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36 Hours in Essaouira

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To celebrate the launch of our ESSAOUIRA Perfume Oil, we’re publishing Katharine’s quick travel guide to Essaouira, Morocco, the breezy port town that inspired the scent of the Body Serum and new Perfume Oil.

First a little history:  In 1506, the king of Portugal ordered a fortress to be built in Essaouira, then called Mogador by the native Berbers who inhabited the location.   After Morocco regained control during the 16th century, various powers including Spain, England, the Netherlands and France tried in vain to conquer Mogador.  In the 18th Century, the name Essouira, translated as “beautifully designed,”  was adopted and a French architect was hired to build the medina surrounding the original fortress.  Ideally located to benefit from trade between Africa, Europe and the Americas,  Essaouira thrived as a Morocco’s most important trading site.

Essaouira is a perfect place to escape to and unwind after the hectic pace of Marrakech.  The temperature stays a moderate 75 degrees all year, due to the trade winds blowing off of the Atlantic, which also make it an attractive destination for windsurfers.  It is an easy daytrip from Marrakech, but I prefer to stay a night or two to really benefit from the laid back spirit of the beach town.

Day 1:
The first thing in the morning, wander down to the docks to watch the fishermen bring in the days haul. The locals will be there buying their fish for the day, jostling among numerous fish mongers with their wares laid out in boxes on the ground or in carts. A huge variety of fresh fish is on display, eyed by plenty of cats hoping for their chance.

Fish Market in Essaouira

If you’re feeling brave, do what the locals do. Choose one of the vendors based on what looks good (even if you can’t identify the type of fish) and buy directly. There is a guy with a few tables and a grill at the end of the dock who will cook your fish and serve it to you on paper plates with bread for just a few dirhams.

#Postcardfrom Essaouira Morocco #KahinaContest

From the docks, I’ll continue on to walk the long, flat beach, stopping along the way at one of the sidewalk cafes across from the boardwalk for bessara, the traditional bean soup served for breakfast in Morocco.  At the far end of the beach, you can opt to ride camels and/or ponies surfside.

camels on the beach at Essaouira

For lunch, head back towards town where there is a row of open-air restaurant/stalls where you can choose the catch of the day.

Make time in the afternoon for the hammam, Morocco’s health and wellness tradition, which includes plenty of heat and steam, exfoliation and cleansing.  There are two types to choose from, the traditional version which is a shared experience in a large room, or a private session. Either way, treat yourself to Morocco’s foremost beauty products including: Beldi Soap, rhassoul clay, and argan oil.  If opting for the traditional version, make sure to stop at the souk and pick up your own products to bring with you on the way.

Essaouira Market

Afterwards, make your way to the old fortress to watch the sun go down. Stroll along the walls of the medina on the way to browse the shops and art galleries there. There is a good selection of restaurants for dinner in the medina to suit your mood and budget.

Essaouira is known for its vibrant music scene.  Luminaries who have spent time in Essaouira include Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley, whose presence is still felt today in the town’s low key, boho vibe.  Essaouira is the host of the annual Gnaoua World Music Festival, but it is not unusual to stumble across an improptu concert in the main square.

Day 2.
Take a drive south toward Agadir. It’s a beautiful drive through the argan forests. You’ll see goats in trees and some typical Moroccan villages. There are several argan cooperatives along the way to stop in and see how the nuts are cracked. Make sure to try the amlou with bread, a mixture of almonds honey and argan oil.

Argan forest

If you are feeling ambitious, continue approximately 2 hours south to reach Agadir. There is a beautiful stretch of unspoiled coastline before you reach Agadir and multiple spots for surfing. Have lunch at any of the restaurants along the boardwalk of Agadir before heading back.

 

Where to Stay
L’Heure Bleue $$$
Luxury in a traditional Moroccan riad decorated in a Colonial Style.  I recommend lunch by the rooftop pool with a great view of Essaouira.

Madada Mogador $$$
A boutique hotel decorated in traditional Moroccan finishes with rooms on the ramparts overlooking the water and the medina.

36 Hours in Essaouira
Iconic blue boats in Essaouira’s port

Beauty Heroes Q&A with Katharine L’Heureux

This month, Kahina is proud to partner with Beauty Heroes to celebrate the naming of Kahina Eye Serum as an Expert Selection. Beauty Heroes is a subscription box that gives you full-sized items that have been vetted by their team of spa & beauty experts. Interested? Subscribe before September 15, 2015 to get a full-size Kahina Eye Serum plus a deluxe travel size (1 oz.) of our Facial Lotion for just $39.

See the original posting of the Q&A here.

Katharine at Agadir Beach

The recent update to our identity, now Beauty Heroes, could not have happened at a more appropriate time as we announce our September selection from Kahina Giving Beauty. Katharine L’Heureux, the founder of Kahina has taken her process of developing an ingredient driven, effective and beautifully packaged skincare line and turned it into a heroic venture that contributes substantially to the lives of women in Morocco. Deeply invested in their wellbeing, she travels to personally oversee how Kahina Giving Beauty can optimally direct resources, and ‘give beauty’ back to these women. I recently spent some time with Katharine in New York and got to see first hand how she balances the success of an iconic beauty brand with a mission to support communities of women making her a defining Beauty Hero. I hope you enjoy this glimpse behind Kahina Giving Beauty and take time to explore more of the line when you consider beauty products that benefit your skin while transforming the lives of women.

