An Excerpt from My Interview with Renee Olstead

Los Angeles, USA

The following is an excerpt from my interview with Renee Olstead for Haute Foxx on working as an archaeologist and the creation story of Ancient Preparations. Discover the research and creative processes of reproducing historical formulations and the science behind Cleopatra’s beauty rituals.

Q: What made you fall in love with archeology and pursue it as a career?

A: The short answer is probably just that I never stopped playing in the dirt. While other kids played with plastic toys, I had a rock collection.

If I’m more open about it, I always felt like an outsider growing up between China and California. I never quite fit in either opposite because I was always caught between two. I became obsessed with ancient Egypt as a child, and that’s perhaps because it was a cultural bridge between the east and west. So from an early age, I had already begun to study cultural inheritance and investigate the where, why, when.

There are so many ideas passed onto us from history which we accept as truths and it creates suffering. I’ve felt it personally in the form of racism and it can be seen very clearly today in attitudes towards the Middle East. Archaeology is a science and I pursued it as a career to retrace these ideas because they’re powerful. For example, Nazi racial ideologies were founded on their pseudo-archaeological program and we all know how that played out. The discovery of earliest cave art in Europe was used to justify the idea that the Aryan race is superior because it evolved first. But just two years ago, much older cave paintings were discovered in Asia proving that evolution is not linear and superiority was just an idea. There are still many more truths to be rediscovered. In order to move forward, we must reflect back on the past.

Q: What was the production process of creating your own line? Creative process?

A: The production process begins with a lot of research. I’m currently with the University of Edinburgh pursing a Master of Science in historical research. It has been a great resource in terms of accessing original sources, such as ancient Egyptian medical papyri.

For some of the products, like Elizabeth Bathory’s Blood Bath, I had to be more creative and rely on oral traditions. I actually found my way to Cachtice Castle as part of the research but slipped on its icy ruins. Fortunately, that was the only bit of blood involved in the process. Eastern Europe has long pursued anti-aging in natural ways, besides the legendary blood bath. I interviewed village women and their grandmothers and found that they bathed with oranges, rich in vitamin C, to keep their skin looking young. That’s where the idea for a blood orange bath was formed.

Q: What resources did you use to recreate these historical products?

A: Many resources are used to create the products because each artifact is more like a super product of several known formulas rather than a simple replication. Ancient medical instructions, like Edwin Smith Papyrus, and the life works of early scientists, such as Pliny the Elder, have been essential. Physical evidence is also a key resource, which included the chemical analysis of mummies and ancient cosmetic jars. Residue of black seed oil, for example, was found in King Tut’s tomb. Coming from a background in archaeology, I work by matching text with material.

Modern scientific research also went into ensuring the maximum effect of each formulaic combination. This is perhaps the most unique aspect in recreating historical products for Ancient Preparations. The line doesn’t sell novelty products or souvenirs, each artifact truly has scientific backing in its proposed usage and results.

Q: Ancient Preparations is a vegan, cruelty-free, fair-trade line that donates a portion of it’s sales to UNESCO, in an effort to preserve world heritage sites. Why is preservation and responsible production so important to you?

A: It was really important to me that the line be completely authentic to its historical background. In the past, there was no mass production, deforestation or animal testing like we know it today. This is also the reason for why products always begin with 100% organic ingredients and end in glass and resin-based jars rather than plastic.

Because many of the ingredients are sourced from the products’ ancient origin, I take social responsibility very seriously. That means ensuring fair trade with modern locals. It also meant addressing environmental sustainability which is why animal ingredients, such as honey and beeswax, have been carefully replaced with historical and compositionally appropriate substitutions. This was actually one of the hardest aspects to achieve.

Given the current events surrounding the destruction of World Heritage Sites, a proceed of the sales are donated to UNESCO in order to help to raise awareness. We live in a historically transitional time. As the world continues to digitize, culture is overshadowed by western hegemony. And despite the reach of the World Wide Web, people feel less and less connected to each other everyday. One reason for my forming of the line was to renew popular interest in our history and its many cultures. After all, the study of archaeology is a passion for humanity itself.

Q: What do you consider to be the pièce de résistance of your line?

A: The piece which started it all was Gift of the Nile Night Oil and it remains my personal favorite. This is the type of beauty regimen Cleopatra or Nefertiti would have practiced, and the science behind the formulation reveals that it was for a good reason.

Full Interview: Haute Foxx