Interviews

Founders of Bastide Frederic Fekkai and Shirin von Wulffen Share Their Beauty Secrets

Courtesy of Bastide

According to Shirin von Wulffen’s Instagram® account, one of the hardest decisions she’s had to make this summer is “plage” or “piscine.” She spends her summers in the South of France, soaking up the sun and inspiration for Bastide®, a beauty and lifestyle brand she runs with her husband and legendary hairstylist, Frédéric Fekkai.

“What I love about Frédéric is that he’s never afraid to make a decision,” says von Wulffen, who previously worked in communications and branding for boldface names like Gucci®, Tom Ford®, and Yves Saint Laurent®. “I’m a creative, so I waiver and think about things, but he’s very willing to make a decision in order to move forward, which is super important in business. He’s one of the few people who really has that left and right brain [thought process].” 

While vacillating between the beach and the pool is clearly a good problem to have, the choice may very well impact the next product the duo launches. “Everything that we create is grounded in moments or a feeling that you get when you’re in Provence,” explains von Wulffen of the home, or bastide, they renovated in Fekkai’s birthplace of Aix-en-Provence. “It’s those feelings that make us healthier when we are living in a city and running around.” For example, the brand recently launched its first skincare products, a purifying clay mask and a soothing oil, which are rooted in French beauty rituals that embrace seasonal ingredients and a slower pace. 

Similarly, Bastide’s Rose Olivier™ fragrance was born after Fekkai witnessed a rose and olive tree growing together in their garden, a common occurrence in Provence. “A rose bush falls in love with an olive tree and they grow symbiotically,” says Von Wulffen. “It’s the ultimate love story, because they nourish each other and stay together forever.”

The same could be said of Fekkai and von Wulffen, who have built their life and business together. While doing both simultaneously has its setbacks — like not being able to “turn off after hours,” says Fekkai — they align on most things, including branding, the way they run their company, and their clean, eco-friendly approach to beauty. Here, learn how this dynamic duo “fills up the tank” both in and outside of New York City, and why it’s “OK to have a fight” once in a while. Plus, the not-so-newlyweds (they tied the knot well over a decade ago) find out how well they really know each other outside of the office.

Spotlyte: Why did you decide to resurrect Bastide together?

Frédéric Fekkai: I’m from Aix-en-Provence, and I wanted to make sure that [my hometown] was represented very differently than other beauty brands. I wanted products that were less mainstream. I wanted to celebrate formulas that were eco-friendly, clean, and non-toxic, but still luxurious. I was very happy to see that [Côte Bastide®, the original name of the 26-year-old French skincare company,] was authentic and original. It celebrated not only the artisans of Provence, but also the region’s ingredients.

Shirin von Wulffen: I was born in Iran and grew up between Germany and the U.S. After spending time in Provence, I realized that it’s truly a lifestyle. You can live very well with just the nature around you. The people who live there eat seasonally and think about putting things on their skin in a seasonal way. They’re very in tune with their bodies and what’s happening in nature. That was really something I wanted to bring into our own home. 

We basically started this project in Provence because we wanted products that we could use and put on our children. Bastide almost created itself — it came out of our own bastide. We have olive trees, fig trees, and lavender on our property. Everything we make is really inspired by our life here and taking the time to think about what the body needs both inside and out. 

Spotlyte: Who usually gets their way when it comes to creating Bastide products?

SVW: I would say it’s Frédéric, and he would probably say it’s me! We’re a small team, but a great team. It’s not just Frédéric and meI — we work with amazing people, so everyone is involved. At the end, however, it has to be something that really resonates with us. Everything we do we try to link to an experience we’ve had, so in a sense, we both get our way!

Spotlyte: Has there ever been a product where you’ve disagreed? 

FF: Not really on products, but sometimes we disagree on the execution of things, like packaging or aesthetic. 

Spotlyte: How do you come to a resolution?

SVW: One thing I had to learn in working with Frédéric was how to argue and really speak up for what I believe in. Sometimes things will go my way, and sometimes they won’t. I usually like to keep everyone happy, but there are times that we really argue, and that’s OK too. You just have to put that behind you and make sure you move forward. I think it’s also OK to have a fight and not agree. Sometimes, it’s a third party that helps us come to a conclusion.

Spotlyte: What product are each of you most proud of?

FF: There are many, but the one that I’m excited about today is Huile Seche Epatante™, which is a dry body oil. A close second is Verveine du Sud™, an eau de toilette. 

SVW: Frédéric literally gets stopped on the street when he wears Verveine du Sud! We both wear it. I’ve been with him twice when people stop him to ask what fragrance he’s wearing. Once it was in a restaurant, and once it was a guy parking our car.

To add to that, Corps-a-Corps™ Body Cream is really rich and nourishing, but super lightweight, so you never feel greasy. It comes in a beautiful pot, and you can put it on after the shower. Sometimes, I’ll use the Huile Seche Epatante, and then layer the body cream over it to really protect my skin. Plus, it smells awesome.

Courtesy of Bastide

Spotlyte: Have you learned anything new about one another after working together?