What inspired you to create Kahina Giving Beauty? Had you always wanted to formulate natural and organic skincare?
Following the birth of my third child 11 years ago, I was searching for safe and effective all-natural skincare products that, at the time, were hard to find. While on a trip to Morocco in 2007 I discovered argan oil – which is rich in Vitamin E, essential fatty acids and antioxidants. I began by importing the argan oil, then worked with an experienced chemist to formulate the line I was yearning for – simple, effective, organic skincare products, using high quality ingredients from around the world that are ethically produced and beautifully packaged with this amazing ingredient at their core.

What inspired the name Kahina Giving Beauty?
My aim was to honor the Berber women who extract the argan oil in Morocco. Kahina is the name of a Berber queen and prophetess who reigned in North Africa in 700 CE. Giving Beauty, our company name, refers to our policy of giving back to these women – by paying them a fair wage and donating to programs that support them and their families. It also acknowledges the generations of traditional remedies and healing techniques that they’ve been kind enough to share with us.

Katharine L'Heureux in Morocco

What’s your workspace like?
My space is very important to me. I’m very fortunate to work out of my loft in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan with my superstar employee, Mairin Cipolla, where we enjoy great views of the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Working at home allows me to be flexible with my time, which is necessary with my kids coming and going.

When it’s time to create a new product, how do you begin?
I’ve created each of my products based on what I personally need and would want to use. Usually, we’ll have internal discussions beginning with objectives for the product, outlining the benefits we’d like to achieve and how and when we’d use it.

What IS your process? Do you begin with an ingredient or an objective?
Once we’ve decided on the product we’d like to make, we’ll research ingredients that would work well. This is the fun part! We’re certified by Ecocert, so we search for certified organic and natural ingredients that comply with their standards. The list of proven effective natural ingredients continues to grow and evolve in exciting ways and this most definitely informs the products we produce. We discuss efficacy, scent profile, consistency, texture, and packaging options, and then my chemist gets to work. We’ll go through a number of rounds before we get to a point where we feel satisfied with the precise formula. Once approved, products have to withstand rigorous challenge and stability testing, so our chemist’s knowledge and experience is invaluable in creating products that will stand up over time and in a range of environments.

How often do you make a new product? How long does that process take?
We try to keep the line simple and meaningful, so we introduce a new product just once or twice a year. The entire process, from idea to finished product takes at least 18 months. With testing, certification, production and packaging, there’s no room to be impetuous.

What’s been the biggest discovery for you lately in terms of the creative process – or in creating a specific new product?
I have come to realize that much of the creative process is a result of having an open mind, letting go and trusting in forces beyond my control. If I envision a thing one way, but things happen to make it work out differently, often it will turn out better than originally planned. The most engaging works of art are often dialogues between the creator and the environment. It’s why I enjoy gardening, wine and creating natural cosmetics.

Is it safe to assume that Argan Oil is your favorite superpower ingredient? What specifically do you love about it?
Argan oil is certainly my first love. It’s a multi-purpose ingredient, with high concentrations of vitamin E and essential fatty acids, and works well on most skin types and for a myriad of skin concerns – from addressing signs of aging to acne. It also has uses for hair, nails and body. What’s not to love?

Since starting Kahina, I’ve discovered so many amazing new ingredients that we combine with the argan oil in our formulations, including sea buckthorn seed oil, carrot seed oil, and my latest love, Prickly Pear Seed Oil, which is sourced from the same women who supply our argan oil in Morocco.

Women cracking argan nuts photo credit Kahina Giving Beauty

How about a favorite product in the collection?
It’s so hard to choose only one, as they’re meant to be used together for the best results. Each product assists the next in achieving optimal, glowing, healthy skin. I do have a soft spot for the eye serum, though. It’s resolved issues of under-eye puffiness many mornings when I didn’t look as bright and awake as I would’ve wished!

How often do you visit Morocco? How long do you stay when you go? Any favorite places you’d like to tell us about?
I visit Morocco at least once or twice a year for at least 10 days each time. There is a lot of ground to cover on my trips, usually from Casablanca to Marrakesh, then Essaouira, Agadir and Taroudant in the South. This usually means a couple of hours a day are spent driving, but it’s a great way to experience Morocco and witness the rural way of life there. One of my favorite drives is from Essaouira to Agadir, through the argan forest and along the beautiful unspoiled Atlantic coastline, passing through some typical small villages along the way. My two favorite places to stay in all of Morocco are Riad Laaroussa in Fez and the Atlas Kasbah Ecolodge in Agadir – both of which are meticulously restored historic structures run by friendly and charming couples with an eye toward authenticity and cultural preservation.

You recently visited Morocco and the cooperatives where you source your ingredients? Can you share a glimpse into your trip?
Visiting the women who extract the oil for Kahina is always a touchstone for me, renewing my passion and excitement for the work I do. These women live in a remote village high in the Anti-Atlas Mountains in Southern Morocco. They are extremely poor, with no electricity or running water. They work hard just to survive, but they are truly aligned with nature in their daily rhythms, which connects them to the earth and to each other in a joyful way. It’s very rewarding for me to see how their work for Kahina benefits them, and to discover other ways in which we can help. In the last six months, we were able to build a bathroom with clean running water for a Middle School to help increase girls’ attendance. We also donated clothing and supplies to a village devastated by flooding last Fall.

