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Lunch in a Glorious Garden

The Chantecailles, the family behind the eponymous beauty company, adore flowers—both the scent and the flavor. They discuss their philosophy over rose martinis at a lunch in their East Hampton garden.

"Roses open your heart" Sylvie Chantecaille says as she sips a rose martini in her flower garden.

"And if you drink rose water, it makes you happy," she adds. This passion for flowers is evident both in her business—she is the founder of an eponymous company that uses rose, jasmine, magnolia and edelweiss in its skin creams, fragrances and cosmetics—and in the summer meals she and her family prepare at home in East Hampton, New York.

Sylvie's love of flowers started years ago and a continent away from the whaling captain's cottage she now calls home. She was born in Paris and spent many childhood summers on a jasmine-scented island near St. Tropez. Her husband, Olivier, Chantecaille's chief financial officer, enjoyed his own close-to-nature upbringing: For generations, his family has owned Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion in Bordeaux, a boutique vineyard near the more famous Château Haut-Brion and Château La Mission Haut-Brion. Today the property produces about 42,000 bottles a year.

Both Sylvie and Olivier moved to New York City in their twenties; they met there and wed soon after. "In France it would have been impossible for someone from Paris to marry someone from Bordeaux," Olivier says, half joking. "It's real class warfare." Sylvie launched the Prescriptives brand for Estée Lauder and spent two decades as an executive there, while Olivier ran a wine-importing company. Then, six years ago, Sylvie created Chantecaille. Its products are now sold in department stores such as Neiman Marcus; Chantecaille spas at Barneys New York in Manhattan and at Fenwick in London opened this summer. Olivier joined Sylvie in the company soon after its founding, as did their 30-year-old daughter Olivia, a former model who is now the creative director. Their younger daughter, Alexandra, recently started managing marketing and promotions.

Olivier's family estate in France has long been a summer escape. "We spent vacations in Lège-Cap-Ferret, the Hamptons of Bordeaux," recalls Olivia. "The area's famous for oysters and mussels and sole and fries, and we'd have picnics on the beach." Most of the time, though, the family lives not in the Hamptons of France, but in the Hamptons of America, in the cottage that Sylvie and Olivier bought 27 years ago and have been renovating ever since. The house is an engaging hybrid of the rustic (the proverbial babbling brook runs through the backyard garden) and the modern (what was once the servants' quarters is now a stainless steel kitchen). This is where the family plans new products and recuperates from a travel schedule that can take them from the rose fields of southern France to a Swiss lab to a Taiwan department store—all in the same week.

Despite the much-chronicled overdevelopment of Long Island's East End, the Chantecailles still find it charming. "You can't change the air or the energy," says Sylvie in her musical French accent. "The earth is rich, the sea is rich, the air is rich..."

"And the people are rich," Olivia adds dryly.

At lunch the cocktails pay homage to flowers: Fizzy cocktails mix orange-flower water, Cointreau and club soda, and martinis are made with rose water instead of vermouth. The cilantro and basil for a chilled garden soup—a tomato-cucumber puree topped with sugar snap peas and goat cheese—were grown in the garden. So were the nasturtium flowers garnishing the salade niçoise, which includes slices of grilled tuna dusted with fennel pollen. The sweet-and-sour swordfish matches perfectly with the 2000 Château Les Carmes Haut-Brion, which has a lovely bouquet—just right for this flower-loving family.

Dirk Standen is a contributing editor at Gotham and Hamptons and writes for GQ, Tatler and Style.com.

Published August 2004
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