Luxury in Nature

Walking through the beauty department of any store has always been a tricky affair. Whether it’s the fluorescent-lit aisles of a big box chain or the tony carpeted enclave of Bergdorf Goodman’s lower level, it always manages to be as stressful as it is engrossing. The choices are endless and even casually strolling through is like being accosted with mountains of exquisitely packaged, shiny new products each touting a specific benefit or its warrior-like effectiveness toward one skin-related issue or the other. It usually goes a bit like this:

After quickly scanning the selection, your eye lands on something intriguing. It could be a luxe face cream or hydrating mask advertising a host of carefully edited reasons why you must have it and, these days, one of those reasons is bound to be its uncompromising naturalness. You pick it up, heeding it’s weight, turn it over and see a surprisingly long ingredient list that is natural…sort of. There’s bound to be some kind of shea butter, almond oil, rosehip or grapeseed extract, but those only comprise so much of the unusually dense text. The few plant-based ingredients are suspended in a blend of gums, fillers and waxes that you’re promised are kept to a minimum and present only so that the treasured naturals can withstand the climate of your medicine cabinet or vanity. And perhaps that could sway you, but, in a certain stratum of skincare, that’s only until you notice the astonishing price. Eye creams that come in a fraction of an ounce can exceed $350 from certain brands with serums and moisturizers of similarly scant supply even crossing the $1,000 mark.

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Is paying so much for something with a large percentage of synthetic ingredients that serve no function for the health of your skin worth it? Eileen Feighny doesn’t think so and that’s where her groundbreaking new brand Tulura comes in.

Born in Seoul to a Korean mother who owned an agency bringing international models to the Asian market and an American father who was in the United States Army, Feighny has potent recollections of her childhood, nearly all of which seem to be intertwined with nature. “I have memories of her growing her own bean sprouts and making her own tofu,” she said when speaking of her mother. “We’d forage for different medicinal plants in hidden rural pockets of Seoul…We always had a fridge FULL of banchan, with tons of strange medicinal herbs, roots, and flowers to eat. She occasionally even made her own black raspberry wine. She always had a remedy for whatever ailed you.” She loved the dichotomy between the constant hum of cosmopolitan city life and the tranquility that nature provided. Feighny’s family eventually relocated to Hawaii when she was 11 and though she was a self-proclaimed “city rat going into the country,” nature managed to find her once again. All of her friends used various natural oils and she was astonished that none of them ever burned despite spending many hours outdoors. Seeing the powerful results of those oils in action left an impression whose impact would only be felt years later.

Feighny, 33, is everything you’d expect the founder of a skincare line to be–well-spoken, poised and with skin that has the same deep intrinsic glow of velvet when it catches light. By looking at her, you would suspect she was one of those entrepreneurs who created a product for which she herself has little need, but the inverse is true. She started modeling professionally at a young age landing many commercial jobs and small beauty editorials based on her luminous complexion, but it wasn’t long before she developed severe cystic acne. Feighny visited five different dermatologists in New York City and always walked away with nothing more than a cortisone injection that offered some minor temporary relief or a topical treatment that burned and irritated the skin more often than not. Things seemed to go in circles with no clear end in sight. “I would go to castings with bandaids on my face because I felt it would be better if the client thought I had hurt myself rather than seeing a massive breakout,” said Feighny. That white lie turned out to foreshadow the singular event that would catapult her on a new path.

Four years ago, Feighny was visiting friends when she took a spill over an outdoor deck chair in the dark late one night after it was moved without her knowledge. She went flying, chipping teeth, cutting her inner lip and developing a massive bruise on her chin…three days before a beauty shoot for Korean Allure. She traveled to South Korea the next day and, upon seeing her condition, her mother took her straight to an acupuncturist and facialist who both performed some decidedly painful manipulations and gave her herbal tonics to drink. “I went home and slept for 13 hours straight,” said Feighny. “I woke up and my huge bruise was gone in time for the shoot. It really made me feel strongly about the healing power of touch and nature. There’s so much we don’t know.”

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Her accident sparked a renewed interest in the kinds of natural treatments she had grown up with. Though Feighny had concocted the occasional batch of scented oils for friends, she didn’t yet possess the formal knowledge that would allow her to delve more deeply into the subject and be taken seriously by an enthusiastic clientele. After a stint in San Francisco procuring her esthetician’s license, Feighny returned to New York with a fortified perspective on what brings about optimal skin health.

The healing experience in Korea combined with what she knew of oils from her bi-continental childhood seemed totally at odds with every other product she found in stores. The focus was most definitely on oil-free formulations. When asked why she thinks that trend has held so firm, she lamented, “It’s the fat free thing,” speaking in direct reference to the spate of reduced fat and fat free foods that were inescapable earlier in the millennium, only to be discarded when their harsh side effects surfaced and the values of healthy fats came to the fore. Feighny knew that oils were not only beneficial but could directly combat the kinds of skin conditions she struggled with and the many sources of inflammation that plague men and women everywhere in the form of acne, dry patches and redness.