Children outside schoolhouse

Do you have a personal mantra that inspires you?
One very simple, but helpful one I picked up in Morocco, “give time to time,” meaning be patient and let events unfold as they will. Also, thank you, God.

Where might I run into you on a Sunday morning?
That depends on where I am and the time of year. Right now, weekends are spent at our home in the Hudson Valley working in the garden followed by lunch with my husband and whichever kids are home. Fall and Winter weekends find my family and I in Manhattan where my husband and I like to take walks along the Hudson River and then we shop for lunch at Chelsea Market.

How do you relax?
Nothing makes me lose track of time like working in the garden. I love that it stretches me physically while also offering a time of contemplation and a creative outlet. There are also so many philosophical aspects to working in the garden: You can learn so much from observing plants, their power to heal and delight, to attract and repel in order to survive.

Katharine Interviewed by ECO DIVA

Katharine in Essaouira Morocco

Nicolle Mackinnon penned this interview of Katharine for ECO DIVA, one of Kahina’s web retailers for the U.S. and Canada. See the original post here.

BEHIND THE BEAUTY: MEET KATHARINE OF KAHINA GIVING BEAUTY

Meet Katharine L’Heureux, founder of Kahina Giving Beauty, one of the big players in the luxury green beauty industry. The line has been setting standards and raising the bar for quality and sustainable ingredient sourcing since its inception. With argan oil at the base of all its formulations, Kahina Giving Beauty is great for all skin types and tones, with hydrating, healing ingredients that support the indigenous Berber women of Morocco—plus, it’s ECOCERT certified, meaning you can trust where all its beautiful products are coming from. Read on to learn more about the line and how Katharine founded it (plus score a deal on the line’s newest product!).

Tell us how you started Kahina Giving Beauty.

I stumbled upon argan oil on a trip to Morocco in 2007. I was without my go-to brands after they were confiscated from my carry-on bag at JFK and so I bought some argan oil to try while shopping at the souk in Marrakesh. I never imagined that I would create my own skincare line, but when I discovered argan oil on that trip, I realized I had found the skincare solution I had been searching for—effective, organic and making a positive difference in the lives of the people who produce it. I began by importing the argan oil, and soon after I decided to create the line I was yearning for: simple, effective, organic skincare products, ethically produced and beautifully packaged, with this amazing ingredient at its core. Rich in vitamin E, essential fatty acids and antioxidants, argan oil is a superstar ingredient that works on a multitude of skin problems, from acne to eczema.

What’s your favorite product from the line? Why?

It’s so hard to single out one product as they are all like my children. And they are all meant to work together for optimal results. But if I have to pick, I’ll say argan oil as it was my first love. It is perfect in its simplicity and purity, and I love how multipurpose it is. Not to mention the financial and social opportunities that the work of producing it provides impoverished women of rural Morocco.

What makes you feel beautiful?

When I can truly relax and be myself is when I feel most beautiful. Usually, I’m without makeup, in my most comfortable clothes, surrounded by people I love—and not thinking about how I look!

Katharine in Morocco

What’s the most challenging thing about being a small business owner?

I’m fortunate to be doing what I love, but being the owner of a small business means never being able to truly be off-duty. With distribution partners around the globe, the emails never stop coming in (I need to start sleeping with my phone in another room). And with just one other person on my staff, It means we both need to wear many hats, often having to figure out things on the fly.

What passions do you have outside Kahina?

Travel. I love getting outside of my comfort zone, seeing unfamiliar landscapes, and finding common footing with diverse people in foreign cultures. It’s like a drug for me. And I obviously have a special place in my heart for Morocco.

Nature. On the weekends, I’m at our Hudson Valley home spending time outdoors, kayaking, hiking or working in our ever-expanding garden.

New York City. I am invigorated and inspired by the bustle of the city I call home.

My husband and three kids, of course!

What has changed most in the green beauty industry since you started Kahina?

So many great brands have taken the stage since Kahina launched. The demand for authentic natural beauty products has grown among consumers and retailers are rising to meet it. This has meant an explosion in small brands working to produce honest, clean products. This in turn puts pressure on the ingredients suppliers to offer more natural and organic versions of preservatives as well as active ingredients. As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” It’s a win for everyone.

If you could share one piece of advice for holistic living, what would it be?

There is no one size fits all approach to holistic living, but I would advise planting an organic garden. Connecting to the earth and your food source, moving, creating, nurturing, meditating, improving the soil and growing your own healthy food are all components of gardening, and are, to me, keys to well-being. If you live in a city, you can join a community garden, which also serves to strengthen your bonds with the neighbors—an added bonus.

Any secret uses of your products that we should know about?

Many of Kahina products do double duty in my hair: Toning Mist and our balms provide moisture and hold, and I always rub what is left on my hands of the Facial Lotion onto my hair for added moisture, control and protection. Of course, everyone knows to use pure argan oil as a conditioner and de-frizzer at this point.

How can we be more conscious consumers to affect change in the beauty industry?

Learn how to read labels or buy from brands that are certified by a reputable organization like Ecocert so you aren’t supporting brands that make false claims. Seek out and support independent brands that are ethically sourcing ingredients and using environmentally sound packaging. Go to your local department store/apothecary and ask for those brands by name.

