23 Mar How 19th century beauty secrets made it into our homes – the Victorian Garden story
I very clearly remember the day I walked into one of my favourite little health shops on Kloof street in Cape Town, probably about 8 years ago now, and discovered, and consequently fell in love with the Victorian Garden Range. The conditioners smelt amazing, taking me off to faraway places and the creams and lotions, abundant with luxurious aroma already made me feel therapeutically nourished. They had an old world charm about them that simply can’t be manufactured. Would you believe me if I told you the recipes that make up the range really were passed down in a handwritten leather journal? I touched base with Brian and Lindsay Salthouse, founders of the popular range and keepers of all these treasured, aromatic secrets.
Before they wandered down the path of the Victorian Garden range, Brian and Lindsay lead rather different lives. Brian was a Director of Rank Xerox and Lindsay previously worked for Rand Merchant Bank Property Division. So how did this endeavour unfold?
You guys were one of the first on the scene with such an incredible range. Was it a challenge launching your range or were people eager for organic products?
We were the first to offer South African made products, in January 1991. We started small but the reaction and excitement from customers grew so quickly that we had to make heart stopping decisions on the best way forward. It was clear that we could not cope with the demands of hand making products in batches of 50 in our kitchen indefinitely. We’ve grown our business for twenty-five years in alignment with our passion for natural and organic principles and our unwillingness to compromise on quality.
I heard a rumour that there really was a book handed down with ancient recipes in it? Is this true and how did it come to you?
Well, not quite a book, but rather two large diaries which were my great grandmother’s, Lady Frances Glover-Anderson. The diaries date back to 1837 and are very precious. They are kept in my brother’s safe inside his
famous 1870 Victorian Water Tower home in England.
Did you feel like you owed it to the world to recreate these recipes and make them available?
Coming from England in the 1970’s, I could not find any locally made natural products. I found shop bought products here in SA to be unpleasant mixtures of chemicals and dead matter, tested on animals and contributing to the destruction of our environment. I also saw a lot of skin problems which I knew natural herbs and oils could heal. My grandmother always had a gorgeous skin and told me Victorian ladies were admired for their flawless complexions, which most somehow managed to preserve well into old age. This was due not only to the moist English climate and avoidance of the sun but also to the clever handcrafting of herbal creams and lotions using home-grown organic ingredients from herb and flower gardens.
With passion and determination I felt sure I had enough knowledge to create an alternative to what was available on the market – beautiful, natural products which would benefit skin and hair naturally at a fraction of the cost of expensive, chemically mass produced products.
I’m assuming the ‘recipe’ journals of Victorian Garden treasured beauty secrets doesn’t replenish itself magically with new recipes. Where do you find new inspiration in keeping with the beauty methods the brand is based on?
We often get this inspiration from our customers who bring suggestions to us. As a beauty therapist for many years, I know what works on the skin and regularly research new innovative ingredients which, if they comply with our natural/organic protocol, we may consider using.
You say you use ingredients that were abundant in the Victorian Era. Are all these ingredients still widely available and sustainably so?
Generally, yes. Rosemary, lavender, lemon, parsley, pelargonium, chamomile, mint, thyme, fennel and orange blossom are all generally still available. Some of the ingredients we use in our Royal Tudor products are rare and sometimes difficult to source – ingredients such as pomegranate, mimosa, elderflower, eyebright and honeysuckle. We have our loyal suppliers whom we trust to purchase only from sustainable sources.
Where are the products manufactured? I imagine with such an extensive range you must have a pretty established production facility.
Yes, we have two South African manufacturing laboratories we contract to, who produce our formulations for us under our instruction. Our products and manufacturing processes at these two laboratories have in recent years undergone the rigorous scrutiny of the international GMP (Good Manufacturing Processes). And we are the first South African company to be accredited with the international Cruelty Free/Leaping Bunny USA/UK organisation.
Which product in the range was a surprise best-seller to you?
We have three all equal top sellers, all surprising and all retain their ‘hot seller’ status. These are our traditional Vintage Victorian Rose and Chamomile Day Moisturizer, our Avocado and Pelargonium Night Cream and Rosehip Healing Facial Serum.
What was the biggest curve ball or hardest lesson learnt in starting this brand, that you can share a learning from.
Finding the right staff and building a team. Finding biochemists who are on the same ‘natural and organic’
page as us, and are prepared to work with us to create high quality products using only the very best ingredients.
Any beauty trends or secrets you rely on that weren’t passed down in the book?
The importance of nutrition and hormone balance! A beautiful, healthy, smooth skin is within reach for us all. But eating and drinking healthily is an incredibly important subject, as whatever food choices we make will ultimately show on our skin. We share this topic, and the common concerns of hormonal–imbalance-related skin problems, regularly with customers who have skin problem questions and it is amazing what a difference understanding these two subjects makes.
Biggest gratitude reflecting back on this journey?
To own and run our own business – gratitude firstly to God for blessing me with knowledge and the imagination to pursue my passion, to my great grandmother for unwittingly leaving me an inspirational legacy,and to my husband for always supporting my, sometimes wild, creative ideas and giving up his own work to come in with me and nurture what started out as a seed of an idea, and has grown to a very successful entrepreneurial business.
Special thanks to Lindsay and Brian for sharing their story, inspiration and Victorian Beauty secrets with us.