In the City of Temples, Vanessa Voukotitch has given herself entirely to her passion. Just one thing counts for the former journalist: Nature. And with Bandrui — female druid in old Celtic — the French woman has not only created a range of natural products, but also an entire holistic approach, using methods and knowledge that are new to Siem Reap. Interview:
For our readers who may not know you yet, tell us a few things about yourself…
I was a very solitary child, who passed a great deal of her time sitting in trees. I studied literature and languages, and then went to journalism school where I studied photojournalism and audiovisual production. A second life in tourism followed that, and then I returned to school again at the age of 40 for a third professional path as a clinical herbalist, aromatherapist and naturopath after years of teaching myself. Finally, a few months ago, I qualified as a Hatha yoga teacher in order to round out my therapeutic offering.
Where did you grow up and work before coming to Cambodia?
I grew up in the south-west of France, with the forests and Atlantic Ocean as my playgrounds. I’ve been living abroad for more than 20 years.
What brought you to Cambodia?
A professional opportunity brought me here, to Siem Reap, where I worked in the tourism indsutry. I had been based in the Canaries when I was recruited by a large DMC (Destination Management Company) as their country manager.
What did you think of it?
Rather mixed at the beginning! I had never set foot in Asia before coming here, and the contrast with my previous experiences was unsettling to say the least.
Why did you choose Siem Reap?
It was chosen for me in fact by the company that recruited me!
Last November, you presented a new range of cosmetics and care products under the Bandrui mark. Tell us a little bit more about them…
The idea has been developing for a very long time. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a deep love of nature and wanted to show how effective it could be to as many people as I could. We work exclusively with vegetal products that are in a state as close to their natural state as possible, so that their active ingredients stay intact. It’s the spirit of Mother Nature in a box! Bandrui means female druid in old Celtic.
The druids knew and respected nature. My logo represents the lunar calendar that they created with 13 moons, the ascendant and descendant phases and the full moon at the centre. The packaging is made from hemp that is planted, harvested, woven and dyed with blue indigo by the women of a north-Vietnamese tribe. The fabric and dye, as well as being ethical and supporting the work of women, are entirely organic and natural. In addition, our bottles are made of glass or aluminium so that they can be reused after being cleaned, disinfected and sterilised. Everything we do is done with the idea of respecting the environment.
You define your products as “high-end, made from natural and vegan products”. What is a “vegan cosmetic”?
They are “high-end” because I have always imposed on myself a very high standard of quality which goes well beyond the condition imposed by most certifications. Every potion is an artisan creation, made in small quantities that faithfully transmit the spirit of the plants of which they are made. Even in some natural and certified organic cosmetics, you will find vegetal ingredients that have been modified by industrial processes that affect their quality. A vegan cosmetic is one that contains absolutely no animal products or by-products and has not been tested on animals. There again, I go further by refusing to use palm oil or its by-products, or GM products.
You have chosen to personally deliver your products. Why?
I love to advise, explain and share my passion for the natural world.
How many products are available in the Bandrui range? What are your signature products?
There are about 20 products in the new collection, especially night treatments, for when we can take a little extra time to look after ourselves, but which also allows the active ingredients to get to work undisturbed during the night. There isn’t really a signature product. Each range has been conceived in a holistic manner. Everyone can find something to please them, whether they are looking for care or beauty products. And if ever they don’t find it, they need only to let me know what they want, and I will create something tailor-made, and thus unique.
In order to be effective, a cosmetic should be able to integrate and preserve active ingredients, which often requires chemical additives. How do you deal with that?
First of all, cosmetics don’t carry chemicals in order to be more effective, but in order to last longer. The active ingredients deliver the effectiveness and the high quality of these primary materials is the guarantee of that. Certain essential oils act as preservatives. I also use vitamin E, a natural antioxidant that prevents oils and vegetable butters from going rancid, as well as grapefruit seed extract. Also, as I don’t use any water in my potions, the risk of bacterial development is considerably reduced. The products usually last for about six months after production, and this is much longer for some, such as the cleaning powders.
Talk to us about “holistic therapy”. Does it include a consultation, or something else?
As a holistic therapist, I take account of the whole being: physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual. Holistic care is different from conventional or traditional medicine in considering the patient as a person, and not as a sickness to be treated. Initiated in a range of practices, I share them in order to restore wellbeing and better living: aromatherapy, naturopathy, relationship support, Hatha yoga and herbalism. From ancestral wisdom to scientific theories, this wide range of tools is what allows me to adapt to respond to difficulties. It is an open and inclusive vision of the world. Note: all the services offered are for wellbeing and are in no case therapeutic, medical or paramedical.
You define yourself as a modern apothecary?
I like being able to associate ancestral knowledge with the different advances of modern science.
How did people react to your new range?
Everyone was aware of Bandrui’s committed and engaging approach. Many would like to take care of themselves more naturally, but would prefer to be able to do so in a way that is safe and informed. That is where I come in.
To take an example, I am 50 years old, I’m tired, I have bags under my eyes, normal skin, dull hair, I’m stressed, but happy. What would your approach be, what type of treatment kind of treatment should I expect, and for how long?
I would begin by asking you some questions about your lifestyle, sports, smoking, alcohol consumption, sleep patterns etc, in order to find the best product for you from the off-the-rack range. With the information you just gave me, I would advise the “Refreshing” gel with the invigorating mint scent and cucumber extracts in order to nourish and hydrate your skin and dark circles in the morning, after having cleansed your skin with the light “Oh My Powder!” scrub, then in the evening cleanse again before applying a richer oil to deeply nourish your face and illuminate your complexion with “Lumière”.
For your hair, a few drops of 'SOS Hair' massaged into the scalp at weekends to nourish the scalp and strengthen and coat the hair while limiting loss. As for results, an improvement is generally noted fairly quickly, but this also depends on regular use. Let's not forget that cosmetic products are different from medical products, but nevertheless require a few rules of use to get the most out of them!
When can we hope to see your products in Phnom Penh?
Very soon! After the “Made in Siem Reap” exhibition in Phnom Penh (which took place last November 27-29) in a whole new space at 313 Riverside. A launch evening is also on the way.
Do you foresee a day when you would rely on traditional delivery or do you prefer the current method?
I don’t want to predict the future, but if I could foresee partnerships with third-party shops, it would be above all because we share the same deep values of engagement for nature and ethics. I strongly believe that collaboration is the advantage and the challenge of our time. But, while I wait, this method suits me very well.
Personally speaking, how do you find expat life in Siem Reap, especially during these difficult times?
Happy and fulfilled. How could I not be? I am lucky to be able to accomplish my dream life through Bandrui. I’m also aware that I owe this incredible opportunity to Cambodia and am grateful to my adoptive country.
What do you do outside work?
I read, keep myself up to date on scientific and medical advances in the realm of aromatherapy, I do yoga and meditation. And then there is my family!