What do you do when you feel overwhelmed or burned out?

I try to focus on and feel gratitude for what brings me joy—my family, my health, having my own business and being able to help others. But sometimes I need a little help getting to that emotional plane. Exercise and time with my family are my stabilizers. Nature and museums are my chapels.

Erica Tanov Interviews Katharine L’Heureux

Bay Area designer (and Kahina collaborator!) Erica Tanov interviewed Katharine L’Heureux recently & thought we’d share. Erica Tanov designed these bags, currently on sale here and here.

In Conversation With Katharine L’Heureux, Founder of Kahina Giving Beauty

Kahina Giving Beauty is an organic, holistic skin care line focused on providing high-quality, ethically sourced products, while giving back to the women and communities behind them. CEO and founder, Katharine L’Heureux, was inspired to create the line after visiting Morocco in 2007 where she was introduced to the major benefits of argan oil. So inspired by the healing properties and multi-uses, she decided to bring it back to New York and share it with others. But Katharine’s admiration for the product goes beyond it’s beauty benefits. After connecting with the Berber women behind the extraction technique, she quickly fell in love with the rich history and tradition surrounding the product as well. Keeping the cultural significance tied to the products is a core philosophy behind the brand. Kahina donates a percentage of their profits to helping improve the lives of these women, and Katharine continues to keep in close contact with the Berber women to ensure ethical treatment and the highest workplace standards.

We’ve been a long time fan of their products (read up on Erica’s favorite products here) and are thrilled to have recently launched our second collaborative makeup bag to accompany their Lip and Face Balm and Toning Mist. This season we’ve used neon pink French fabric combined with a gold, handmade leather tassel. To celebrate the collaboration we chatted with Katharine to dig a little deeper into her personal beauty regime, her connection with the Berber women of Morocco, and how she manages to find balance and maintain healthy habits in a busy world.

Thanks, Katharine!

Erica Tanov for Kahina Giving Beauty Pink Spring Summer 2015

ET: Can you tell us more about your own personal beauty routines and beauty philosophies? What do you think are the most important factors in maintaining healthy skin? What are your tips on maintaining an overall healthy lifestyle?

KLH: I recently read a book called The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto. In it was a quote that really resonated with me: “Busy making myself beautiful, I allowed my true beauty, that which dwells in a candid look, to escape.”

I try to keep sight of the fact that true beauty lies in being oneself, not in the latest shade of lipstick or hairstyle. I believe that if you take care of yourself, maintain a sense of humor, compassion, and style, you can be beautiful and powerful at any age. While diet and exercise are important, too much stress – over eating the right things and/or not exercising enough, or worrying too much about skincare ingredients – can age you more than anything else you do. Do your best to eat well, drink plenty of water, exercise, and take care of your skin with a good, natural skincare regimen for glowing, healthy skin. This means cleansing, moisturizing, light exfoliation and repairing. Be gentle with your skin. Whether your concern is aging or acne, a mild, protective skincare regimen is going to benefit your skin in the long run. My personal daily routine consists of: cleansing with Kahina Facial Cleanser, then a few spritzes of our Toning Mist to prep the skin for oil application. I follow that with either the Argan Oil, Serum, or Prickly Pear Seed Oil, depending on the time of year and my mood. I try to spend a minute or two massaging the oils into my skin to improve circulation. After the oils, I’ll use the Kahina Facial Lotion to aid in moisture retention and protect my skin during the day, and the Kahina Night Cream to aid in skin regeneration at night. For the eye area, I’m using the Eye Serum right now, which is great for summer because of its lightweight texture, and works wonders for puffiness and dark circles, so I look refreshed during the day. Once or twice a week, I use the Kahina Antioxidant Mask to detox and provide gentle exfoliation.

ET: Sustainability and using organic, healing ingredients is at the core of your business beliefs and practices. Can you talk a little more about how you first fell in love with argan oil in Morocco and a few of its many benefits?

KLH: Starting about 11 years ago, after the birth of my third child, I was searching for safe and effective all-natural skincare. At that time, quality natural brands were hard to find. I really never imagined that I would create my own line, but when I discovered argan oil on a trip to Morocco in 2007, I realized I had found the skincare solution I had been searching for – effective, organic, and making a positive difference in the lives of the people who produce it. I began by importing the argan oil, and soon after decided to create the line I was yearning for: simple, effective, organic skincare products, [that are] ethically produced and beautifully packaged, with this amazing ingredient at its core. Rich in Vitamin E, essential fatty acids and antioxidants, argan oil is a superstar ingredient that works on a multitude of skin problems, from acne to eczema.

Kahina Argan Nuts

ET: These days it seems difficult to separate life from work, but we know that proper work-life balance is crucial for a healthy lifestyle. What do you do when you’re not working? What are some of your hobbies and what do you like to do for fun?

KLH: I’m fortunate to be doing what I love. Being the owner of a small business means never being able to truly be off-duty, but working from home allows me to have the flexibility I need to be there for my kids and enjoy time with the family. I can also grab some time during the day to get to the Whitney Museum, which just moved to my neighborhood in New York, or take a walk on the High Line. On the weekends, I’m at our Hudson Valley home spending time outdoors, kayaking, hiking or working in our ever-expanding garden. I love the physical work of landscaping – the digging, the tilling, pushing heavy wheelbarrows and moving plants – as well as the creative and meditative aspects. I really lose myself when I’m working in the garden, and the aesthetic payoff is very satisfying.