FF: I learned that you need to analyze and figure out what your partner’s best skills are. Shirin has many great ideas. She has a clear vision on how the brand should be presented, and what we should and shouldn’t do. It’s hard not to get distracted, because there are so many projects and you always want to be involved in everything, but I try to focus on what I do best. 

SVW: What I love about Frédéric is that he’s never afraid to make a decision. He’s one of the few people that really has that left and right brain [thought process]. On the one hand, he has a great business mind; and on the other, he’s very creative. He’s an amazing multitasker — he can be cutting hair one minute and coming up with a great fragrance, or sitting in a meeting with investment bankers the next. 

Spotlyte: What is the biggest difference between the French and American approach to beauty?

FF: The French attitude towards beauty is that less is more. It’s thought of in the most natural way. It’s all about rituals. The American approach is about instant, fast beauty, while the French take a slower approach. 

SVW: While I was obviously exposed to Europe a lot as a young kid, I grew up in America and spent my late twenties and thirties in New York. In France, people are much more concerned about keeping their skin in good condition and not having inflammation. They don’t overdo it. They really think about longevity. It’s not about being afraid to get old, but keeping your skin as good as it can be for as long as it can be. The French really take care of their skin on a daily basis with beautiful rituals that require you to make time for yourself. It’s much more holistic. They opt for a soft, seasonal approach, rather than an aggressive, quick fix. Americans are beginning to think that way more and more — it’s about the whole body and how you feel. It’s about thinking long term.

Spotlyte: Is there a beauty treatment you both swear by?

SVW: I recently tried FaceLove®, which is a great way to relax all the facial muscles. It’s a bit like FaceGym® in that it tones, gets your muscles working again, and lifts everything back to where it should be, but it’s also really relaxing. You don’t realize how much tension you hold in your face. We go to the gym for our bodies, but sometimes it’s the face that’s holding onto stress and tension. Aida Bicaj also does great facials, so I go to her once a month or every two months. 

FF: When we are in the South of France, we have a wonderful facialist, Valérie Holozet, who comes to our house. She does this incredible cocktail of essential oils and massage, along with cleansing and moisturizing. It is 75 minutes of heaven! The treatment smells great and she has a fantastic touch. It’s truly luxury. There’s nothing that comes close to that. We’ve had guests, so we give our facials to them, but I’m making an appointment to see her ASAP. 

Spotlyte: Are there any beauty products that you share? Anything you refuse to share?

SVW: Shampoo! 

FF: For sure the Fekkai® Brilliant Glossing Shampoo. I think I steal mostly her lip balm. 

SVW: That’s true — the Biologique Recherche® Biokiss™ Lip Balm is amazing.

FF: I did take her shaving cream when I was in the shower the other day, and Shirin didn’t like that!  

SVW: Well, when something is gone and you have none left, then it really is off limits. You have to replace it if you use it! 

Spotlyte: Who has the more extensive beauty routine? What are each of your must-have products?

SVW: I do. I’m a girl. I always double-cleanse. I don’t go to bed without washing my face. I love experimenting with makeup and trying new things. I’m more of the beauty junkie! In our bathroom, we each have a sink and the shower divides them, so we have our own territories. Right now, I’m in love with Biologique Recherche P50™. I use it on my skin, but my new discovery is using it on my lips and putting Biokiss on right after. It stings a little bit, but [the duo] seems to plump your lips and keep them moist. We’re also working on skincare, so I’m always trying that. The sunscreen from Medical Beauty Research is a new product that I love because it’s really light. It’s hard to find sunscreen that isn’t thick or clogging. For a long time, I didn’t want to put on sunscreen because of the chemicals, but it’s the one way to [help] keep your skin from aging. 

FF: I swear by our dry oil because I’m always outdoors on the weekend. My skin gets very dry from biking and the sun. It also smells delicious.

SVW: We take Huile Seche Epatante to the beach. We put it on our kids after they get out of the pool. It smells like orange blossom, so it’s great for winter and summer. You can even put it in your hair to keep it moist. It’s our beauty staple for sure.

Spotlyte: What is your favorite way to de-stress in New York City? 

FF: During the week, I have rituals. I go to the gym twice a week, and I have a yoga session once a week. It helps me de-stress and find balance. On Friday afternoons, we drive to our farm in upstate New York. There’s no noise. No light. Nobody around. It’s just wind, water, and animals. It’s the most amazing meditation soundtrack! On Sundays, Shirin and I schedule a 90-minute massage at home. Claudia Chagui does deep tissue massage and Kelsey Smith is our go-to for Thai massage. I like to stretch as much as I can.

Courtesy of Bastide

SVW: We use the same trainer from FitLink℠ twice a week, Daniel Flores. Our yoga instructor is Hannah Casey. She’s really incredible because she does stretching, yoga, and meditation. You can tailor your session to whatever you need. She’s one of those people who has really figured out how to get through the day. For example, doing [an inversion] with your feet up on the wall for 15 minutes can change your entire mood. 

