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Entrepreneur trades corporate life to establish luxe LA farm-to-face-and-body beauty brand

By MiNDFOOD

Entrepreneur trades corporate life to establish luxe LA farm-to-face-and-body beauty brand
Australian Richard Christiansen traded a high-flying career for one that makes the most of an eclectic but abundant LA garden, creating natural skin and bodycare - and more - under the Flamingo Estate brand.

The hills of Hollywood have fostered many wild and true stories, many of them never told. The evolution of Flamingo Estate is one that has all the twists and turns you might expect from such a tale, but with an undoubtedly more wholesome outcome. 

Flamingo Estate is the name of a collection of body and skin products and candles created with the bounty of the abundant gardens on a property of the same name. The line has just landed at MECCA.  

But it’s also so much more. We spoke to founder Richard Christiansen about his journey from corporate life running a successful creative agency in New York and LA to finding himself organic farming from his lovingly-restored home. The chic, if eclectic, estate in the hills of Los Angeles was sold to Christiansen several years ago by the eccentric, elderly  former owner, who had at one time used the building as an erotic film studio before the estate fell into disrepair. 

Why the name Flamingo Estate?

Flamingo Estate is my home on top of the hill in the middle of Los Angeles. For 65 years almost nobody knew it was there, hidden in plain sight while the city around it. When I discovered it, I  restored the pink plaster. I asked an old Italian plaster maker for a colour reference, and he said the pink was “like under the wing of a flamingo”.

The original home was built in the 1940s and has been restored by Christiansen along with seven acres of grounds that house an orchard and market gardens. 

 You had a fairly roundabout journey into developing the Flamingo Estate brand. 

I grew up in Duranbah, and Northern New South Wales. My parents are farmers, and growing is in our heritage. 

When I was 17, I left rural Australia for London. I couldn’t run fast enough. I was tired of the dirt and the plants – I desperately wanted to experience, design, art, and my creative heroes. When I was 27 I opened a creative agency – named Chandelier – in New York. For almost two decades I built the agency, with three offices and a wonderful roster of brands, including Cartier, Hermes, and Virgin. We got to work with my heroes – everyone from Kylie Minogue and President Obama, it was a wild, incredible time professionally.

 Truthfully though – personally – I was exhausted. I spent every weekend in the office, and work until 11 o’clock every night. The responsibility rested firmly on my shoulders to find our clients and create most of the concepts for what became enormous payroll and large sprawling offices. Covid hit us very hard, and almost overnight everyone stopped spending money. And the agency ultimately buckled under the weight of everything. Although we waited as long as we could – we lost our beloved offices and I had to ask almost everybody to leave. My whole identity – my entire self-worth was my job – and it all vanished, almost overnight.  I also had a really traumatic breakup, and I was both lost, lonely and felt really invisible. 

 At the same time, at the very beginning of Covid, I learned about a farmer outside Los Angeles who was going to lose her farm. All of her organic vegetables went to restaurants and all the restaurants were now closed. I told her to bring her veggies over and we could sell them in boxes. I think she thought we could sell a dozen boxes. But on that first Friday of Covid we sold 300 boxes. The second Friday we sold 600. Today we have 40 trucks, and we harvest fresh produce and ingredients from over 110 regenerative farms, delivering produce or products to more than 200,000 homes.

 Slowly we meet more small growers who were also facing financial ruin from COVID, so we started making other things from the incredible produce – candles, soaps, body products. In total with made over 150 products with the most incredible ingredients, growing in the most fertile soil on earth. It has been a wild, incredible adventure. 

The garden office and music room at Flamingo Estate.

 What was the vibe shift that led you to this entirely different focus?

After years of working in luxury goods I now understand that Mother Nature is the last great luxury house. And resources are the most precious things in the world. I’ve meet growers all unified by this core idea – from Japan, Brazil, India, Australia and USA. United in great care for the environment – for radical sourcing principles – for soil health and the climate health. Together we offer the most radical, transparent sourcing in the world. Most beauty or grocery brands can’t tell you where their ingredients come from because they all buy from the same terrible mass suppliers. We can tell you the name of every farmer, their kids names, and the way they treat the land and soil. We care deeply about this.

L-R: Flamingo Estate Clarity Pulse Point OilFlamingo Estate Roma Heirloom Tomato Candle; Flamingo Estate Euphoria Body Lotion; Flamingo Estate Garden Essentials Body Oil.

 What were the first products you created?

When Covid hit I started taking long baths. The water from my house runs directly into the garden and I noticed that my very expensive body wash and shampoo were killing the plants. For the first time turned the bottle around and I read what was inside. When I finally understood it, I wondered why on earth I would put something on my skin that I can’t put on my garden? So I made my own body wash with eucalyptus and sage. Then I doubled the amount of essential oil, then I doubled it again. I did this in the sink of my laundry, and this is more or less the same formula we still have. It is the one that started it all. And that is my favorite product.

With MECCA picking up Flamingo Estate’s body care and candles, what sets them apart from what else is out there? 

 The sourcing, first and foremost. The ingredients we have used harvested are the very best in the world. Grown in the best soil. And harvested the a way that supports the earth, rather than takes from it. Take our soap for example. What is most soap made from? Palm Oil. As you should know Palm oil is a disaster for the environment because it accounts for so much deforestation – but it’s in everything. So we needed to find an alternative. We found a group of people living on the edge of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil harvesting Babassu Oil. Babassu only grows naturally on the edge of the rainforest – its almost a protective fence for the rainforest.  We responsibly harvest it with the local residents, so they have a reason to keep it, and protect it. Preventing logging and deforestation. It’s one of many many examples. The products are also bloody good. We have made the best products in the world, with the very best people growing and harvesting everything in each bottle.

Richard Christiansen creates Flamingo Estate’s products with ingredients grown on site as well as a number of other small-batch growers and producers.

 How much have the gardens changed since you first encountered the estate? 

We planted over 600 trees since I bought the property – macadamia nuts , avocados, plums, peaches, pomegranates, apples, water, and olives. The garden has become enclave for very special rare plants and unusual specimens. And obviously it has become a welcoming home to countless hummingbirds, owls, butterflies, and all of my beehives which cover the property.

 But now Flamingo is over 100 properties – all the growers who share our values. It’s become a family of people much more powerful than my garden.

 Do you miss the creative and business world or is this entirely fulfilling?

I used to think I had worked for and with the most creative people in the world before – from Mario Testino to Richard Branson. I was wrong. These people growing and cultivating things from the earth are the most creative people. I have never been happier. 

 You’ve been away a long time, but do any elements of your Aussie upbringing infuse what you do now?

Blue sky optimism. And I am relentlessly glass half-full.

What’s something you still want to achieve from this home and lifestyle undertaking?

Flamingo Estate will become a home for everyone with green thumbs and middle fingers. We have recently published 7 books with my heroes – people like Jane Goodall, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters. We also have a TV show in the works and a series of other partnerships. I’m going to create a revolution to remind people that Mother Nature is the last great luxury. And the garden is your doctor, therapist and friend.

 

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