There were many brands sold at health food stores or even high-end retailers which had natural ingredients, however, most employed at least some elements of greenwashing (the practice of advertising misinformation so as to make an organization or product appear more environmentally responsible than it is). Feighny finds certain claims particularly egregious. “NO CHEMICALS!,” she exclaimed. “How absurd. Everything around us is chemical; water, oxygen. I just didn’t see a brand out there that actually was what it said and had really beautiful, minimal, packaging. The market is all over the place.” Feighny began experimenting and it didn’t take long before her personal project became the seed of a true business for which she required the assistance of an experienced professional. She is adamant that Tulura isn’t a one-woman show and credits Frédéric della Faille for helping her construct her vision in the real world.

Originally from Belgium, della Faille, 41, is an entrepreneur, designer, Feighny’s business partner and her fiance. His interest in the arts started early, originally manifesting itself in graffiti in the 90s before he found his way to graphic and web design. He spent 15 years in marketing until launching his own app, which he operated for a short but intense period of time. “We sold the company and after two years of dealing with three million users, I burned out,” della Faille said. “For a year, I was focused on closing the deal to sell the company and trying to see what I could do after so many years of tech.” In essence, he was looking for a job as far away from the field as possible. “Eileen was studying in San Francisco,” he continued, “and talking about starting a line and I admired the dream of ‘let’s have a line’, but I also knew by experience that building a brand takes time. If you don’t have tech experience, you have to rely on tech agencies. I realized I could help on anything that wasn’t the product or the facial service.”

Feighny has unwavering faith in both della Faille and the incredible skill set he brings with him. She considers him immensely elegant with the kind of exquisite, reserved taste so many of his countrymen are known for. “At first, Fred was just guiding me and giving advice on different business decisions and we brought several people in to work on the line,” Feighny said. “But, in the end, he stepped in and became more involved. Some people may remark about how difficult it may be to work together and live together, but, ultimately, I trust him with my life and I wouldn’t do this with anyone else. He pushes me into making things happen. While I can very easily sit and dwell and contemplate on every single thing that can go wrong, he helps me snap out of it and ‘ship it’. When it comes to business he can be very unemotional, which I struggle with. He’s very wise and seasoned, and always sees the humor in bad situations.”

When it came to giving her venture an official designation, she chose a childhood nickname that was inspired by the doo-wop-like segments of the Dexys Midnight Runners’ classic Come on Eileen and Tulura was born.

Duality has been a central theme of Feighny’s life whether it be that of her cultural heritage or her passion for both the science and art of skincare. It’s a theme that has even seeped its way into her first two products. To launch the line, she introduced a signature duo to be used in concert: a vitamin peptide serum developed in close collaboration with an award-winning chemist and a botanical facial oil Feighny concocted on her own.

Frustrated that even the most elevated brands in the industry often employ no more than 30 percent active ingredients (actives being the functional ingredients responsible for a product’s desired results) and are usually diluted with synthetic emulsifiers, Feighny proudly yet matter of factly stated, “We have 100 percent actives,” which are all naturally derived. The final results are so natural in fact that she and della Faille had to push their U.S.-based green manufacturer insisting that the inherent six-month shelf life of both products was more than enough time to use them without having to resort to artificial preservatives. For the botanical facial oil, a nourishing blend of hemp, tamanu, marula and several other oils were brought together specifically for their intense therapeutic properties. “Anything healing or therapeutic, I love,” she said. “It can’t just be moisturizing. It needs to be working double time for it to be included in the formulation!”

Every unit is sold as a pair in a luxuriously thick white cardboard box debossed with the brand’s logo. It smoothly opens much like the books della Faille studied to conceive the current style. Each part of The Duo contains an ounce of product with both elements sold collectively for $140–free shipping and returns included–a stellar price possible because of a direct-to-consumer model. But in a surprising twist, the pair is stamped ‘Spring Summer 2017’ because both formulas will be tweaked with the change of every season to best take advantage of the freshest, most potent ingredients while giving customers something new to explore. The change also has another practical purpose. “People develop sensitization from over-usage of essential oils,” said Feighny, so new ingredients will ensure that the products remain highly effective without causing irritation. According to della Faille, Feighny has used both in her Tribeca studio since receiving the first batch of samples six months ago and the clients could not be happier.

However, to continue growing, the brand faces an uphill battle. “In terms of business, it amazes me how the industry is made with giants,” said della Faille. “That is an interesting challenge–how to be heard. It comes back to the passion.” But he acknowledges that one swipe of a Visa garners access to great technologies for communicating with customers, tracking inventory and keeping tabs on shipping that make the dream of Tulura possible in a way that could not have come about a decade ago. To enhance engagement, both will soon start the process of surveying customers to determine a charitable partner who will receive a portion of the proceeds going forward in keeping with the brand’s ethos. Regarding long-term plans, Feighny would like to see a day when everyone uses proven natural ingredient to nourish his skin foregoing the harsher treatments of the past. But della Faille’s most cherished goal? That Feighny remains enduringly happy doing the work she so loves.

When it comes to what’s up next for her burgeoning lineup, Feighny hopes to develop an oil cleanser to move the industry and population at large away from using soaps on the skin. In fact, there are a few products in the works, but, notably, only a few. She admits that while there is most definitely a brilliance to the Korean skin regimes that have made them a global phenomenon, the idea of going through 15 steps morning and night is unrealistic with the limited time most people have. Much like the aesthetics of her packaging and sun-dappled studio space, Feighny’s intention with Tulura is thus: “Simplicity. That’s it.”

written by martin lerma