ET: One thing that we love about Kahina is that you aim to empower women in other countries, and not only give back to them but also prioritizes their needs. Do you have a favorite story or especially inspiring moment working with the Berber women that you’d like to share?

KLH: It is always so inspiring for me to visit the Berber women who work to produce our oil. Although we don’t share a language, we communicate easily through gestures and smiles. While we are worlds apart in so many ways, we share many of the same concerns as women and mothers. Every time I visit, there will be a big celebration with singing and dancing in which they insist I join in, trying to dance in their traditional style, which they always find very humorous. The last time I visited the women gave me the gift of a rug they had woven using the wool from sheep that Kahina had donated to each of them. The rug is perfect in its simplicity, like so many things they design and make – a white knotted rug woven with the Kahina circle and star. I consigned them to make more to sell on my website, so we could provide this economic opportunity in addition to cracking the argan nuts.

Katharine L'Heureux with Kahina rug

ET: Our recent spring/summer makeup bag collaboration with you features the Lip & Face Balm and Toning Mist- can you tell us a little more about the benefits of each product?

KLH: What I love about each of these products is how multi-tasking they are.

The Lip & Face balm contains immortelle and calendula, which are powerful healing ingredients, combined with antioxidant rich argan oil, seabuckthorn seed oil, carrot seed oil, and soothing blue tansy. I use it on dry chapped lips, as well as any flaky spots on my face. Immortelle has been shown to relieve headaches, so I’ll massage a bit into my temples when I feel a headache coming on. It’s also great for smoothing unruly eyebrows, and to use as a highlighter on cheeks.

Toning using non-alcohol based products is an important part of a healthy skincare regimen, especially when it revolves around oils. Our Toning Mist, with soothing aloe vera, moisturizing sodium hyaluronate, and antioxidant rich argan leaf extract, works to prep skin for oil application by drawing moisture into the skin. But I also love it on its own. With its intoxicating rose scent and cooling sensation, I love to spritz it on my face for a little pick-me-up throughout the day. It’s also fabulous for plane travel, and poolside.

Kahina Lip & Face Balm

Originally posted here.

On Essaouira

Katharine L'Heureux in Essaouira Morocco
Morocco is the heart and soul behind Kahina Giving Beauty. Our new ESSAOUIRA BODY SERUM is inspired by the breezy village by the sea.

Here, Kahina founder and CEO Katharine L’Heureux reflects on her experiences in Essaouira.

When was the first time you traveled to Essaouira?
Essaouira was my first stop on a journey to discover the argan forests in January of 2008. After discovering argan oil on a trip to Morocco the previous year, I returned to learn all that I could about the precious oil, where it grows and the methods of its production. The argan forests begin around Essaouira and continue south and east. I always make sure to spend a couple of days relaxing and enjoying Essaouira before delving into the more rugged argan region to the south.

What makes Essaouira different from all the other cities in Morocco?
Essaouira has a rich history as complex as the history of Morocco itself. Conquered by the Portuguese in the 15th Century as a fortress against the Spanish, it was reclaimed by the King of Morocco 150 years later. Under Moroccan rule, a French architect was hired to design the city in the 18th Century. So you have this amazing juxtaposition of Portuguese fortress, French architecture, and Muslim culture. Because it is in Southern Morocco, it can be very traditional, but Essaouira has also inspired generations of musicians, famously including Jimmy Hendrix, and so it attracts an interesting mix of visitors today. I love all the layers, but most of all I love that it is really just a sleepy port city without the bustle and glitz of Marrakesh just two hours away.

What is your strongest memory of Essaouira?
When I think of Essaouira, I think of beautiful blue everywhere – blue boats in the harbor, blue shuttered windows against whitewashed walls, blue taxis, all in the most beautiful shade. After the dusty chaos and sand colors of Marrakesh, it is always such a relief to arrive here and breathe the fresh ocean air and just relax.

What elements of Essaouira do you feel are captured in ESSAOUIRA Body Serum?
Fresh and crisp, yet sultry at the same time, I wanted a scent that would evoke the breeziness of the Moroccan seaside village. Floral notes mingling with citrus and wood make me think of rose geraniums in blue pots against white washed walls in meandering alleyways amidst vendors selling fresh orange juice and the scent of sandalwood wafting from the apothecary.

For Katharine’s Essaouira travel tips with can’t-miss spots, click here.

Shop Kahina Essaouira Body Serum.

Conversations in the garden with my mother

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My mother started gardening in earnest at the age of 45, when her own mother, my grandmother Grace Kelham, died in 1977. That was the year my mother and father relocated from San Francisco to Vine Hill Ranch, the vineyard property in the Napa Valley that my grandparents had assembled, and moved into the grand house that my grandfather had designed and that was completed in 1960

My grandfather was a classically trained architect with an excellent eye for scale. For his wife and himself on Vine Hill Ranch, he designed a gracious modern home in the California Ranch style featuring spacious rooms with 10 foot tall pocket doors that open directly onto a classical garden designed by California landscape architect Thomas Church. According to Thomas Church’s design dictates; the house is sensitively sited, nestled beneath a saddle in the rolling hills of the Mayacamas mountain range and with sweeping views of the vineyard and the cliffs of Stags Leap across the valley beyond a shimmering blue Chanel swimming pool. This house could easily have been the setting for one of Slim Aarons photographs of the social set of the1960’s.

