Back in the late 90s, while most of the beauty industry was focusing on anti-aging science, she created one of the first natural skincare lines in the U.S. based solely on botanicals, perfumery and ancient self-care rituals. We sat down and chatted with Julie Elliott, the mastermind behind the cult brand In Fiore, who builds her exquisite formulations on wisdom, travels, and a deep sense of curiosity.
How did In Fiore come about?
It was born from my love for skincare products, plants and European apothecary traditions. Every modality that I learnt over the years is part of In Fiore.
Tell us about your background prior to starting the brand.
I’m from Los Angeles (born and raised), where my mother worked for a company that imported French cosmetics, so the bathroom cabinets in our home were always full of products. As a teenager, I loved shopping in pharmacies to explore new products and botanicals. For many years, I was constantly educating myself and keeping journals with ingredients and ideas, but it wasn’t until later, in my mid thirties and with a career in the fashion industry in New York, that I decided that it was time for a life change. I never really thought of beauty as a way of making a living before. It was my passion, but then, as I got older, I was tired of working just to make money, without a sense of purpose. So I quit my job, left New York, and moved back to San Francisco.
And what happened then?
I took time off and started taking a lot of photos, my other hobby. I was also working on formulas, studying, and doing everything I wanted to do before but didn’t have the time. It was quite a journey to get to that place where I decided to go for it. No one was really doing natural beauty in the late nineties, but the more I delved into my studies, the more I realized how amazing pure botanicals were to work with. And because I’m a luxury consumer, I thought that it would be really interesting to create natural products with them and bring them to the luxury market, to make people to look at beauty in a different way. There was a lot of rejection at the beginning, but even people from Estée Lauder and other big companies told me that what I was doing was great but I was early. In 2001 everything started changing, but it was a very slow process.
In Fiore was one of the first lines that was all about oils and in the United States people weren’t using oils. So there was an enormous learning curve. We don’t have a rich history of self-care rituals like bathing, and protocols like dry brushing, scrubbing the skin and massaging with oils, like in India and all throughout Asia.
How was the 4-2-4 method born?
In 2007 we launched in Japan so I started to spend a lot of time in Asia. During my travels, I like to immerse myself in the culture of the place I’m visiting. I like having an authentic experience and that means meeting people and getting into their food and rituals, being very open and receptive. So I started to interview women about their beauty regimens. Asian women have the most stunning skin and, although products and ingredients are very important to them, the rituals are number one. There’s a belief system that if you don’t follow the proper regimen the products are not going to work. And they put an emphasis on the cleansing process: they first do a lot of facial massage, and then they rinse with a soft cloth and warm water, finishing with splashes of cold water. Only after that process, they apply their treatment products. The 4-2-4 is a ritual that is widely practiced in South Korea and when you do it every night you see an immediate change: the skin is visibly more hydrated, plump and toned, and it needs less product because the skin absorbs it more efficiently.
Your brand is an invitation to develop a beauty ritual and find a time for oneself in the middle of the busy life of today, what would you suggest to our Thinking CAP readers that are always on the go and don’t have time to follow the 4-2-4 ritual?
The 4-2-4 is just to emphasize how important each step should be while cleansing. There’s no need to spend exactly that amount of time. What’s interesting is that it works for every skin condition. Everybody looks better because wrinkles, marks, rosacea, acne and spots are less visible when the skin is hydrated.
If you do the 4-2-4 at night, you don’t necessarily need to clean you skin every morning. You can just rinse with splashes of warm and cold water and start your layering process. Everybody is different and beauty rituals are about finding what really works for you and sticking to it.
How important is the scent in your products?
Scent is how you connect to a product. The whole aromachology (the study of the influence of odors on human behavior) is really important to us. That’s why essential oils are our expertise and the key ingredients in our formulations. They are the closest that we have to a pharmaceutical in the plant world. I have been studying them for a long time. I know how they work, how strong they are, and that they need to be used responsibly. They can cause reactions if you are not using the right ones and here lays the challenge, which for me is to create products that balance risk with ethicacy. The truth is that there’s really not such thing as a risk-free product: anyone can be allergic to anything. The skin is a sense organ and there’s this new science that suggests that many of the same olfactory receptors that exist in our nose are also present in our skin, and they can trigger certain bio-chemical reactions in our bodies. These early studies have been testing the skin’s olfactory responses to natural and synthetic scents and they observed that when the skin smelled certain aromas it starts to repair itself. I think that in the future we are going to see a lot of scent-based medicine.
The natural beauty market is becoming very populated with options nowadays, what do you think is the best tool to help consumers not become overwhelmed and make good decisions?
My best advice is to choose products that are right for you and your skin type, and to align yourself with a brand that really resonates with you and your value system. And you are either going to see results or you won’t and that’s all that matters. If something doesn’t work for you, that’s ok! It’s not that you don’t get to be in the cool girls club; beauty is not about that. It’s about finding products that work for your skin.
How important do you think the certifications in beauty products are?
I don’t believe in them! But I’m from San Francisco and we usually don’t want labels on our products. But some people need that reassurance before they buy products and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not for us as a brand. There are many great farms and brands that don’t have certifications because they are too small and can’t afford it. A certified organic product is not always synonymous of quality, as well as natural not always being synonymous with safe, or synthetic automatically meaning that it’s bad for you. I think it’s different with food. In that case I prefer organic and I choose it myself at the farmer’s market. It’s the same when we source raw materials for the brand, we don’t necessarily pay attention to the paperwork because we do our own diligence: we look at them, we smell them, and we taste them. What matters is how they are grown, harvested, and handled all the way to the end of the chain. That’s what my years of studies have taught me: get to know an ingredient so well that you can tell the quality just by looking at it.
Can you tell us about your own beauty and wellness rituals?
I always get my 7 to 8 hours of sleep. I’m really busy all the time so I have to set a lot of boundaries around my time: how I spend it and with whom. Water is also very important; when I’m good about my water I have more energy and less cravings. I’m also a big advocate of baths. I don’t even have a shower in my home, only a bathtub. I believe in hydrotherapy as a way of removing toxins from the body. I always travel with my bath stuff; it’s really important for me. As far as my diet goes, it is an area for me to master and is difficult because I’m busy and I travel very often. It’s tough to follow a regimen when you are not home.
What items are always in your fridge and pantry?
I always have eggs. They are such a great and easy protein when you are busy. I also have herbs, teas, lemons, and smoked fish that is not very salty and doesn’t have a lot of preservatives in it. I used to buy groceries for the week and then I didn’t feel like eating that, so I ended up wasting food. Now I usually shop for the day.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I like to get up early and get the day rolling, so that I can slow down at night. If it’s a day in which I’m going to be in the lab working with scents and blending, I won’t have breakfast, I’ll just have coffee because I don’t want any interference. I usually work all morning in formulation so that I can wrap up by noon and attend to other tasks related to the business. I’m very organized and productive so I can leave work at a decent hour, and that’s when I have time for myself: meet with friends, take a bath, read a book, meditate. Nowadays, we are so stimulated that it is hard to unplug and decompress the nervous system. Nighttime is my time for wellness.
What does beauty is wellness and wellness is beauty mean to you?
I think beauty is energy and essence. It’s a mindset and an attitude. Any person that is happy is beautiful.
The beauty tide is turning. Naturals are the new wave.
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