“My life is a lovely story, happy and full of incident.” – Hans Christian Andersen.
It was at the end of our interview that I brought up Hans Christian Andersen, another famous Danish export, to Ole Henriksen, and the instant I said it, I wondered whether it was cheesy and obvious for me to bring it up to the Danish 21st century skin apothecarist. Thankfully he got excited about it, as funnily enough, he had just picked up a new collection of Andersen’s fairy tales and was happy to show it to me. In the end, it’s so appropriate for Henriksen, whose own story, though with humble beginnings is one that is happy and full of incident, and after speaking with him, you do feel that his, is a life with a ‘happily ever after’.
But indeed the Danes are the second most happy people on the planet. But what makes the Danes so happy? According to the World Happiness Report, happiness is closely linked to social equality and community spirit – and Denmark does well on both. Denmark has a high level of equality and a strong sense of common responsibility for social welfare. And Henriksen does embody those qualities as the conversation went on.
He radiates a positive charm, that practically every interview I have read around him has remarked. Somehow that energy has transcended into the heady mix of lotions and potions he created for Ole Henriksen skin care. Currently one of the top sellers at Sephora, getting the Henriksen glow is all the rage. And it never occurred to him that skin would be his game when he was a young show dancer in Bali, until a fierce bout of cystic acne sent him to a jamu/ beauty expert Lagita. The transformation of his skin from spotty duckling to smooth swan (again borrowing from Hans Christian Andersen) was so dramatic, it was at that moment that he felt he found his true calling. As luck would have it, an English woman encouraged him to study cosmetic chemistry in London, as he says, “I realised, I couldn’t go on and be a dancer forever. I saw the transformation of my skin, and coincidently, I do believe there’s a connective circle in life for all of us, higher powers up there have ambition for all of us and we just have to take the opportunities when they present themselves.”
And from there a series of happy incidents saw him go back to Europe to study cosmetic chemistry and landing up in Los Angeles, a town notorious for its obsession with age and beauty. Probably the most perfect place for his work.
In a life that demonstrates that six degrees of separation, timing and serendipity do work hand in hand, in a series of ‘incidents’ that saw his life moving from cooking up beauty potions in the kitchen and conducting facials from his apartment, then having Barbra Streisand knock on his door as a client a year later. As he narrates with very little drama (and we all know this is NOT normal even if you do live in LA), “Barbra Streisand knocked on my door within the first year. Her girlfriend had become my client and for her to knock on my door to become my client, that was huge. At the same time, a famous producer named Henry Jaffy, who produced a talk show, the biggest talk show (the Dinah Shore Show), way before Oprah. Dinah was an icon in America. Henry loved the treatment. He said it was different. He became his own skincare expert. He said to me, “I love how you make your products in the kitchen. You have an interesting story, I love that you are from Denmark, and I love what the Danes did for the Jewish people in the 2nd World War, you gotta go on Diane’s show. I said OK. So he booked me on the Dinah Shore show and I remember driving to the show and I was shaking…because there would be a live audience, there would be Dinah Shore.” The next thing he knew, he was onstage to demonstrate his products with Dinah Shore proclaiming him as the skincare guru to the stars.
His makeshift apartment-slash-beauty studio which saw him customising each facial with fresh products then moved to Sunset Boulevard, where it has been for over three decades. His roster of clients which he breathlessly lists are almost as powerful as ICM or any of the Hollywood Talent agents. From Cher and Sylvester Stallone in the 80’s, he gave good face to Madonna, the uber models of the 90’s who only needed one name – Cindy, Christy, Naomi and Linda – , and his famous compatriot Helena Christensen who came with boyfriend rockstar Michael Hutchence in tow. He later sold his spa to an employee, after an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and he became fully focused on developing skin care products.
Probably one of the pioneering names in botanical beauty, peeling and chemical exfoliation treatments, he explains his process quite succinctly. “Then the brand began. I began developing with an Indian chemist named Trufik. I developed products with him based on the finest botanicals, of course from around the world. I was a pioneer with peeling treatments, with chemical exfoliation. I had scars I had to get rid of. So, I got into the TCA peel that doctors are actually trained in doing, I became known as the peeling expert. So that is sort of why the notion of use is Exfoliate, Treat and Soothe. Get rid of the lifeless. And I think that is the reason we are blessed with a huge global success. It’s all about aromas, it’s about textures. I want women and men when they treat themselves at home, to relax into the moment, close your eyes in the bathroom, feel the energy of your hands. It’s kind of like when you cook a meal in the kitchen. You want to enjoy the process, slice and dice the ingredients, then we add our spices, herbs, we put it in the pan, maybe in the oven and then you want to enjoy it, take in the aromas and the joy and action of doing it. With skin it’s the same. It’s the same really with anything that you do in life. And enjoy the process.” His products are imbued with strong aromatic stimuli, that in so many ways bring about a sense of wellness and well, ‘happiness in a bottle.”
As we end the interview, I run through a list of my favourite Danish exports with him: the beauties – Nikolaj Coster Waldau (Jamie Lannister in Game of Thrones) and Helena Christiansen, the biscuits (Kjeldsen’s Danish butter cookies are a must), the books (Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and Peter Hoeg’s Miss Smilla is feeling for snow), and now Ole Henriksen’s beautiful pots of happiness.
Having just celebrated his 70th birthday, Henriksen seems to possess a youthful energy that belies his years. From a show dancer of humble beginnings to skincare consultant to the stars, and now a skin care line that was good enough for an acquisition by luxury giant LVMH. Like they say in the films “I‘ll have what he’s having”.
Ole Henriksen as he is now at 70, demonstrating the same eternal zest for life.
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