The history of Gattefossé began in 1880. It has been shaped throughout the life experiences, know-how and convictions of the family's leaders.
1880: birth of the company
The story of Gattefossé began in 1880, and it was initially a trade business: Louis Gattefossé was a representative of Seghers & Maréchal, a a Lyon-based oilcloth manufacturer. Gradually, his portfolio expanded to include a range of items created through chemical processes, and would later be used as raw materials in Gattefossé products.
In 1894, Louis began forging relationships with with perfume houses during the Exposition Universelle (International colonial Exhibition) held in Lyon. From that point on, he began to specialize in supplying raw materials to perfumers. He sold two types of raw materials :
- those derived from chemistry: "petroleum jellies", petroleum jellies and bases for "synthetic perfumes".
- those derived from plants: essential oils and terpene-free essences from various European countries.
This was the birth of Gattefossé's original manufacturing activity.
1900-1930: Perfume and Aromatics
After their father's retirement, Abel and René-Maurice created Gattefossé & Fils and continued the family business.
At the same time, René-Maurice was also interested in "natural" raw materials, especially essential oils. He met lavender growers in Haute-Provence who worked in rudimentary conditions. He took action to improve their daily lives.
In 1908, he launched La Parfumerie Moderne, a trade magazine targeted at perfumers, but also at essence producers, engineers and agronomists, which was to become a reference in the profession.
Jean joins the family business, bringing a new skill set in botany, in addition to René-Maurice's expertise as a chemist. This was a historic breakthrough for the company, which began designing its own products in a newly-created laboratory. This was the start of the Research activity.
In 1910, René-Maurice is severely burned in an explosion while he was working in this lab. He will then personally experiment with the antiseptic and healing power of lavender essential oil.
After the First World War, René-Maurice decides to create a new business, founding Société Française de Produits Aromatiques (SFPA), formerly known as Établissements Gattefossé, with several industrial partners. A fully-fledged factory was built, with workshops and laboratories, surrounded by a garden for aromatic crops.
It integrates all stages of production, from research to shipping. A new stage is reached.
1930-1950: Lipid chemistry, Dermatology and Aromatherapy
In the 1930s, the company continued to develop its perfumery business, but began to diversify into cosmetics.
Two "breakthroughs" take place during this period:
Emile Mahler, René-Maurice's son-in-law, created the first fatty acid esters, marking the begining of lipid chemistry. This was a real innovation as emulsified excipients were rarely used in cosmetics at the time.
Henri-Marcel Gattefossé, also a chemist, developed veterinary and then dermatological products.
These new excipients were of interest to hospital medicine, and were successfully tested in Lyon hospitals, notably with new emulsified ointments, which proved to be excellent substitutes for petroleum jelly and Vaseline. Gattefossé takes its first steps in dermatology.
In the same department, René-Maurice experiments with the therapeutic effects of oils. He publishes a summary of the work he has been carrying out for twenty years, in a book entitled Aromathérapie - a term he invented. .
The company's development was halted by the outbreak of the Second World War. To secure some of his supplies, René-Maurice bought a farmhouse in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1940, where he grew lavender, mint, sage and other aromatic herbs.
After the Second World War, Marcel and René-Maurice saw the results of their research take shape with the granting of two patents: one for the manufacturing processes of ointments tested in hospitals, the other for a hair oil.
In 1950, René-Maurice died suddenly. Blanche, his widow, was appointed president of the company, his son Marcel became Managing Director and his son-in-law, Émile, was made Technical Director.
1950-1960: The Rising Power of Pharmaceutical Clients
In the 1950s, the company decided to target pharmaceutical laboratories, initially proposing new ointment formulations.
However, pharmaceutical companies showed interest in other formulations. Emile Mahler developed two flagship products:
- Suppocire®, a suppository mass based on interesterified vegetable oil, registered in 1954. Suppocire® was a major commercial and industrial success, making Gattefossé the largest supplier of suppository masses in France.
- Labrafil®, which solubilizes a drug's active ingredient, thus enhancing its bioavailability. This innovation, a milestone in the world of pharmaceuticals, gave the company an important scientific edge.
Perfumery gradually disappeared from the catalog, but Gattefossé continued to explore the cosmetics market and developed its first cosmetic active ingredients: "placental extracts", which were successfully launched and used by Vichy, then cosmetic companies.
1960-1975: Commercial Success and Scientific Partnerships
The success of Suppocire enabled the company to continue its expansion and, in 1963, to purchase a large plot of land in Saint-Priest.
At the same time, the company recruited a pharmacist, who set up the first applications laboratory. The technology evolved and the catalog of references continued to expand, following internal laboratory tests and external client testing. These tests highlight the advantages of certain products in terms of sustained release.
On the cosmetics side, Gattefossé is committed to develop organic products of plant origin, by extracting active ingredients suitable for cosmetic and dermo-pharmaceutical preparations. This was the birth of the Vegetols®. range.
Gattefossé is well aware of the importance of ecosystems and knowledge sharing to advance science. The company participated in the creation of several university courses and seminars, with practical work carried out in its laboratories.
In 1966, Henri-Marcel created the Journées Galéniques de Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. They bring together pharmacists, veterinary school professors, botanists and chemists... a proper scientific network that not only enables products to be tested, but also to make progress, to prepare the way for future projects.
