Looking Good: Vanderohe

Midway through discussing possible shots and angles of the pictures for this story, Olivia Thorpe pauses. A concerned look shot across her face. “Gosh, I realised I walked out of my house without putting on any mascara. Maybe we can do a shot from very far away,” she says in mock horror, followed by a girlish laugh.

Not that her lack of eye make-up was noticeable in the first place. In fact, sitting at the back of The Knolls restaurant of Capella Singapore Resort in Sentosa, the founder of organic and natural beauty and skincare forum Vanderohe.com is positively glowing. Despite running after two young boys, the Singapore-based Londoner looks radiant and well-put together in a pair of light-coloured pants and a black silk Isabel Marant top (a pre-loved find she purchased from THE FIFTH COLLECTION). She attributes her “glowing visage" to the Vanderohe No.1 Nourishing Face Serum - a 100% pure, organic essential oil serum she concocted.

Olivia Thorpe, founder of Vanderohe.com and Vanderohe

Launching for pre-orders on Dec 1 on her site, the No.1 Nourishing Face Serum is concocted from 11 organic oils of the highest grade that are synergistically blended to deliver multi-correctional benefits, targeting pigmentation, skin sensitivity and reversing the signs of ageing. To create the perfect blend, Thorpe spent months reading up on active ingredients and finding the best suppliers from across the globe that can deliver what she needed.

Her desire to create this product came after a successful attempt at creating a bespoke oil serum for her friend. “She had asked me to create an oil that could prevent her from developing a scar after having a sunspot removed from her face. So, I researched all the oils that are best for anti-scarring and I decided to add in some special anti-aging and nourishing oils as well.”

It came down to a set of eight essential oils and she began blending them, eventually coming to a scent that she liked. For Thorpe, the scent determines the product, and it was important to her that it smelled luxurious and rich - much like the scent she was used to growing up with, as her mother would always smell of either Chanel or Jo Malone. Excited about her discovery, she bottled the concoction and presented it to her friend.

The serum worked and it was then that she decided to make a batch for herself.

“I started using this oil and it is all I am using on my skin since. I started giving it out to people - my friends and family - and I kept getting repeat requests for more.  So, I decided that this could work as a business venture.”

But her research on organic products (and interest in all things natural) began a few years ago when she was pregnant with her first son. Overnight, the self-professed lover of Creme de La Mer and Estee Lauder became not only sensitive to scents but her skin started to react negatively to the creams she was using.

“Everyone says that when you have a baby, your skin changes and I never paid any heed to those,” she recalls. "I’ve got my products and they’ve been working just fine. Then suddenly, I applied my Advanced Night Repair cream at night and my skin turned bright red the next day.”

With a whole repertoire of beauty products at hand, thanks to her job editing vanderohe.com, Thorpe started delving into the more natural, pure and organic products she was sent and started seeing the difference in her skin. Realising the benefits of using natural products, she then decided to turn vanderohe.com totally green and organic-focussed.

A couple of years later, and pregnant with her second child, Thorpe joined a friend for a skincare-making workshop where she made a basic oil serum using jojoba and lavender. She says, “The only scent that I could stomach during my pregnancy was lavender. Everything else had me wanting to throw up. And despite it being a really basic serum, it was nice and gentle on my skin.”

A great interest in essential oils soon began to blossom. In a bid to further educate herself, Thorpe went for a few more classes and started ordering every book she could find on aromatherapy essential oils and blending. One of the most important books she bought, she reveals, was on the art of synergistic blending. She explains, “Anyone can just stick lavender and rose oil in a base oil but if you get specific oil that synergistically work and binds well with another essential oil, that’s a really unique thing. That’s why essential oils have been used in medicine in ancient times.”

It was a good call on her part. After all, the green beauty segment of the multi-billion dollar beauty industry is growing from strength to strength with more independent all-natural and organic beauty and skincare labels rapidly entering the market.

Last year, the UK's leading food and farming charity and organic certification body, Soil Association, released its annual Organic Market Report to reveal that sales of its certified organic beauty products have jumped 20 percent in 2014, to reach just over £44m (or about SG$77 million). The number of applicants it received also grew to 51 percent. Earlier this month, a Harris Poll survey in the United States found that 59 percent of American women over the age of 35 believe buying green beauty is important to them, while 73 percent of millennial women in the United States are seeking out cleaner, all-natural products.

And while there are no official numbers on organic skincare and cosmetics in Singapore, one can just walk into any beauty departments or personal care stores to see the burgeoning number of new brands and labels hawking all-natural and organic products. 

Indeed, Thorpe’s decision to jump on the bandwagon came at the most opportune moment.

But creating the best possible product was not an easy task. Having tested different essential oils and knowing that even the same herbs and oils could give out varying scents, Thorpe recognised early on that her concoction must be made from the absolute finest quality ingredients.

