STEPHEN DE HEINRICH doesn't strike you as the founder of a skincare brand. Tall, debonair and, indeed, male, he reads more European aristocrat than beauty entrepreneur – but who's to say you can't be both? With his wife Margaret he created Omorovicza, a line named for a family surname that offers the benefits of Hungarian healing springs in products the skin will eat up.
Though the benefits of the spring waters were discovered some 2,000 years ago by a Roman emperor who observed the quicker healing of scar tissue on soldiers exposed to it, de Heinrich himself didn't have his eureka moment until he began courting Margaret.
Hungarian by descent, de Heinrich was raised in Switzerland and only returned to live in Budapest after the fall of communism in 1989. “When I moved back I found that my family had built one of the biggest baths in Budapest 200 years ago, which I had no idea about,” he says. “I started going quite a bit, and then you realise that everybody is kind of constantly hopping off to the baths. Everybody goes all the time, for a million reasons.”
He met Margaret, an American working as the chief of staff at the US Embassy, and, like any man trying to impress his girl might do, he took her to the baths founded by his family, the Racz spa. “Americans are very squeamish about the baths; they just imagine all sorts of lurking beasts. But she came along and she was the one who really noticed a change to her complexion – the tone, the firmness. She said she used to have difficult skin, but that must've made her more observant to the changes in her skin.”
Working with a Nobel Prizewinning lab in Hungary, they set out to find a way to deliver the minerals and vitamins in the water to the skin. Once they'd done that, using a simple fermentation process that created an easily absorbed complex, dubbed Hydro Mineral Transference, Omorovicza was born in 2006 as both a Budapest-based spa facility and a skincare range featuring eight products.
In a beauty economy filled with miracle ingredients sourced from the tops of mountains or the depths of the seas, water – even if it is Hungarian spa water – may seem like an overly simple solution. “Often some of the simplest things stare you in the face,” de Heinrich explains. “The power of underground water is something extraordinary, so we're just tapping into it via science. People have been tapping into it for all of time, whether it's in bathing or drinking or now in skincare. It's a life force, it's an energy.”
And unlike other patented complexes derived from considerable study, “we don't own it. We're just borrowing it for this brand. There's something very magical or mystical about it, which I really like. It's simple, but very effective.”
The eight products initially released were all needed to provide “a very good facial”, which was Omorovicza's initial goal with its spa. Four months later the brand launched in the UK and early the following year in America, at Neiman Marcus – a timeline de Heinrich calls “amazing, but probably ahead of when we were ready”. The line came to Hong Kong with Joyce Beauty in 2009. The namesake spa remains in Budapest, but the treatments are available in five-star spas across the globe, including here at The Oriental Spa at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong.
Having the spa back home has been a blessing, though, because therapists, he says, “give excellent feedback. Never ask them about packaging [laughs]. But how [a product] fits together with other products, and how they work in the treatment, that's the key thing.”
Eight years in, the Omorovicza line now comprises 36 items and will hit 40 by year's end. The most recent additions are its Gold Hydralifting Mask, an instant-results day mask that takes effect in 10 minutes to lift, repair and hydrate, best used in the morning or before a big event; and the Refining Facial Polisher, a Moor mud-based formula that turns from green to grey as you buff your face, then extracts impurities while you leave it on for two minutes before rinsing, priming skin for serum and moisturiser.
Despite its international success, the company's strategy for growth, de Heinrich emphasises, is driven “partly by our desire to create new treatments for our work in the spa, and partly by something that we feel is a gaping hole in the range. Doctors prescribe the baths for everything under the sun. Whatever it is that's wrong with you, there will be a bath that is particularly appropriate.”
And, if the de Heinrichs' ideas go to plan, there'll be an associated Omorovicza product for those who can't make it all the way to Budapest.