickly improve humidity levels and lead to more rain solving droughts.
One of Gerard’s favourite pastimes is to speak with the Elders of Indigenous Peoples around the world. These peoples have learned how to use plants to solve all kinds of human conditions and concerns. “I like to go to the villages in Thailand in particular and find older people who will speak with me. I learn so much from them.”
When the ethnobotanist is searching for plants with possible skincare benefits, he looks for those that are thriving in the most extreme conditions. If they can be strong and grow in difficult conditions, then they may have strengthening properties in human skin. That is the case with the gold orchid which survives for seven months of the year with almost no rainfall. “Orchids are one of the strongest plants on the planet,” he explains. “They have a very unique biology. They grow on top of trees with a unique physiology and special metabolism to protect themself. The roots themselves are green and can act like leaves. The Native Population has used them in medicines for hundreds of years. “We learned in our lab that this particular orchid regulates energy in skin cells.
Much of Francois’ expertise and study has led to one of the most advanced anti-aging skincare line: Orchidée Impériale. For more than a decade, Guerlain has offered a luxury anti-aging regime that taps the most powerful orchids. It boasts 8 patents, 3 PHD theses papers and over 40 international scientific publication studies. The products work to improve skin firmness, density, elasticity, evenness and radiance tackling fine lines and wrinkles in the process. The texture is unlike any other on the market.
You could say that Francois needs plants to survive in a more direct way than most of us. “When I land in a foreign city, I need to visit a botanical garden. I need to be around flowers and plants.” That was the case in Toronto when he drove directly to Allen Gardens where he walked amongst palm trees, fountains, and yes, orchids.” His very favourite orchid is the Aerides Rosea whose flowers look like a multitude of doves. They bloom in pink and purple shades.
“For men and women wanting to enter the beauty industry, this is an area of expertise that will be in high demand in the future. My advice to students is to study plant physiology and microbiology. We are learning so much about the importance of tiny microorganisms. We have over 27,000 microorganisms in our bodies at any time and they all work together to keep us healthy. Yet we know so little about them. Microflora on our skin is so important. It is the next big area of science in skincare and beauty.”
As our meeting wraps up, I ask the secret to getting orchids to bloom at home. He says that after the bloom is over, cut back to the bottom of the plant and place it in a cool place about 12 degrees in temperature. Allow it to rest for 3 to 4 months. Then place it in a brighter location that gets morning light. “Orchids like morning light.” Orchids will bloom twice a year. Water once a week.