Inspired by her family's hotel in the Bergen Forest in Austria, Susanne Kaufmann launched an eponymous collection of luxurious, natural beauty products that have themselves earned a cult following. Today, Kaufmann not only runs the hotel and her brand, but also consults on other hospitality projects and is a mother of two. Here, the Austrian beauty guru talks about how she does it all (hint: a lot of delegating), what's growing in her herb garden at the moment, and her brand new suncare products, which will launch in the United States this month.
Your business began at your own hotel post Bezau, your family’s hotel in the Bregenz Forest in Austria. What makes the area special?
The Bregenz Forest is a very small place in Austria. It’s very close to Switzerland and on the north to Germany, and Italy. The Bregenzerwald is known for its high-quality in food, in restaurants, hotels and also in architecture and anything that has to do with handicraft, so there are really a lot of very good carpenters and things like that. Besides that, it’s not such a touristic area. People live here all year round, so it’s a real village is in the gorgeous Bregenzerwald. Children go to school here. We work here. So this makes it very authentic. And the nature is wonderful.
Tell me about your new garden, where you are growing a lot of the ingredients for SK products. Is it a new garden or did you expand an existing one?
The new garden is near our existing garden, and about 15 minutes from the hotel. It will be ready in June. Just next to the new production area will be the new herbal garden where we will cultivate most of the herbs we use as ingredients in our products. Yesterday I was in the new production area and it’s really gorgeous. You need to visit it. You can see how the products are produced, how the bottles are filled, all by hand, so it’s a very nice process.
Is there a master gardener who takes care of the plants?
Yes, there is, because it’s not like you just put rosemary, lavender and marigold in a line; you have to know which plant goes best with the other, and plan the planting according to the moon, etc. It’s a real philosophy, the garden.
I’m fascinated with gardens. That’s the part I’m most interested in--growing the ingredients. You mentioned some local plants you use, like St. John’s Wort. What are some other ingredients in the herbal garden that you’re using in the products?
Actually, St. John’s Wort is very difficult to cultivate, so we have to forage for it in the wild. Luckily, there’s a lot of it in the Bregenzerwald. In the garden, we have things like arnica, rosemary, chamomile, lavender and Melissa.
So you grow herbs and flowers for the products in that garden. Do you also grow food for the hotel? Or does the kitchen cull from local farmers?
We work with many farms. When it comes to meat we collaborate with local producers, which means you must buy the whole animal. Let’s say we buy a cow or a deer. We go to the butcher and tell them how we want it cut. So our chefs always use the whole animal, from nose to tail. And of course, all of our dairy products- milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, eggs--they all come from right nearby. And in summertime we have two gardeners and they plant two gardens--one here in Bezau, and the other one is close by, and they grow seasonal vegetables for us, salads ingredients, carrots, celery, etc.
All organic, right? The vegetables. I know everything you do is holistically minded.
Yes. We always try, because we think that the things surrounding us are best for us.
You now have more than 80 products. Do you have an absolute favorite that you use every day?
I use my eye cream from the A Line every single day.
Now I know why you look so young.
Yes, thank you. I don’t really look ALL that young, but thank you!
I’m ignoring that. What about spa treatments? You’re so busy you probably don’t have time to have treatments but if you were going to have one at your hotel, what would you chose?
Actually, I have a lot of treatments because I always check the quality, and checking the quality in the spa you only can do it if you really go for the treatment. So I have to say I am a regular guest in our spa, which is a wonderful bonus, because I love it. In fact, I just had a wonderful “lomilomi” massage, because we have a new therapist. They always practice on me first before treating guests. Lomilomi is more Hawaiian in style, and not typical here, but it’s a very nice massage with a lot of oil. It’s not too strong and it really calms you down. It’s great for relieving stress. But I would say the treatment I love most is our new Advanced Anti-Aging Facial. You get a massage for the fascia and also a little lymphatic massage, and then ultrasound therapy and the jade roller--it’s wonderful!
I want that right now. Right now.
Your skin looks amazing afterwards.
I bet it does. I’ve decided that I want your life. Do you live in the hotel? Or do you live nearby?
I live next door. We have a family house that is one minute from the hotel. It’s a very comfortable arrangement.
Do you use the hotel gym? You look very fit.
I try. Every day is a bit too much, but actually, I do quite a lot of sports. It’s so nice because the hotel is just next to our house. In the morning I just run over and I’m in the fitness studio or I go to a Pilates class or yoga. That’s really a big, big luxury for me to have all of that so close. After I finish, I come back home and have a shower. It’s that easy. It doesn’t take much time.
That sounds great. Actually, it sounds like my dream existence.
What I most like is mountain-biking here. Biking in the mountains is my favorite activity in summertime.
Perfect place for it, that’s for sure. So, I know you have detox programs at the hotel, as well as detox-oriented treatments and products. Do you detox regularly?
I would say two to three times a year, for seven to ten days each time.
How about re-toxing? Do you have a favorite cocktail? Or do you try to limit your alcohol consumption?
I’m very much into food and wine, actually. It’s a big, big hobby of mine. I love to learn about different wines. The hardest part of detox is the not-drinking-wine part.
That’s the hardest part for me, too. What should we all be doing in order to have good skin? Besides using your products, of course.
Besides using good products, I would say drink a lot of water or tea and avoid the sun. We all know this, but not everyone does it. There’s a difference between going for a walk or running around town--I think SPF 15 is 20 for that--and the kind of prolonged sun exposure that occurs when you exercise outside, swim, or sunbathe (which I don’t recommend!). We need the good effects of sun (Vitamin D), but too much is extremely damaging, so you need to protect yourself appropriately. I would say that more than half of the damage that happens to our skin is because of sun exposure.
Luckily, you have a brand new line of sun products debuting in the States at the end of this month. They are pretty fabulous. I love the face and body sunscreens, and plan on slathering myself in that aloe after-sun gel all summer.
You have a hotel. You have a global product business. You consult with all these other hotels now. You have a husband, children. Like so many women, you get pulled in so many directions. How do you manage it all?
I’m very good at delegating. It is important to hand over some of the responsibility to other people. If I am confident in them I don’t have a problem saying, “you do it, and if you do it better than me, wonderful.” That’s the best. I am lucky to have very good people surrounding me in the products business, and also in the hotel. It gives me more room to breathe.
Is your husband involved in the business?
No. He is a musician. He’s very much into jazz music, and it’s very good for me that he is not in the business, because he’s like the fixer in the background. When I have problems or I don’t know how should I move forward on something, I ask for his opinion. I’m always so close to everything, but he sees it all from another perspective. This helps make me very strong.
What do you do in your rare down time?
I really love to spend it with my family and my friends because that’s very positive for me. To be surrounded by the people I love, whether we are skiing, going to restaurants, watching movies, entertaining at home- well, this is bliss.
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