There are nearly 30,000 species of orchids in the world, but storied French skincare brand Guerlain has a favorite: cycnoches cooperi, also known as the Black Orchid, a regal and resilient plant that grows in the Peruvian Andes. Known for both its shape (like a swan’s neck) and its rare flowering (it only blooms for three weeks each year), the black orchid is the main ingredient in the Orchidée Impériale Black line, Guerlain’s most luxurious skincare offering to date. The line uses the brand’s patented BlackImmune technology to help encourage radiance. Originally released in 2016, Guerlain announced a new edition of the cream this week, a collaboration that borrows from both history and modern art.
The partnership begins way out in the French countryside, where not even the high-speed TGV trains dare to venture. The family-owned and operated company Bernardaud has been manufacturing Limoges porcelain for more than 150 years, designing everything from decor to jewelry to art for some of the world’s fanciest homes and restaurants. Since 2018, Guerlain, also a French brand with a strong family history, has partnered with Bernardaud to create limited edition refillable porcelain jars for the imperial cream. Now, Guerlain is also adding Chinese artist Li Hongbo, to its roster of collaborators.
The new collection has three different offerings. The first, “The Exceptional Piece,” includes a paper sculpture that Hongbo shaped into a honeycomb that serves as a pedestal for the jar. According to Guerlain, Hongbo “cut out multiple sheets of paper to ‘sculpt’ orchids and the Guerlain signature. Layers of sheets of paper stuck together and meticulously cut out orchestrate the volume of the sculpture, which can unfold as a precious fan.” Hongbo also created an interpretation of the black orchid, which has been hand-painted in 24K gold paint onto each jar by master porcelain artist Fernand Penichon. One jar takes three days to make, and only 15 of them will be produced, making it a true collectors’ item—especially for the price tag, at $6,800.
Only slightly below that on the luxury scale is the Trilogy Case, which includes The Cream in its artistic version designed by Li Hongbo, The Symbioserum mabeand The Eye and Lip Contour Cream, all packaged in a lacquered wood box, for $3,605. If you want just the cream in its specially designed jar, that’ll cost you $1,490.
On a recent trip to Limoges with Guerlain, executives from both the beauty brand and Bernardaud gathered to fete the new collaboration, with a trip to the Bernardaud factory to watch how the limited edition jars are made. Each of the porcelain jars requires one month’s work and 50 craftspeople to make, a testament to Guerlain’s commitment to both art and luxury. As Hongbo pointed out, the artistic collaboration captures both the artist and the company’s reverence for nature. “Guerlain discovers the beauty of Black Orchid. I discover the beauty of paper,” he said. “I think what we have in common is the same discovery of vitality and beauty of nature. It’s a base for our creations.”