Few things in this world sidetrack me quicker than the chance to scope out a new candle line, and that is exactly what happened on one swelteringly hot day in Soho this summer, when I dashed into French-inspired café Maman for a quick iced-latte before an appointment. One part café, it also houses a chic mini-boutique with a curation of beauty, jewelry, floral, and children’s brands. There, among the store displays, was a series of lovely amber-colored candle jars lined up in a neat little row, giving out the most gorgeous smells. Upon further exploration of the millennial pink and apricot-colored heaven that is the brand Bastide Aix En Provence, and after a few tests of the perfumes and lotions, I was instantly hooked and needed to know more.
So, once I had finished my appointment, I set my mind toward learning more about this charming and enchanting brand. Color me surprised to discover that this small French-heritage brand is in the midst of a major makeover by none other than the beauty guru Frederic Fekkai and his equally #goals business partner/wife Shirin von Wulffen. Upon further investigation, I learned that not only is the brand “clean”, but they have an entire blacklist of ingredients not to be used within the products, and they source all elements from Fekkai’s home area of Provence. So, when the opportunity arose to speak with von Wulffen, I leapt at the chance.
You have a history working with some of the most well-known luxury fashion brands in the industry. Was transitioning from that to lifestyle and beauty a challenge?
I love all things beautiful, so the transition was really very organic. I was fortunate to work in fashion at such an exciting time – from seeing Yves Saint Laurent’s last couture collections to interviewing the butler for Tom Ford’s first store on Madison Avenue, I had a front row seat to some of the greatest fashion stories of all time. Working for iconic designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati gave me an incredible visual education that I rely on every day at Bastide.
What would you say are the differences between the fashion and beauty industries?
I will always have a great weakness for fashion, but beauty – particularly slow, clean beauty – has a softer less transitory quality that feels nurturing and less rushed.
What inspired you and your husband to become involved with Bastide instead of creating your own separate brand?
Bastide, formerly Coté Bastide, is an iconic French heritage brand that we have known and loved for a long time. When we started spending our summers in Frédéric’s hometown of Aix-en-Provence, we noticed how amazing our bodies and skin felt after eating only from our garden and the local fresh food markets in Aix. This made us realize that we wanted to curate our skincare in the same way. By reviving this heritage brand from Aix, we were able to harness almost 30 years of French beauty “savoir-faire” in order to create clean, contemporary formulations for the skincare needs of today.
If you could describe the aesthetic of Bastide in three words, what would they be?
Clean, Provençal & Joyful.
What were some of the challenges you faced when creating an ethically-sourced brand, and what advice would you give to someone wanting to become a more ethically-minded consumer?
Ethical sourcing takes time and patience so you really have to believe in and enjoy what you are doing. We are convinced that the time we spend working with our beautisans (beauty artisans), defining our local ingredients and developing clean and natural formulas is what makes the Bastide products so special. The reason we started Bastide is because we wanted our bath, body and skincare to be as good as the food we buy at the local food markets in Aix-en-Provence.
If you want to be more ethically minded, then you really have to take the time to learn about the brands that you are buying and to see if their values are in line with your own. For example, at Bastide, we made the conscious decision to self-finance because we never want to be in a position where we have to compromise our quality for the sake of profit.
While working together with your husband do you ever find that you struggle with work/life balance? And if so, are there any tips you can share to create a more balanced home and work life?
My work/life balance is better today than it has ever been! Initially, I was very reluctant to take the plunge but my husband is a serial entrepreneur with boundless energy so he literally just pushed me into it. I definitely had to learn to stand my ground but he has also taught me to trust myself. The most important thing I have learned in business is to take your ego out of the equation. As soon as you do that, you open yourself up for honest discussions and creative energy. Frederic and I disagree A LOT but we keep our common goal in mind and (almost!) always come up with a more exciting solution as a result. Frederic has a 23 year-old son and then we have two young kids together so work/life balance can be challenging but I find that I am happiest and most productive when I am really living in the moment. When I am with our kids I really switch off and give them my full attention and likewise, when I am in a meeting I try to be as present as possible. Life happens in the present tense so the only way to really live fully is to stay grounded in the moment.
How do you feel social media impacts a business and what ways do you feel your brand embraces it?
Social media is an amazing asset for small brands like ours. Not only do we have the ability to tell our story and to listen to our consumer more intimately than ever before but social media also allows us to be more nimble, and to create an exciting consumer experience online without immediately having to invest large amounts of capital in building retail stores.
What are some of your beauty Holy Grail products?
Tom Ford Eye Defining Pen (its like a calligraphy pen for eyes), Maybelline great lash big washable mascara, Sisley Nutritive Lip Balm, Chantecaille Le Camouflage Stylo.
If you had to recommend one product from the line what would you choose?
Our Huile Seche Epatante — made from sunflower seed oil, macadamia oil and orange blossom, this dry oil is super nourishing but feather light. I always keep one with me when I travel and spray it onto all the dry spots: my elbows, feet, cuticles and even to smooth the ends of my hair!
French beauty is considered one of the ultimate regimes to emulate. How do you feel French women differ in their approach to skin care?
French women learn to take care of their skin at an early age and they also know that skin is a reflection of our whole being: the more balanced you are, the more healthfully you live and eat, the more beautiful your skin will be. Above all, French women embrace and celebrate their imperfections and this is what really makes them beautiful.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life what would it be?
To simplify! I find that when I simplify my life, everything falls into place. One great handbag is much more stylish than several mediocre ones. When you have a great haircut and color you can air dry your hair and still look good. Even at home: a lunch with hand picked wild flowers from the garden (or the side of the highway) are more stylish than a perfectly arranged table scape. Most importantly, being relaxed and open-minded is the most stylish thing of all!