When my parents moved to “the big house”, my father retired from his job as the Western manager of a national brokerage firm based in San Francisco determined to create a significant wine producing enterprise and manage the vineyard full time, as my mother was busy completing her term as the President of the San Francisco Fine Art Museums. Following their transition from a busy life in the City, my mother fully embraced her version of “country life.”

We had always spent lots of time on the ranch. Summers and weekends were at “the little house” down the road on the 150-acre vineyard property. When we were kids, while Daddy worked weekdays in the summer, my sister Alix, 2 years older and my brother, Bruce 5 years younger, and I spent our time with our mother, riding horses, swimming in the pool, and playing games in the evening, pursuits to occupy younger children with no access to TV.

Once my mother and father moved to “the Big house”, with the kids now gone away to college and boarding school, my mother hung up her riding boots and took up gardening and raising chickens, roosters and exotic rabbits. There were strict limits imposed by Thomas Church’s garden design, its symmetrical lines not allowing for much experimentation by my mother. Instead she worked the soil around the house, planting an ever expanding perennial garden on the hill just above and behind the house, closest to her bedroom, with a rambling path through ancient redwoods leading over the old “wakishaw” bridge to an eventual pond my parents created from a seasonal stream that they had landscaped. On the other side of the house, near the kitchen, was the vegetable garden to which she was continuously adding new wooden planter boxes that my father would build for her. Each summer, she cultivated an impressive array of heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, artichokes, zucchini, peppers, herbs, lettuces, radishes and cucumbers mixed in with yellow and orange marigolds. The vegetable garden was just outside of my bedroom window and the sounds of my mother muttering to herself or the dogs provided comfort on the long lazy days of summer when I was home for vacation from college or my New York life.

I have deeply loved my mother, but I wouldn’t say that we had a particularly close relationship. She had a sharp intellect, a remarkable recall for history, was well-read and versed in politics, art and philosophy, but she had no time for small talk and expressed only a polite interest in my life, my friends, my children, their schooling and my work.  Easy conversation or displays of affection didn’t come naturally between us. For me, an interest in gardening became a way to connect with her. Asking about her plants and walking the garden with her was a way for me to please her.

When my husband and I purchased our first home in the upper Haight in San Francisco after the birth of our daughter Grace in 1993, the large garden in the back was a big draw for me (which I failed at miserably). Gardening is what one did at a certain stage in life, like dinner parties (which I also struggle with). Jump ahead six years, one more child, Jamie, and a move to Manhattan, when my husband and I purchased seventy acres of land with a nondescript house on a two-acre pond in the Hudson Valley as an escape from the City. Repeating the family mantra passed down from my grandfather, “it was all about the land.” During the many years that followed, and the birth of one more child, Armant, while I spent summer weeks alone with young children and my husband stayed in Manhattan to work, gardening occupied my time. It fulfilled a creative need as well as satisfying a more acquisitive desire. My trips to the nursery replaced shopping in New York City. I purchased every interesting plant I could, memorizing the Latin names as my mother had done. As my mother had also done, I frowned on easy color from annuals or showy roses, and focused instead on form and texture. Everything in my evolving garden was maintained with my mother as my gardening muse, her voice in my head guiding me. My garden became a running dialogue with her.

In preparation for my parents’ annual visits to the Hudson Valley house at varying times of year, I would jump into action to make sure the garden looked its best. Her visit wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the native plant nursery in which she would buy a shrub or two for my garden, authoritatively declaring the value of the plant: “Oh, this snowball viburnum is very special,” and then a careful selection of where the plant would be situated. She would advise on gardening technique: “pull weeds by turning and pulling,” make cuttings of plants deemed desirable (once these were cuttings of an extremely invasive wild rose that I have since been trying to eliminate in a rare act of subversion), and comment on color stories. Her approval of something I had designed would ensure that the happy planting would remain in place forever, not subject to the constant rearranging and reshuffling that constitutes much of my gardening efforts.

Earlier this year, four months after the death of my father, my mother succumbed to a cancer that she had been treated for five years ago. Now, unable to leave her bed and struggling to stay mentally focused as the cancer moved into her brain, once again I turned to her garden to form a connection with her. Leaving her bedside at a loss for words during a visit from New York in early Spring, I went into a section of garden that she had started to redesign last year. I photographed the progress of the new plantings and some of our old favorites in bloom. As she was never one to communicate emotions readily in her lifetime, and as this seems to be one of the things I inherited from her, now it felt unnatural for me to say the things I wanted to say, to ask how she was feeling, to probe her about her feelings about her impending death, even to tell her I loved her. Instead, as I sat there showing her the photos on my iPad, my mother, who could not recall when or what she had last eaten, identified each plant by its Latin name – brunnera, euphorbia, salvias and pelargonium. The deathbed scenarios I had envisioned seemed only possible in movies. Instead, I looked for meaning between her words. On showing her the pictures of her garden she profoundly (or was it?) replied, “well, it was a good effort.”