I also remember someone telling me that if you’re really present in everything that you do, then you almost don’t need to meditate. If I’m having a great cup of coffee, I really try to take that in. Or, if I’m walking down the street and see a sunlit corner, I’ll try to stand there for a second and close my eyes. If you pay attention, you can find little moments in the city where you can de-stress and remember to breathe and zone out for a minute. When we’re in Millbrook, I walk with my kids and the dogs for an hour. You really have to go and do it to realize how impactful nature is.

Spotlyte: What inspires and energizes you about Aix-en-Provence?

FF: For me, the light is the number one factor. The air where we are is very clean and pure. As soon as you arrive in Provence, there is a whole different schedule. You move at a very consistent and measured pace, which is a much more pleasant way to enjoy the day. The air, the light, the smells, and the colors give you great energy, which is why many famous painters worked and lived there. 

SVW: For me, it’s the incredible smells. People call it the fertile crescent, which is why the ingredients in Provence are so powerful. Nature just grows better there. It’s by the ocean, so you smell a bit of salt, dry pine needles, and wildflowers. The light and smells make you want to be more creative. It’s when we are in Provence that we have most of our ideas.

Spotlyte: Let’s do a speed round of questions to see how well you know each other. Frédéric, if Shirin could describe you in one word, what would it be?

FF: High-strung! 

SVW: I would say charismatic and magnetic.

Spotlyte: Shirin, if Frédéric could describe you in one word, what do you think it would be?

SVW: He would probably say I’m all over the place!

FF: Down to earth, very caring, and very creative.

Spotlyte: Frédéric, if Shirin could choose one thing in your beauty stash to steal for herself, what would it be?

FF: I’m thinking…

SVW: Your razor! He also has this great boar bristle brush that he uses to put shaving cream on his face. I love the idea of that! I want to use it for shaving. 

Spotlyte: Shirin, what would Frédéric steal from your stash?

SVW: Aside from the Biokiss lip balm, I don’t think anything.

FF: Actually, I do! Very often, I crave micellar water. I want to give my skin some relief from the usual water and pollution.

SVW: I like the micellar water from Bioderma®.

Spotlyte: Shirin, what was the first meal Frédéric ever cooked for you? Was it good?

SVW: Frédéric is a really good cook! I think it was probably ratatouille, which is still my favorite meal of all time. I could eat it for the rest of my life and be fine.

Spotlyte: Frédéric, what was the first meal Shirin ever cooked for you?

FF: She has many good qualities! (Laughs.) It’s not that she’s not a good cook, it’s that she doesn’t do it much. She is the best baker. She makes incredible pancakes. It’s simple, but what I love is breakfast. Two eggs sunny side up, a baguette toasted with fantastic French butter and jam, and oatmeal. 

Spotlyte: Shirin, is there a word that best describes Frédéric in the morning?

SVW: One of the things I love about him is that he always wakes up in a good mood — always. He has tons of energy and tons of ideas. He’s ready to roll! I’m still waking up and he’s already running at 150 miles per hour. He wakes up much earlier than I do, too. He’s just a bundle of energy and positivity, which is really amazing. If you wake up that way, you already have a head start.

Spotlyte: Frédéric, what word best describes Shirin in the morning?

FF: It’s amazing to see Shirin in the morning because she’s a very uplifting and happy person. She’s very organized and responsible for most of the morning duties, like getting the kids ready, preparing their breakfast and snack, and walking them to school.

Spotlyte: Shirin, where is Frédéric’s happy place?

SVW: Provence for sure. His dream was to have a shower with a window where he can look out over our olive trees and rose bushes. So I’d say that’s his happy place.

FF: I’m happy if I can look outside and be outside!

Spotlyte: What about Shirin’s happy place?

FF: Of course, she loves Provence, but I think she is very happy upstate in New York since she grew up on a farm. Every day that we are in Millbrook, she takes our four dogs and two children for a long walk. They always come back with a good story. 

Spotlyte: Name one thing on Frédéric’s bucket list.

SVW: He’s always running so fast, so maybe it’s living in France full-time and really slowing down. Otherwise, he’s done everything—twice!

FF: I think so, yeah!

Spotlyte: What is left on Shirin’s bucket list?

FF: Shirin loves to discover things, so maybe another trip to an exotic place like Marrakech, which she just visited.

SVW: He’s so right! I was born in Iran, so when I was in the markets in Marrakech, I had this feeling of being home. I’d definitely like to go somewhere exotic and Middle Eastern. I was born in Isfahan and I haven’t been back since I was four. Tehran and Isfahan are on my bucket list.

Spotlyte: Frédéric, describe Shirin on your first date?

FF: Because I’m European, her pure and sophisticated attitude was very refreshing. She’s also very beautiful and real. It was very much love at first sight.

Spotlyte: Shirin, what was your experience?

SVW: Frédéric kind of scared me initially because he was so good looking! I thought he was too perfect. I thought he couldn’t be real. I remember feeling this magnetism and I didn’t know whether to be afraid of it or fall for it. It really moved me for sure. 

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