Susanne Kaufmann believes in making her own good fortune—and amazing beauty products too.
Growing up in a bucolic nook at the foot of the Alps, she learned to appreciate nature early. But it was her upbringing at her family’s historic Hotel Post that shaped her strong sense of distilled style and sophisticated hospitality.
She studied hotel management at Centre International de Glion in Montreux, traveled the world for six months, and returned to eventually pick up where her parents left off and work with her architect brother to help modernize the hotel.
Then, in 2003, she began to question the use of international beauty products in the spa, as opposed to working with the bounty of botanicals in their Alpine backyard. Ultimately, she launched Susanne Kaufmann spa, a line of healing “organic treats” for the face, body and mind that has become renowned among high-end natural brands.
Here, Kaufmann—who lives with her jazz musician husband and their children in that same lush part of Austria—explains why breathing and doing are the keys to happiness:
Live The Process: What was it like to grow up with the Bregenz Forest as your backyard?
Susanne Kaufmann: The Bregenzerwald is situated in the very western part of Austria, in the backland of Bregenz, at the Lake of Constance. My home village, Bezau, is in the middle of this beautiful and wide-open valley. Towards the pass of the Arlberg (which is a well-known skiing area), the mountains get higher—up to 2,500 meters tall—and the valley is more narrow. A beautiful creek, Bregenzerache, sneaks its way all along the villages to the Lake of Constance. The hills in the lower parts are all covered with dense forest, and the higher the mountains get, the more you see the Alps where farmers used to settle with cattle over summer months.
When tourists come to this area, they are surprised by the architecture of both the old and new houses. This authentic Alpine style can only be found in this part of Austria. In fact, due to a long history of craftsmanship, woodwork and farming, the Bregenzerwald has become one of the most distinct valleys in the Alps. Architecture is a strong force around here. In fact, local creations have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
The flip side is the strong farming culture with goats and milk cows roaming on beautiful grass fields. The Bregenzerwald produces one of the Alps’ best cheeses, which has been delivered to the finest addresses in our capital, Vienna, for decades.
Growing up here, you can’t help but experience the peace and beauty of nature. This unusual place is defined by fresh air, the changing of seasons, the special sunlight, the rain, the snow, seeing all the animals at farms around the corner and, finally, the freedom of social interaction with villagers, who have learned to look after each other over centuries.
Here, in the Bregenzerwald, folks have always greeted and asked after each other. We don’t use the polite form of “you“ in the way the German language does. In our dialect, “you” means “you,” no matter if you are a doctor, farmer or construction worker. Everyone is treated the same way.
In this context, you realize how important the balance of nature and social human togetherness can be. And you develop a pretty strong feeling towards sustainability, respect and wellbeing.
LTP: How did growing up in a historical hotel environment, that you later helped re-imagine, shape your style?
SK: The hotel has been in my family’s hands for five generations now. It came out of an old post office stop, where curriers used to stop overnight with their horses. Over decades, it became one of the hotspots for men socializing.
My grandmother, Irma Natter, was an important figure, since the food that she prepared in the kitchen was known as superb. There is a cake she made that we still serve today based on her recipe, and also several other dishes. It was she who shaped my instinct for herbal remedies, since she always used to have a cream or a juice to help heal us when we hurt ourselves as kids.
My mother, Rosemarie, was the one who lead the hotel into modern times with the help of my father, an architectural pioneer. So, we always had quite interesting and cool people as guests. International folks came over to the Post, as early as the 1970s. I realized as a kid that this was something special. I was involved in many things: cooking with my grandmother, choosing Dirndls (or peasant skirts) with my mother, painting houses with my father and, finally, dancing to Frank Sinatra songs with my uncle, Elmar.
Throughout the 1980s and 90s, the hotel was modernized thanks to the creativeness of my parents. In the late 90s, my brother began overseeing the architectural aspects, but we really groove together when it comes to what we want and how it should look. Oskar Leo is a very forward-thinking architect with enormous respect for history and a distinct style.
LTP: What inspired you to start your own line of organic beauty products?
SK: In the late 90s, I was looking into the topic for the first time. I questioned buying beauty products from the other side of the world for our spa. I remembered all my grandmother’s treats and started to find my own way. I found a farmer and cheese-maker around the corner, who already had a quite modern technique for producing cosmetics. His best friend was some sort of a cosmetic genius. So, the three of us started to meet every two weeks to brainstorm our next steps. After a year, we released the first products in our hotel spa, and the reaction of the guests was quite clear: They chose our brand over the others we offered. After a few months, I got rid of all the others and began only offering our own Susanne Kaufmann cosmetics.
Now, after 15 years in business, we sell in the U.S., almost everywhere in Europe, Russia, Singapore, Hong Kong and the Philippines. You will find the products in expert shops that highlight natural products and also online on websites like Net-a-Porter.
LTP: What separates your beauty line from others?
SK: First, we don’t sell promises. We sell the idea of looking after yourself the best possible way you can. What is good for your skin and body is good for your soul.
I always try the products myself and ask people who I trust to sample them. Unless we are happy with the results, we won’t release anything to the public. The Alpine botanical ingredients and the look of our bottles, the design of the products themselves, speaks a clear tone. And we can’t start mass-producing since all of our herbs are dependent on season and weather. If we don’t have enough Gänseblümchen (or daisy extract) for a cream, for example, we can’t substitute something else. We simply run out of it until there is a better season. That makes our products 100% natural. And there is also an expiration date on each one.
I think that one of our best products is the shower gel, as well as the new product line, HAIR by Susanne Kaufmann.
LTP: What personal wellness ritual keeps you balanced and energized?
SK: I love to go biking or jogging in the morning hours in our forests. And I visit our spa weekly to enjoy the treatments being offered (and also keep on top of quality control). Basically, I just love to use my own products a lot. My family and myself are the biggest fans of it—no joke.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
SK: It is all about balance, growth and progress with nature, family and friends. That being said, good food and wine and nice shoes can do it too, at least for the moment.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how do you do that every day?
SK: Inhale and exhale, and just do it. Try to make this world a better place, as long as you have the chance to do so. We are not here to complain. There are so many things to work on. I feel very privileged to be born here and to have a creative mind. We hope we can share our idea of a good and healthy lifestyle with as many people possible. Bad things are always waiting out there; they come and go. But, for truly good fortune, you have to get on your feet and do something.
Editor's Note: learn more about organic beauty with these other interviews A Moment With Dr. Pratima Raichur, A Moment With Fernanda Niven and A Moment With Mordechai Alvow.