Outside her window, an ancient weeping wisteria tree, planted by my grandmother for the original garden circa 1960 and propped up using traditional Japanese supports by Mr. Takahashi who worked by my mother’s side in the garden until his death approximately five years ago, stood with branches bare where there should have been an abundance of blooms. As if in solidarity, without words, its time had come.

GIVING BACK: High Atlas Foundation Spring Project

High Atlas Foundation Team to Make A Difference

I was contacted by the High Atlas Foundation in Morocco one month ago with an urgent plea for help. A one-room school outside of Marrakesh for boys and girls in Grades 3 – 6 was noticing a sharp dropoff in attendance by the girls. Without a bathroom for the children, there was no privacy or sanitation, an unacceptable situation for the parents of the girls, not to mention humiliating for the girls themselves. Kahina was able to provide the money for building and plumbing supplies, and the fathers of the children went right to work.

I met Abderrahim, the program director of the High Atlas Foundation and went with him to view the project on my trip to Morocco in April. I was amazed to see what the men had accomplished in just one month. A square structure built of cement blocks stood next to the school, complete with septic system and plumbed for four toilets, showers, and faucets. On my arrival at the school, I was welcomed by the school principal, teacher and the men of the village, as well as 50 boys and girls waving and calling out “Bonjour”. The children lined up and each one politely shook my hand, and, with huge smiles, repeated “Bonjour”. It is a tragic circumstance that so many lively, eager children should be deprived of a future over something we so easily take for granted, clean running water. I am grateful to all of our Kahina customers for participating in our efforts to make a difference in the lives of these children.

Children outside schoolhouse

Interior of schoolhouse

Katharine L'Heureux with children in High Atlas region

Just back from Morocco

I just returned from another trip to Morocco, visiting our cooperative, artisans, the High Atlas Foundation, and several cities.

Here, a few snapshots from my visit. More details soon!

xx
Katharine

Moroccan school children with new bathroom at schoolhouse Moroccan school children, with a new bathroom at their schoolhouse, thanks to Kahina contributions to High Atlas Foundation and local community support

Essaouira Archway Beachy, blue Essaouira

Prickly Pear Cactus by Katharine L'Heureux Prickly Pear Cacti are in full bloom this time of year

Katharine smiling in red shawl in Morocco Soaking up the late afternoon Moroccan sun

International Women’s Day 2015

International Women’s Day: a chat with Kahina founder Katharine L’Heureux

by Oresta Korbutiak of Oresta Organic Skincare. To view the original post, click here.

Katharine L'Heureux interview with Oresta

It is a pleasure to feature my chat with Katharine L’Heureux, founder of Kahina Giving Beauty. I first met Katharine in 2012 when she attended the launch party of Kahina at ORESTA. She spoke about the magic of argan oil: Morocco’s ‘liquid gold’ and her creation of Kahina: a luxurious holistic line of organic argan oil skin care products.

Katharine is a dynamic and inspiring woman who exudes radiance and grace. Kahina’s philanthropic philosophy is ‘Women Helping Women Through Shared Beauty Rituals’ and Katharine works with the Berber women of Morocco who extract the argan oil using techniques that have been passed down through generations. All of Kahina’s products are produced from start to finish with consideration of cultural and environmental sustainability. Katharine visits the women’s cooperatives in Morocco and donates a percentage of Kahina profits to support programs that improve the lives of these women whose signatures grace Kahina’s packaging.

Katharine introduced me to the wonderful world of oils and I’m excited to share with you Katharine’s experience and wisdom on empowering women around the world with healthy beauty.

Katharine L'Heureux in Morocco

O: How did you discover argan oil?

K: I was on an extended trip through Morocco and was in desperate need for a moisturizer in that extremely dry desert climate. I asked my guide what the local women use and he proceeded to tell me all about argan oil and how it was made. I was intrigued by the story of the oil, unique to Morocco, that I had never heard of before, and made by hand by the indigenous women of Morocco. When I tried it and discovered how well it worked on my skin, I was convinced that I needed to share this miraculous ingredient with women at home. I never dreamed at that time that this discovery would turn into a full-blown skincare company.

O: What makes Kahina’s argan oil superior to the many other argan oils on the market?

K: First of all, our oil is certified fair trade and organic. Just because an oil is sourced from a women’s cooperative (as most are) doesn’t mean that the women in the cooperative are being paid. Also, our argan oil is the finest grade, meaning that the nuts are carefully picked by hand from the argan tree, not gathered from the ground where they may have been pre-digested by livestock. The nuts are then sorted by hand to ensure quality, and cold-pressed and filtered by machine to eliminate the chance of bacterial contamination. Region pays a part also, delivering our signature mild, nutty fragrance. Our oil is never deodorized, which many argan oil manufacturers do to disguise an inferior quality oil.

O: What role does Kahina play in supporting women?

K: We purchase certified fair trade argan oil, which means that the women who are doing the work of harvesting and cracking the nuts for our oil are paid a fair wage. We also donate additional funds programs in Morocco that support these women who are very poor and mostly illiterate.

O: What is Kahina’s latest project?

K: We have a few projects going on right now that I am really excited about. First of all, we recently donated clothing to the women and children of a village in the Anti-Atlas Mountains that was devastated by floods over the past winter. We are in the midst of a fundraising effort to raise money to purchase more sheep to use for wool and dairy for the women who extract our oil, and we are working with the High Atlas Foundation to deliver a clean water system to a school outside of Marrakesh. Because there is no clean water or facilities, girls’ attendance has been steadily dropping off.