1975-1996: Restructuring around Pharmacy ans Cosmetics, a group is born
From the 1980s onwards, the company was structured and splitted around its two main markets, under the leadership of Bruno Mahler, son of Émile, who was in charge of technical development.
On the cosmetics side, Gattefossé worked with the University of Clermont-Ferrand to develop an extraction process that preserves the natural characteristics of fresh plants. The first active ingredient in the Gatuline® range was created, marking a decisive change: Gattefossé definitively moved away from active ingredients of human origin (placental extracts) and bovine origin (collagen) towards a renewable and objectified offer, exclusively derived from plants.
In 1996, Gattefossé developed its "sensorial expertise", with the creation of a sensorial panel, made up of some fifteen trained employees. They evaluate the measurement and calibration of the look, smell and feel of cosmetic formulations, properties that are decisive for the consumer. This is a differentiating asset, an initiative that will be followed by many competitors.
On the pharmaceutical market, Gattefossé is constantly increasing its scientific collaborations and studies to demonstrate to pharmaceutical laboratories the usefulness of its lipid excipients, which improve the absorption of poorly soluble active ingredients into the body. The creation of SMEDDS (Self Microemulsifying Drug Delivery System) was patented in 1995.
The company also took an interest in "dry forms" (drugs taken orally) and developed specifically dedicated excipients.
At the same time, Jacques Moyrand, Marcel's son-in-law, became the driving force behind the company's international development. Exports were stepped up, via a network of distributors set up in the 1960s, but above all, via new direct operations abroad.
By 1980, Gattefossé was the world's second-largest supplier of suppository masses, Europe's third-largest supplier of fatty acid esters, and the world's second-largest supplier of organic and plant extracts for cosmetics. The company, now one hundred years old, is present in 42 countries. Between 1979 and 1989, Gattefossé opened subsidiaries in Switzerland, the United States, Spain, Germany and Italy.
In 1994, Gattefossé was officially structured as a group. This also marked the birth of AddiActive magazine. Launched by the newly-created French subsidiary, it addresses the world of cosmetics, presenting scientific data, beauty trends and examples of formulations using Gattefossé products. Today, it is one of the market's benchmark magazines.
1997-2023: A growing and strong international organization
In 1997, Jacques Moyrand took over as Chairman of the Group. By 1999, more than 50% of sales were exported.
International expansion continued, and subsidiaries were set up in distant countries between 2007 and 2016, in China, India, Singapore, Brazil and North Africa. And geographical expansion is not just about sales: in China and India, application laboratories, replicas of the Saint-Priest laboratory, have been set up. A fourth laboratory opens in the United States in 2017.
The company took a further step forward in 2009 by setting up a production site outside France, in Singapore.
Investments were also made in Saint-Priest, with the construction of a new "technology center" in 2010 and a cell biology laboratory in 2012. The latter enables the company to identify the properties of plant extracts, carry out in vitro and ex vivo evaluation of its cosmetic active ingredients, and guide clinical objectification studies carried out by external companies.
This international roll-out is led by Olivier Midler, Marketing & Business Development Director, who took over as Group General Manager in 2011.
He will be replaced on his retirement in 2018 by Eduardo de Purgly, who has been Marketing & Business Development Director since 2011. It was also in 2018 that the decision is made to build a new production plant in Texas. This is the biggest project ever undertaken by the company. The foundation stone was laid in June 2022, and the first products will be launched in 2024.
At the same time, product development continues:
In the pharmaceutical field, the company is collaborating with universities such as Innsbruck in Austria, Dublin in Ireland and Melbourne in Australia. Research is being carried out to demonstrate the efficacy of Gattefossé lipid excipients in carrying new drug molecules and improving their absorption into the body. Some of this work is the subject of scientific publications.
In the cosmetics market, in the 2000s, Gattefossé decided to firmly commit to the market sector focused on “naturalness”. The company enter this segment with the game changer Emulium® Kappa : based on a technology that combines plant waxes with polyglycerol esters, it is the first emulsifier enabling all-natural finished products. Many others will follow, such as Emulium® Mellifera MB, Acticire® and Definicire®, which received numerous industry awards and helped Gattefossé demonstrate the extent of its galenic innovation in the cosmetic industry.
From 2013 onwards, Gattefossé R&D took advantage of a discovery made by researchers at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands: NaDES (Natural Deep Eutectic Solvents). These natural solvents make it possible to replace traditional solvents, frequently criticized by consumers, in the manufacture of plant ingredients. In 2014, Gattefossé acquired exclusive rights to use the technology for the manufacture and marketing of plant extracts for cosmetics. NaDES technology was notably used for two new active ingredients: Gatuline® Link N Lift, derived from chestnut blossom, and EnergiNius®, obtained from Indian ginseng.
In 2021, Ségolène Moyrand-Gros takes over from her father as president of the company.
Committed to its financial independence and its values in a sector dominated by large groups, the family business is developing to keep pace with progress in both the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries, while taking into account the social and environmental challenges it faces in its day-to-day actions. In 2021, the CSR approach that has been at the heart of the company for years has been formalized and given a name: Gatt'up & Act.
In 2022, Gattefossé's strategy is recognized by the INPI - Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle (National Institute of Industrial Property )- which rewards companies that are emblematic of French innovation. Gattefossé was awarded with the INPI 2022 Trophy in the export category.