A Curative Escape with Red Flower NYC
Posted on May 04 2016
Interview with Yael Alkalay. (Part 1/2)
Yael Alkalay is a true innovator in a very artistic way. She is the founder and CEO of Red Flower, the NYC spa sanctuary with a focus on beauty and bath products centered around creating a holistic and happy life. Not only is Yael a product-maker and perfumer, she is a transformer. She has the capability, through her bathing rituals and candles, to create optimism and beauty in life. In an elegant and open fashion, Yael reveals what inspired Red Flower and the significance of beauty rituals.
What experiences led you to create Red Flower?
The purpose of Red Flower is to encourage people to live fully and feel vibrant. On days when your energy is drained, even a little cream on your hands can make a difference as a “pick me up.” We think about our products in a multi-dimensional way. It’s not just about moisturizing your skin but also about delivering an extraordinary experience through texture, application process and technique, and non-toxic ingredients. Finding the best ingredients that deliver both the fundamental benefits and luxuriously pleasurable texture, that is a product combination that is often a missing piece. Meeting those basic needs and going beyond is a wonderful way to take care of people.
One big idea that is relevant to Red Flower is the optimism of seeing life at its most beautiful. Your picture of the Universe is imprinted on you, and mine is a value I share with my mother. She has a courageous, brave, and optimistic outlook on the world. Because of that attitude, when I look at the world - and it evolves as I age - there is a feeling of seeing the beauty first and feeling it in everyone I meet and in the way that I work. I recognize the presence of beauty and feel the full potential of living things as well as the energy beneath each of us that lifts us up. I’m not from one place; we grew up all over the world, hearing 9 languages, and being exposed to many cultures, so there’s a combination of openness and optimism in my life that allows me to believe in the potential of a day, an hour, a life.
That feeling is what inspires and drives everything we do at Red Flower. To make Red Flower, you have to believe that people want to believe in the transformative beauty of life. There is a small hour in the bath where you can make someone feel lifted; a moment of health that, when taken, can shift habits. Our biggest driver is the underlying belief in people, in the beauty around us, and in the potential of living a bigger and happier life, even through small changes.
How would you describe the significance of beauty rituals and the values you’ve learned from traditional cultures that practice them?
I’ve lived my whole life with the knowledge that ritual is very grounding for me, perhaps because I am so open. I have long thought about process and have been very inspired by cultures that have ceremony and process deeply embedded in how they celebrate seasons, big life changes, and inflection points in people’s lives. There is a cadence to life that is made more understandable through ceremony and ritual. But there is a simple line in a wonderful book by Anne Lamott called “Bird by Bird” that says it perfectly: “The difference between habit and ritual is attention.” Ritual has strong tradition and real purpose via techniques that make you feel better, that ground you, and that lift you to a deeper relaxed and healthier, positive state, but finding ritual in everything also gives you the power to shift your experience of things. For example, the act of lighting a candle is fraught with meaning, and I felt in some sense candles had become a commodity that people light on the side. I wanted to rethink that moment of lighting a candle. The idea of ritual has been taken away from it, but it’s still a moment of potential. Putting petals on top of Red Flower candles requires people to touch something alive, place them in a bowl or a bath, in a sachet and then into a drawer; there is some act of connectivity. To me, everything that we do at Red Flower, whether it’s the bathing rituals in our Hamman, Japan, and Nature collections or the act of lighting a candle, is about calling attention to the moment. The quality of ingredients, the experience and the thoughtfulness around what we package is what it’s all about.
There is another level deeper than that, though. I’ve been moved by bathing experiences in Japan as well as experiences of my Turkish heritage through my grandmother’s storytelling. Most of these “water treatments” have been practiced for centuries, and beyond relaxing and feeling better, they’re about accessing deeper health. Our culture is not as rich in the heritage of how to take a bath. Red Flower offers a way to reintroduce techniques that make bathing experiences so extraordinary and in ways you can do simply in your own home.
A great example is our Hammam collection. It is a seven-step ritual that works to reduce toxins in the body through traditional Moroccan ingredients like clay, mint, and coffee, as well as ingredients that heat the body like cardamom. Warming ingredients help induce higher metabolism. If you crush cardamom pods on the bottom of your feet, you can heat the whole body. These collections connect what happens in the brain with what happens in the body. Not only is there benefit in applying the products in a certain cadence and progression, but engaging in the aromas produces deep activity in the brain. Coffee in that region of the world is often served with cracked cardamom because it stimulates brain activity and makes you more alert and aware.
Bathing rituals combine this wisdom in an evolved way. Just as you would practice yoga or meditation, creating a bath practice changes the way you feel - more vibrant, energized, and rested when you sleep. It’s fuller sensibility.
There is so much data about what happens to your heart rate, skin tone, and muscles when we soak in hot water. We reduce pressure in our lymphatic system, reduce inflammation. Too often this is overlooked. Red Flower bath and shower treatment collections were created partially out of pleasure but primarily with deeper levels of ritual healing experience in mind and their importance in how we live our lives.