When two beauty pioneers crossed paths over a decade ago - one with her glass jars filled to the brim with exotic floral salves; the other with a coveted location on Fillmore Street and a grand vision of the urban sanctuary it was to become - they had no idea it was the start of an enduring partnership fueled by passion and purpose. Now, with business expansion on the horizon for both brands, owners Julie Elliott (In Fiore) and Melissa Ferst (International Orange) share where it all started, how they've encouraged each other along the way, and what lies ahead.
Q: In Fiore launched the same year that International Orange was in beginning stages of development. How did you two meet? And how involved were you two in each other’s early creative process?
MF: I’ll never forget when Julie walked through the doors of International Orange in 2002. I think it was only a couple months after we opened. She wore her signature black outfit and hat and she smelled like heaven. She came in to show us her body balms that she was making in her kitchen. We had never seen, felt or smelled anything like them. It was new territory for us in terms of a product line but we signed on. We knew that Julie and In Fiore were the real deal!
JE: I launched In Fiore onto the market in 2001 and had been searching for the right partner - a place where In Fiore would be well presented and with like-minded people. When International Orange opened onto the San Francisco scene I knew the moment I walked through their doors this is where In Fiore needed to live. The spa-yoga-lounge concept and their aesthetic was entirely new and unlike anyplace else you had ever seen or experienced. Before I knew it they were incorporating our signature body balms into their retail and massage protocols. We knew right away we were a perfect fit and decided we would join forces. It was kismet.
Q: In Fiore was one of the first brands carried at International Orange. Julie, what did those early days in retail teach you about your brand, and how did it inform the evolution of your product line?
JE: I had learned very early on how integral our clientele was to our development of products and even overall philosophy. We paid attention to the needs of the clients through IO’s estheticians. In fact, our collection of Face Oil Concentrés were largely developed in response to how our signature balms were healing many of the facial issues our clients faced. We also noticed the estheticians dolling out samples of our balms to clients to target certain skin flare-ups such as burns and rashes. So essentially Décolleté inspired Nourrit, Chamomile balm inspired Calme, and so on. We ask our clients – friends, really – and act upon what they want, need or desire.
Q: At what point did In Fiore develop treatment products for facials at IO, and how did it affect each of your businesses?
MF: IO’s facials have always been unique in that we strive to make the facials about your skin AND your overall wellbeing. We choose only the most natural, effective and luxurious products and we incorporate a lot of massage into our facials. In Fiore fits in perfectly with that experience. The ingredients have so much integrity and they create this incredibly luxurious experience with their textures and aromas.
JE: It all grew very organically in the same way the product line evolved - acting upon the needs of the clients. To this day I still meet with the estheticians regularly to discuss their needs and desires. When a client has the opportunity to experience the product in treatment they're more likely to integrate them into their daily wellness regimen.
Q: You are both pioneers in the beauty world. In Fiore was the first luxury beauty care line formulated with pure oils and floral absolutes. International Orange has established itself as an iconic urban day spa committed to non-toxic products, whole body wellness and the simple, thoughtful ritual of self-care. What do you look to for inspiration?
MF: I am very inspired by my team. I feel profoundly blessed to get to work with them every day. And I draw inspiration from this city! I'm grateful to be opening a second location on the other side of the bridge. To have two businesses in San Francisco and Marin is just more than I ever could have imagined. Of course, Julie has been an inspiration to me over the last 13 years. She has helped IO grow in many ways, from our retail shop and our branded product line to her skincare products in our esthetics program.
JE: So many of our new ideas were inspired by everyday life or experiences when traveling. Inspiration is everywhere. For me, it’s about evolving with our clients and technologies, and marrying these with intuition. I think we’re all looking to heal the same things at the core.
Q: Melissa, what inspired you to open a Shop-in-Shop featuring only In Fiore products in your San Francisco location and how have guests responded?
MF: It felt like such a natural evolution of the partnership I have had with Julie over the last 13 years. It was also perfect timing (and timing can be everything!) - as we were transitioning out of our larger yoga program and expanding our retail space, it was important to have something really special to offer our clients along with this change. People are loving it. She has such a devoted following of her products and the design/esthetic of her shop in the IO Retail space works beautifully. It also inspired us to create the IO In Fiore facial which is truly a beautiful treatment.
Q: You’re both life-long advocates for self-care ritual. What rituals do you practice to stay healthy, grounded and inspired?
JE: My daily ritual always centers around holistic healing modalities such as dry brushing to oxygenate skin tissue and stimulate circulation of blood and lymph. This is always followed by either a long bath or alternating hot/cold shower. And, I mean, I always love an IO treatment added to the mix. To stay grounded for me its all about getting 8 hours of sleep every night. I make it a habit to unplug from all screens by 8:30pm so my mind and body have time to decompress.
MF: As a mom with 3 kids I do not have a ton of time for ritual but when I can, I love to incorporate the IO Bath Salts and an In Fiore body balm into a nightly bath. It is a recipe for pure relaxation. And as for my skin care regimen, I cannot live with out the In Fiore Calme Face oil. It is my all time favorite skincare product.
Q: Julie, you’re expanding your brand Internationally and Melissa, you’re expanding International Orange with a second location in Marin. What is most exciting for you about 2016?
JE: Yes, we'll have a big re-launch in Japan in Spring 2016 and from there continue to scale all of Asia. And we couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of IO's new location in Marin! I personally feel that once again IO will be raising the bar for day spas around the country.
MF: An IO on both sides of the bridge! I’m looking forward to bringing IO to a new group of people and to the challenge and invigoration of growth.
Q: Great brand partnerships like yours are rare and wonderful. What’s one lesson you’ve learned from the other that has helped you in business or in life?
MF: Julie’s support and belief in IO really helps me believe in myself as a businessperson. I see her growing her business and taking on all that comes with that and it inspires me to go for it too!
JE: If I were to choose only one lesson learned from our partnership it would be the beauty of collaboration and all its possibilities. We've accomplished so much together.
Interviewed by Rachel Roberts