By Anne Constable The Santa Fe New Mexican.
Enter the Anita Louise Salon on Johnson Street and be greeted by the smell of cinnamon and orange. Not the kind of bouquet wafting from a saucepan of potpourri simmering on the stove during a real estate agent's open house. This is the expensive, imported, organic kind. And it's relaxing, soothing. Maybe even healing. And you could nibble on a gluten-free cookie, too.
Owner Laurie Richardone will soon celebrate 20 years in the salon business, and last year unveiled a new line of organic artisan skin and hair-care products called LR Modern Alchemy.
She whips them up (sometimes literally in a Kitchen Aid mixer) on a stainless steel-topped table (made by her husband) in a little room in the salon. All the products are made in small batches, say 10 smallish bottles. She makes one product at a time because it takes a "fair amount of concentration."
One wall is lined with the essential oils (all cold-pressed) and certified organic oils she uses, which come from all over the world. Her formulas are designed to rejuvenate mature skin, especially for people who live in a high-desert climate. "I'm trying to support aging gracefully," she said.
The ingredients are costly. A small bottle of sandalwood oil costs her $439, for example. It is said to be calming and helps soften skin by increasing and restoring its ability to retain moisture (and also makes a great aftershave). It's been used since the 11th and 12th centuries, she said, adding that what she is doing in the kitchen "is is not a new modality."
Her argan oil, which is rich in vitamin E, comes from Morocco, and neroli oil, produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (it takes 100 pounds of flowers to produce one pound of oil) is sourced from Tunisia. She also uses Bulgarian rose oil, wild chamomile and French lavender (from Provence), citrus from Italy, vanilla from Madagascar, as well as Kikui nut oil, which comes from the official tree of Hawaii and has been used by native people there for hundreds of years for, among other things, restoring sun-damaged skin.
Recently, she's been working with a ground nut oil called palo santo, which comes from Ecuador.
"I consider myself an alchemist," Richardone said of her recipes.
Richardone moved to Santa Fe from New York in 1993 and worked on a business plan for her salon at Santa Fe Community College. In 1995, she opened Anita Louise, named for her mother.
She offered haircuts as well as rosemary shampoo, conditioner and hair oil (designed to make your locks look like the day after a shampoo, which many women prefer).
Then last year, she introduced her essentials: eye cream, body cream, Kukui butter, face oil and Bavarian rosewater tonic. Instead of having shelves of products, this is all you need to care for your hair and skin, she said. There's also a hemp travel bag ($150) with a little bit of everything to get you through a vacation.
Prices are steep, however: A 3.4-ounce bottle of body oil infusion is $120; a 8.5-ounce jar of hydrating body cream is $135; a 2-ounce jar of Kukui butter is $95; and a half-ounce jar of eye cream (which contains carrot seed oil) is $75. But in all cases, a little goes a long way.
She sells the products online at lrmodernalchemy.com, at the salon at 128 N. Guadalupe St., as well as at Spirit Clothing, 109 W. San Francisco St., and Four Seasons Resort Rancho Encantado in Tesuque.
Theresa Bess said Spirit just started selling the line before Christmas. She said she herself uses a minimum of skin care products and likes Richardone's "aesthetic."
"I'm particular," she said. "I feel that she has a beautiful sense of real skin care."
Richardone's products have gotten plenty of national media attention. Her eye cream was featured in a story on 10 artisanal products on the Yahoo! Beauty website last month. Her products have garnered mentions in FD Luxe (this month), Marie Claire (2012) and Elle (2006).
Back in 1996, Travel + Leisure gave a shout-out to the salon, too. "Feeling dwarfed by the mammoth Santa Fe sky, sun and silver-belt-buckle selection? Then a visit to the enchanting Anita Louise salon will put things in proper perspective," it said.
Richardone said she was born into a large Italian American family in Brooklyn in which food was central. Her father was a chef at many restaurants, including in Little Italy, and she still uses her grandmother's recipe for meatballs. The family grew basil and herbs for their table, and that's where Richardone developed her appreciation for fine ingredients and what she calls her "farm to salon" philosophy.
She also liked cutting hair and styled all the plastic bouffants of her Barbies (now in the possession of her niece).
After getting her hairdressing license, she went to London to study at the Vidal Sassoon Institute in London for several months.
Sassoon's styles are different, but learning the classics is essential in any craft, she said. Back in New York, she got involved in "editorial hairdressing," and did hair for spreads in Vogue and Women's Wear Daily as well as for runway shows and worked with well-known stylists such as Bob Recine.
Her early cuts, she said, are as relevant today as they were then, and "That's what modern means to me," she said.
After opening her own shop in Santa Fe (open by appointment) she trained New Mexico stylist Kathy Roe, who has been with her for 11 years. The salon was known for styles that complemented people's faces. Clients are often invited for a consultation to find out whether there is a match. And Anita Louise offers a form of hair painting called balayage.
Richardone retired from hair dressing two years ago to concentrate on her beauty products.
Santa Fe, Richardone said, is "on the radar everywhere," and "handmade in Santa Fe" will "make any product lines special and unique."
If you go What: Anita Louise Salon Where: 128 N. Guadalupe St. (at Johnson Street) Contact: Call 466-1554 On the Web: lrmodernalchemy.com