Beauty from a Hungarian spring

Beauty from a Hungarian spring
PHOTO: Omorovicza

Call it a stroke of serendipity.

A commercial lawyer by training, Mr Stephen de Heinrich de Omorovicza never dreamt that, one day, he would be bottling and selling ancient Hungarian thermal water with anti-ageing benefits.

Or that A-list Hollywood celebrities - the likes of actresses Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman and Mila Kunis - would become fans of his Hungarian spring water-infused brand of skincare, Omorovicza.

It all started when Mr de Heinrich de Omorovicza visited Budapest in the early 2000s.

A Swiss-Hungarian of noble lineage, his roots can be traced back to the ancient city known for its therapeutic springs.

As luck would have it, a friend recommended he visit a particular spa, the Racz Bath. "He told me to check it out because my last name 'was all over it'," he recalls.

Later, he discovered that the bath was indeed built by his ancestor five generations back.

"I rang up my family to ask if anybody knew about it and they said yes, although they remembered it only when I called," says the 44-year-old with a grin.

"I've grown up with all these stories about Hungary, but nobody had ever mentioned anything about the bath."

Mr de Heinrich de Omorovicza did not know much about spas then, but decided to impress his American date (and now wife) Margaret by taking her to the Racz Bath that was founded by the Omorovicza family in the 1800s.

"I had to convince Margaret to go because Americans don't soak in public baths," says the London- based father of three. "But after that first time, she was hooked. She said her complexion just got better after every session."

Mrs de Heinrich de Omorovicza, 41, was formerly a chief of staff at the American embassy in Budapest.

The reason for the potency of Hungarian spa water? The crust of the earth in that geographical region is supposedly thinner than elsewhere, and the rocks deep in the ground are hotter and more brittle than usual. Hence the thermal water that seeps through these rocks is especially rich in minerals.

"The combination of minerals rejuvenates the skin. And we thought we should bottle the water and create a range of skincare as nobody was doing it," says Mr de Heinrich de Omorovicza.

The plan sounded romantic, but putting it into action was tricky.

The pair consulted a dermatologist friend and was told the minerals are absorbed by the skin only when they are broken down in the hot water of a spa.

The solution? A fermentation process where yeast is used to absorb the minerals in the water and turn them into compounds that can be readily absorbed by the skin.

In 2006, the duo launched the Omorovicza brand with eight skincare products and a flagship store in Budapest.

A couple of years later, the brand broke into the international market when it was picked up by upscale department stores Harvey Nichols in the United Kingdom and Neiman Marcus in the United States. Omorovicza is now sold in 32 markets including Brazil, Dubai, South Korea and Mauritius.

In Singapore, it is available at Beautique on level three of Takashimaya Department Store.

The brand is also known for its spas that are helmed by beauticians trained in traditional Hungarian massage techniques.

"The Hungarians are so good with their treatments. They massage with the full length of their hands and can lift the face visibly," says Mr de Heinrich de Omorovicza. "And it is such a compelling way to introduce people to our brand."

He adds that it is not uncommon for his senior therapists to disappear for months on end as they are often called to work on the faces of celebrities on movie sets.

"We rely on our massages and word-of-mouth to expand our business," says Mr de Heinrich de Omorovicza, who once personally delivered a jar of cream to Mr "James Bond" Daniel Craig.

Today, the brand's spa services are also offered at various Four Seasons, St Regis, Oberoi and Grand Hyatt hotels globally.

While all of the Omorovicza products contain the mineral-rich essences of the Racz Bath - the Queen of Hungary Mist ($115) is mainly made up of just spa water - the line has since expanded to include healing ingredients from elsewhere in Budapest.

One example is thick moor mud from Lake Heviz.

"It is a huge thermal lake lined in black mud. The mud is rich in minerals as it has been filtering water for centuries. It contains pure calcium and magnesium carbonates that have a purifying and detoxifying effect," he says.

The mud, which also promises to clear up adult acne, is added into the brand's Thermal Cleansing Balm ($140), Deep Cleansing Mask ($160) and Refining Facial Polisher ($130).

Other minerals - not necessarily from Hungary - that are also featured in some of the products include gold and blue diamond dust.

Omorovicza products now number more than 40 and run the gamut from BB creams (the brand founder often visits Asian department stores for inspiration) to shaving creams and body oils. A face oil and a watery essence are in the works.

Prices for the products start from $40 for a tube of shaving cream to $550 for a bottle of anti-ageing concentrate.

The brand seems to be on the right track so far. In the last four years, Omorovicza's sales figures have been expanding at a healthy 50 per cent year-on-year.

Mr de Heinrich de Omorovicza says: "We've grown slowly, but it has been a great adventure.

"And it all started because we felt the story of an ancient Hungarian spa is a story that needs to be shared."

This article was first published on July 16, 2015.
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