It took her five months to source the most trustworthy suppliers for each of the oils, which had to be imported from the countries of origin. “It's like wine. You can't take a Bordeaux grape, grow it in Upstate New York and get the same wine. It will be completely different,” she stressed. “Oils are the same. So the Frankincense I use has to come from Kenya or Somalia and the lavender has to come from either Bulgaria or France. There’s no compromising on quality as it will affect everything.”

Olivia also works closely with a toxicologist for the formulation, to ensure that No.1 Nourishing Face Serum has the optimum amount of each essential oil, without it ever risking being too strong or harsh on the skin. “It was important for me to work with a toxicologist to ensure that my product is not only safe but also has the right amount of essential oils for maximum benefit.”

She spoke to the Aromatherapy Trade Council, a self-regulating trade association and authoritative body for the UK essential oil industry in the UK, who praised the aromatherapeutic qualities of the oil, as well as its skin-nourishing properties.

“The combination of the oils I’ve used have such strong aromatherapeutic qualities for your mind. The scent, which again is a very personal and important thing for me, is sensual, exotic and opulent and really works to lift feelings of stress and anxiety.”

Already, Vanderohe No.1 Nourishing Face Serum is starting to pique the interest of retailers and it's been dubbed as "the no foundation serum" amongst beauty editors who have been sampling the product.

As she puts it: “I want to show that you can have an essential oil serum that feels, looks and smells luxurious. That was a really big thing for me.

The Vanderohe No.1 Nourishing Face Serum is priced at £88 and is available for pre-orders from Dec 1 on Vanderohe.com.

Chit Chat With Miss Vanderohe

Your background is in banking and finance. What made you jump ship?

I left banking when I was pregnant with my first son and I was trying to find something that I was passionate about. I was just fed up with banking - I really enjoyed it but it was a lot of travelling and I just thought that since I’m obsessed with beauty (and have been writing freelance on the side), I might as well just start my own. And so I started Vanderohe.com

Speaking of Vanderohe, what does the name mean?

It means "off the field of the countryside".

It is actually serendipitous that the term actually means that because when I was creating the website, I thought long and hard about what to call it. I did not want something that's fluffy or superficial. It has to be serious and the site has to be a serious publication that professionals would want to share information with.

My husband and I are into architecture and he was saying that the way I did my website was like Mies van de Rohe, who is one of the greatest architect. He was all about "less is more", where everything is minimalist but has to be top-quality and perfect.

We had a coffee table book on van de Rohe and I was looking at it for awhile and started to take a liking to the name. It's a blank brand and I can create whatever I want on this blank canvas. It was only two years later that I started wondering, "what exactly does it mean? What if it means something totally off-brand and I just shot myself in the foot?".  

When I googled it and the definitions came out for each word... it was completely serendipitous and meant to be.

The packaging of your serum is interesting. The insert is super informative and interesting, and unlike most informational insert, we really want to read it.

Thank you! I had an illustrator make up the box design and as well as the insert. When the drawings came back to me, I was pleasantly surprised. I thought to myself, “Is that what camomile looks like?”. Isn’t it interesting? Because not many people know what the actual plant looks like. 

With this insert, people can really connect to each ingredient visually and it's informative. For me, that’s what Vanderohe is all about; It’s about educating people about beauty and empowering them to make the right choices based on what they’ve found out about the industry. I wanted to be very transparent about everything, and, of course, to give back by using all sustainable practices, including recycled paper. The insert will be on nice, recycled soft cotton paper.

You've decided to donate 10% of the profits from No. 1 Nourishing Face Serum to the Four Seasons Marine Savers programme in Maldives. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

I’ve partnered with the Four Seasons Marine Savers programme in the Maldives, a base for pioneering research on coral reefscaping and manta rays in the Baa Atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This is a programme that's very dear to my heart and the people involved work so hard to make a positive change to things that we don't even get to see (as it's mostly underwater!). I also wanted to donate to a marine programme as the beauty industry is responsible for so much damage caused to the ocean and marine life, due to the chemicals and plastics that some products contain. To be able to give back to the ocean and create reefs, which are one of the world's main sources of medicine, is such a special thing to be able to do.

What are some beauty products you cannot live without?

I used to be obsessed with Chanel products, including the mascara, which I absolutely cannot leave the house without (even though, I don’t have mascara on now). Now, since going organic and all-natural, I love W3ll People mascara. It’s packed with Vitamin E and natural oils so it conditions your lashes as you use it.

I use Ilia blusher and RMS highlighter. I don’t use foundation anymore because I couldn’t find one that’s lightweight enough but still gives that coverage. So, my oil serum is my base and then I put on my highlighter and  rub some cream blusher on. If I use an eyeliner, it’ll be Korres. It's not totally natural but it’s a very good product. When I need some eyeshadow, I use the ones from
Kjaer Weis.

For me, make-up is probably the hardest to switch to one that is all-natural. Sometimes, they just cannot compete with the big brands. So, that’s the space that needs to be filled.