O: What is your beauty routine?

K: Night and day, I cleanse with the Kahina Facial Cleanser, followed by the Kahina Toning Mist and Brightening Serum then an oil or Serum. Right now, I’m using the Prickly Pear Seed Oil, but I switch this up with the Kahina Serum from time to time, and in the summer I love the pure argan oil. In the morning I layer this with the Kahina Facial Lotion, which makes a great skin primer before makeup and works well to protect and deeply moisturize the skin. For the eye area, I layer the Eye Cream over the Eye Serum to make my eyes look more fresh and awake and to minimize fine lines and wrinkles. And twice a week, I apply the Kahina Antioxidant Mask, letting it sit for approximately 20 minutes before massaging it into my skin as an exfoliating and detoxifying treatment. For body, I use a dry brush 3 times a week. I love my Mio Dry Brush. Then jump into the shower with our Rosemary Lavender Soap for some extra exfoliating. As a special treat, I use Savon Noir with Eucalyptus that I bring home with me from Morocco. Its made from the pits of olives and really softens skin. After the shower, I slather on the Kahina Fez Body Serum before jumping into bed. I love the way it makes my sheets smell!

O: What is your beauty motto?

K: Beauty does not simply come from a product that you slap on your face. It comes from taking care of yourself, and feeling good about yourself. Eating well, drinking lots of water, and getting plenty sleep are crucial. So is trying to eliminate stress and making time for the things that bring you pleasure. Beauty rituals can play a huge role in making you feel good and good about your appearance. An all-natural regimen will contribute to your health. Make the investment in high quality ingredients and take the time to enjoy the fragrances and textures that they provide.

O: What woman do you admire most and why?

K: Right now, I am obsessed with Joan Didion. Obviously, she is an amazing talent, and I have thoroughly enjoyed all of her books, which have resonated profoundly with me at different stages of my own life. She is a complicated person who has lived a fascinating life, according to her own rules, and shown us how to bear up under the most difficult of circumstances. She has always had a very laissez faire style, which is incredibly chic. As the model for the Celine ads, she is a perfect role model for women on how to age gracefully without conforming to anyone’s rules or conventional ideas of beauty.

O: What is a valuable lesson that you would like to share with your daughter?

K: I was a late bloomer in life, and very insecure growing up. My daughter is a junior in college now. I want her to know that she is beautiful and talented, and that she deserves to expect so much in her relationships. I also want her to trust that the universe has a path for her, and that she needn’t worry. There is no prescribed timeframe for life events to take place. She should trust in herself and life will work itself out.

O: What message would you like to share with women on International Women’s Day?

K: That we, as women, working together, can be such a force for positive change. We need to work to support each other and lift each other up.

An interview with Conde Nast Traveler

Katharine L'Heureux Illustration

The jet-setting beauty exec reveals her packing rituals, favorite airports, and why she’s not a fan of room service.
by Jada Yuan

On a trip to Morocco in 2007, Katharine L’Heureux’s skincare products were confiscated at the airport, so she asked her guide if he could recommend products used by local Berber women. He introduced her to argan oil, she became obsessed with its beautifying powers, and soon after, her own argan oil-based skincare line, Kahina Giving Beauty, was born. She flies from New York to Morocco several times a year and has learned the importance of multi-wheel luggage—and wearing pockets while flying.

How many miles would you say you’ve flown in your current role? Maybe 200,000. I go to California three times a year; Europe three or four times a year; and Australia once and Asia once. Last year was a light year: I only visited California twice, and Morocco, Germany, Sweden, and England once.

Do you have a packing ritual? I pack at least a week before so the night before a flight is very calm. And then I’ll probably repack because I’ll think, Oh gosh, did I put in my underwear? Which I probably didn’t.

What will you never pack? I blew out the fuse in a hotel in Morocco, so I know never to bring a blow dryer to Europe or Morocco. I never pack high heels. I like ankle boots that I can quickly take off getting on and off the plane. Fiorentino and Baker boots are stylish but they feel grounded.

What do you always pack? James Perse is a great travel brand because it folds up really small. And I always travel with a huge oversized scarf that I bought in Morocco; when I’m in Morocco, I use it to cover my head.

What do you wear on a flight? I think the most important thing I wear on a flight is a giant oversized coat with huge pockets because I’m always losing my passport or my tickets in my bag.

Favorite airport or least favorite airport? Least favorite airport is LaGuardia. It’s just awful and inefficient. In Casablanca, getting your bags can be a hassle. Everything is manual, nothing is automated, and they can just decide to take a break in the middle of unloading the luggage.

Are you a fan of room service? No, because I feel kind of sad if I’m doing room service. I have three kids and to me, traveling by myself is a great luxury. It feels like a time to get away and be by myself, and I don’t have any problem going out to restaurants by myself. I think that’s such a treat, to go out on my own in a place that I’m not familiar with.

Do you have a spot in Morocco you always go to or do you try out different hotels each time? In Morocco I generally like to go to the same place: my favorite place is in Fès called Riad Laaroussa. I’ve come to know the owners there, and the staff is just so welcoming whenever I stay there.

Read the original article here. Illustration Courtesy Louisa Cannell

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