Sitting down to talk skin care, Jami Morse Heidegger, whose family once owned beauty brand Kiehl's, first apologized for the man-cave décor — rustic leather sofas and husband and business partner Klaus Heidegger's John Wayne posters — at the couple's sprawling 25-acre Malibu ranch, where tangles of grape vines, flowers and fruit trees appeared to thrive alongside show horses.
Although the family's main residence is in Chatsworth, the ranch, which offers panoramic views of the Pacific, doubles as an office. (The ranch is currently on the market for $55 million.)
Indoors, Morse Heidegger, 56, wore her Thierry Lasry sunglasses, which matched her cobalt Ralph Lauren pantsuit. The glasses are a necessary accessory to protect her eyes from an acute light sensitivity as well as part of her face from the sun, said Morse Heidegger, who has spent her life working in the beauty industry.
She and her husband sold Kiehl's to L'Oréal Paris for a reported $100 million to $150 million in 2000, and they moved on to their latest beauty venture, the unisex luxury skin-care line Retrouvé, which was developed with former Kiehl's chemist Stephen Musumeci and launched in France in 2014 before its stateside debut in 2015.
Formulations for Retrouvé contain highly concentrated ingredients, including oil from avocados grown on the Malibu property using natural permaculture agricultural methods. Plant-based squalane (an emollient similar to human sebum), high-quality oils and vitamin E are other key elements used in the skin-care products.
"I have to admit when we first sold Kiehl's, I was a little less money-conscious," Morse Heidegger said. "I just wanted the best products for my skin, and I didn't care what it cost. I started making products for myself in about 2001, because I started to experience dry skin and hormonal aging. ... I wanted something a little more intense and heavy-duty. I didn't care if my skin peeled or got a little red because of high levels of vitamin C or fruit acid. So I called Steve [Musumeci], and he bulk ordered the best ingredients at the highest concentrations."
Given the couple's Hollywood connections (Klaus Heidegger counts Arnold Schwarzenegger and Caitlyn Jenner as longtime friends), it's no surprise that Retrouvé already has a Hollywood following, including fans Zoë Kravitz, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Dita Von Teese.
Currently sold in 10 countries, the Retrouvé line consists of six facial products: a cleanser, serum, two moisturizers, eye balm and exfoliating pads, ranging from $65 to $445 and available at retrouve.com, Ron Robinson and select spas in Los Angeles. Among the dozen other products in the pipeline are a body oil and lip balm scheduled to drop in 2018.
Also in the works, Morse Heidegger said, is a method to extract vitamin C from lemons, oranges and grapefruit harvested on the ranch as well as plans to cultivate pomegranate, white tea and herbs for the products, which are manufactured at a laboratory in New Jersey. (The Heideggers regularly ship crates of their ranch-grown avocados to the East Coast).
And it's the East Coast where her family's start in beauty began.
"My grandfather [Irving Morse] went to pharmacy school at Columbia University and apprenticed with John Kiehl in the late 1800s [until he acquired Kiehl's in 1921]," Morse Heidegger said. "Kiehl's was an apothecary on 3rd Avenue and 13th Street in New York, and things like tea, ginseng, herbs, calendula ointment and oils were considered medicines then."
Her father, Aaron Morse, went to work at Kiehl's in 1954 and said to her grandfather, "We should turn these ointments and poultices into skin care."
"So that's how the products got started in about 1958," Morse Heidegger said. "As far back as I can remember, I mixed custom perfumes that we would name and sell, including Innervisions for Stevie Wonder, when I was about 9 years old."
At age 11, Morse Heidegger moved to Beverly Hills with her mother and stepfather, who had landed a job at Warner Bros. Three years later, her father purchased a second home in Beverly Hills and continued to encourage her involvement in the family business.
"Vidal Sassoon was big then and I had this crazy, wavy hair that I wanted very straight in a Sassoon cut," she said. "I told my father we needed to make a product like the Vidal Sassoon protein pack hair conditioner. Most of my education for Kiehl's came from working with my father."
After graduating from Beverly Hills High School, Morse Heidegger attended Harvard University and then lived in Austria with her husband. She returned to New York in 1985 to help with Kiehl's after her father was diagnosed with cancer.
In 1988, the Heideggers purchased Kiehl's — a small Manhattan apothecary with a staff of 13 — from Aaron Morse for $600,000. A former Austrian ski champ and entrepreneur, Klaus Heidegger oversaw the factories and brought the company up to digital speed, while Morse Heidegger built a booming business with innovations such as generous product sampling and dedicated charitable products.
Twelve years later, the couple sold Kiehl's. By then, they were raising their three children in Los Angeles, but retirement wasn't in the cards, as Morse Heidegger's visionary business instincts soon turned a side project into a new company.
While attending horse shows to support her younger daughter Hannah's competitive riding, Morse Heidegger was asked for the secret to her glowing complexion.
So she began to hand out samples of a moisturizer, insisting that it would never be sold. But in 2011, she said her husband finally convinced her by saying, "All you have to do is make the products. I'll do everything else."
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