Esbjerg is one of Austria’s most innovative skincare brands. Focusing on natural skincare, innovative ingredients and products as well as high-quality packaging, Marga Walcher quickly raised her brand onto a high level. She talked with us about her beginnings, the change in men’s skincare and gives us an insight behind the production.
How did you come to start Esbjerg?
Well, it started with us having a store where we carried all different kind of brands. For example, I was one of the first in Austria to carry Penhaligon’s. One time I was in New York I passed by Bergdorf Goodman’s and saw they carried Penhaligon’s and I said to myself: If they have it I can do it, too”, and that is how I started in general. I realized, that usually, people purchase fragrances every few months so I started to carry shower gels and so on. Back then I saw, how men would not like to have a back but would sort of hiding their products in their blazers.
At some point, we also started to carry shaving brushes. That is when I realized that as much as we all of differently sized hands, we also have different sized faces. So I started to create different brushes for different faces which was a great success and the first step towards our own razors.
That is when you began building up your production?
Yes, I called at the chamber of commerce and asked for people in the field of cosmetic, and I was introduced to a lady, Siliva. She was actually a nurse but also a trained cosmetician with the skills to produce products. Sivlia asked, what I would like to have and I said a shaving cream with lemon with natural ingredients. She was also the one who introduced me to the whole background of creating natural cosmetic, which was even more difficult back then than today. It took us over a year to create a natural shaving cream, which did not smell like herbs, and continually experimented with different herbs. That was also when we introduced our clients, mostly men, to products like aftershave oil. In the beginning, they were quite defensive of it, but when we gave them a tester they would come back getting this product. You see, just as all the men have different faces they also have different skin types.
When did you start your second line, Norbeck?
It is difficult to create natural cosmetic with scents, that stay the same for 3 or 5 months, which I expect from my products. So our team around Mr Bartus created products, for example with vanilla, that are 98% of natural products, just with a bit of fragrance because for a long time it was impossible to achieve a natural skin care product with a vanilla scent. That was the beginning of Norbeck, as Esbjerg is completely natural cosmetic.
For many years I have worked on a natural cosmetic product with Vanille, which I also managed to achieve now which I am incredibly happy about.
What do people have to understand about natural products?
You know that is an interesting topic. In our society, we watch out when it comes to specific things. For example, we say, now we only eat bioproducts. But when it comes to the things we put on our skin, a lot of people are not as conscious. Everything we put on our skin will be absorbed into the body as well. Most people decide to purchase a product solely based on the scent. Naturally, there is a certain erotic that goes along with the scent. So when it comes to fragrances or fragranced products it is a very slim line we are walking on. When we cannot create a scent that will smell the same after 3 or 5 months, we try out fragrances and add them, but we make sure they are as harmless as possible and essentially are at the border of natural cosmetic. Sometimes it takes us and our laboratory years to create a product. Another point, that we . of course also have to keep in mind is to think economical. For example, if I would like to create a rose scented product, I could use the Bulgarian rose instead of a fragrance, which would cost a few thousand in production and at the end of the day, the product would not be purchased anymore.
The other thing I observe is, that for instance, we have some senior gentlemen, that are used to having fragranced products. They say “Well I creamed my face for 40 years with Parabens, what difference does it make now?”. That, of course, is not an argument, so we try to also explain the need for being careful when it comes to choosing the products. But these gentlemen like their scented lemon, which I can still produce on a natural base, but also sandalwood, where I get into a certain conflict. I prefer not to use real sandalwood because that is also when I go against the environment. The tree is already endangered and then I have to decide if I want to be a part of the endangerment as well.
Luckily my team and my laboratory are made out of fantastic people, with whom I see the possibilities. Either I produce a natural based cosmetic product or I include products, that more or less just do not get classified as natural anymore but harm as little as possible or actually not at all.
The image language of Esbjerg and Norbeck is often very erotic. Where do you see the connection between scents and skincare and erotic?
I mean, if you are having soft skin, that is amazing, isn’t it? If you accidentally graze another person and their skin is very soft and well maintained, that is already erotic, or? I believe, that all of us are thinking about erotic very often, and actually, it is a very important part of our lives. All of us like to be polished and clean and well maintained and at the end of the day, do you like someone who smells bad? So skincare and maintenance of ourselves are very important. So we use a soap or a gel and from there it does not take long to take a good cream, a shampoo and so on. And it is prepossessing if someone is well kept. We have a lot of texts that say, men: be guys, be rough BUT smell nice and take care of yourselves. Of course there are people who say, a man has to smell like sweat and leather, but honestly, I have met in my entire life one women who said, it is important to her that a man smells strong, all the others prefer a man who looks after himself. And they also prefer a well-kept beard. Because if you get kissed by a man whose beard is scratchy and itchy, that is not nice for you.
How did the change happen, that men become more open towards skincare and fragrances?
Back then, men would hide the product they just bought in their blazer and today the same is spending one hour in our store, choosing together with our sales ladies the right product for him and finds it completely normal. Indeed, there has been a change, for example, that the general mantra is not anymore that a man smells bad, but quite the opposite, a man has to smell good. This has been happening within the last 10 years. How this happened, I cannot exactly say. I believe men have just become less afraid and more confident. Today, men say “yes I am allowed to look after myself”. Also, today men take care of their wardrobe. The whole picture of a man has changed. He does not need to be all Macho Macho anymore, someone who cannot hold his baby in his arm. In fact, we have a lot of men with their newborns strapped around, without their wives anywhere near, helping each other and standing in our shop deciding how to groom their beard or seeking help against their rough hands. It really has changed. Back then, a man has not asked for help in this case. A quick look, the scent is fine, done. There were also norms. Sandalwood was fine. I had only a few, for example, Italian’s who would choose rose. We have a client, back then he said: “No, I cannot use that.” Today, the same man stands in front of me and asks “What do you think, can I also uslilieses of the valley?” And I say “Of course, it is an absolute erotic scent.”. I think it is really the confidence of men that changed.
You often use homoerotic images in your campaigns and are a supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, where did this idea come from?
As I said, I think erotic is all around in our entire lives. The one speaks it out, the other one doesn’t. But it is there! At the end of the day, it is about one thing. If someone is ok, he is ok. And if he is not, he is not. It is not about the what, how, when and where, quite the contrary. I am against talking about it a lot because it must not be a topic anymore. It has to be self-evident. Esbjerg hires all different kind of people, and asking things like “Where are you from?”, “What is your religion?”, “Are you, and if yes with whom, in love, engaged, married?”. My questions are “Do you do your job?” and “Do you fit into the team” and that is that.
There is nothing more to say about this topic because it should not be a topic!”
What is the first product you use after waking up?
My eye gel! Well, first I use my tonic and right afterwards my eye gel. That is the first thing I do in the morning. I am almost addicted to it. You can tell so much about someone with their eyes. You can cheat a few years if you take good care of your eyes. If I look at myself in the morning, I can see if I ate something too salty or if it was a second glass of wine I had, I see that immediately on my eyes. Then I use my gel and say “Now it’s good.”. Then I go down, have a few glasses of water, check my eyes again and then I can continue with the rest.