My tryst with travel started with ‘beauty’. I was looking after the beauty editorial in the luxury vertical of the Times of India and my first international assignment took me to Cannes (France) to cover the Tax-free World Association, popularly known as TFWA.
Lavender is a feeling, not a flower
The moment I landed in Cannes (France) for the first time in 2008, I was smitten by this strong and distinct smell that filled up my senses. It was a Sunday, and as much as I was eager to discover the city, I was also worried about losing my way, till the time I caught a particularly distinct whiff. I followed my nose which led me to a stall of lavender blooms in a farmer’s market alongside the famous French Riviera. I fell head over heels for the imagery of purple flowers, some dried some fresh stalks, in jars, in pillows and sachets, billowing next to the exquisite seafront in the signature warmth of the south of France. It was love at first whiff for me. Beyond the pretty picture, lavender blooms soothe, heal and uplift. Since then, lavender to me is not just a flower but a metaphor for my idea of ‘beauty inside out’. That’s why besides some pure lavender essential oil, I also make it a point to stock up on bath and body products which have lavender in their ingredient list.
Feeling fabulous in your skin is a journey
Attending Tax-free World Association (TFWA) exhibition at Cannes for three consecutive years gave me opportunities to interact with the Directors and Founders of luxury skincare, make-up and fragrance brands. It was interesting to note how the marketing and PR team of international beauty and fragrance brands were driven by women. And besides the business of beauty, the latest scientific advancements and breakthrough technology, there was banter and talk about our upbringing, values, cultural diversity and beauty rituals. I distinctly remember one such conversation with the charming Sarah Ben Kemoun, from Guerlain’s International Public Relations Division. She mentioned how visiting the brand’s iconic flagship store at 68 Champs Elysees (Paris) was considered a rite of passage for young Parisiennes, who are taken to the legendary store by their mothers.
I asked Sarah what is the real secret to the “French Beauty”? She smiled, “Parisian women love quality beauty products but we aren’t obsessed about beauty. We have been taught to live life lightly. A French bride doesn’t care much about being perfect. That’s the key, I think. We live in the moment and don’t care much about perfection.” It is these conversations which stayed with me and made a lasting impact. Having interviewed travelled and interacted with vivacious women across the world, I believe that beauty is a mind game, and feeling fabulous in your skin is a journey. It is indulging yourself with the best (not necessarily the most expensive) products and having the courage to choose what works for you and letting go of what doesn’t.
Asian beauty elixirs
The more I travelled, the more I was sure that beauty traditions are threads that tie women across different ages and communities. During my visit to Indonesia, I was intrigued by the morning detox drink or jamu, made of roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves and fruits. It reminded me of ayurvedic kadhas back home. And that piqued my curiosity. I was in Bintan for a spa review and the spa manager let me inside what seemed like an exotic pre-wedding ritual. As she was sharing, I felt a lot of similarities between the Indonesian pre-wedding bath and the Indian Haldi ceremony. So here goes the intimate family ritual: the bride is asked to sit on a chair, and the first person to pour water over her head is her father, followed by her mother and the elderly women of the family. The last person to bathe her is often the traditional bridal beautician. Natural cleansers such as rice water, coconut milk and tamarind juice are preferred over commercial ones. Recently, rice water is having a renaissance of sorts, with skincare junkies experimenting with this fermented elixir to tame their frizz and banish the blemishes. Coconut milk is another go-to ingredient which takes me to south-east Asia. I look for it in my body lotions and creams.
And my friends from Europe and America are actively conscious of the curcumin or the humble Haldi. Curcumin, an antioxidant that is present in turmeric, has proven anti-inflammatory benefits and even works as a mild antidepressant. My international friends are always intrigued to know about the Haldi ceremony before the wedding and the various ubtans (body masks if you please) made by mixing pure turmeric powder with milk or rosewater and applied by married women of the family.
Middle Eastern Clay masks
Talking of wedding jitters, every culture almost has a beauty ritual to calm the pre-wedding nerves. And this ritual when recreated works amazingly to smoothen the frayed nerves even later. The famous ‘henna evening’ in Turkish weddings is organised the night before the big day to keep the proverbial butterflies at bay. It is said to be one of those occasions when the older and ‘wiser’ women share their tips for a happy marriage. Another Middle-eastern bridal ritual includes a milk bath in a hammam. I was told that this informal ceremony is similar to a modern-day bridal shower, where the female attendants, usually older married women assist the bride through the procedure, while playfully sharing tips for conjugal bliss. A quick fix to recreate this magic is to try milk bath masks, which typically also contain rose extracts and clay. Personally, whenever I want to have the princess feels, I whip up an easy clay body mask, made of rhassoul (if I have access to it) or Multani mitti mixed with milk powder and rose water. I just feel it channels my inner Cleopatra vibes.
Travel inspires. Travel rejuvenates. Travel breaks the monotony. While most of us are staying at home, we can, however, brighten up the routine by introducing our dressers to some of the jet-setting products that can transport us to our preferred destination, even if only momentarily.
About the author
Aparrna Gupta is a renowned holistic beauty and wellness writer. An ex-beauty editor at the Times Luxury Division and Verve, she has almost two decades of expertise in wellness and scientific world of beauty, and regularly contributes to prestige and luxury Indian magazines. A literature post-graduate from Lady Shri Ram College for Women (Delhi University), Aparrna also consults brands on content strategy and product development. Her blog, lavenderoom.com, is an attempt to immerse her readers into the energising universe of fragrances, wellness and skincare.