Megan Douglas' favourite things

By Janetta Mackay

A lifetime of discovery brings Megan Douglas full circle to a family home filled with meaningful treasures.

Megan Douglas. Photo / Babiche Martens
Megan Douglas. Photo / Babiche Martens

When an accident in India left fashion designer Megan Douglas with a nastily broken leg she was forced to curtail her gypsy lifestyle. Returning home to Auckland, she found a new path that reconnected her with a family tradition of healing.

The petite 46-year-old with a drop of dark hair still has an eye for a well-cut jacket, but there's little else of the obvious fashionista about the woman the Guardian newspaper anointed as the designer most likely to succeed in the 1990s. Back then she'd left her Auckland boutique Obscure Desire behind and moved to London where her Megan Douglas label was stocked in Harrods, Whistles and Joseph's and featured in Vogue and The Face.

"My passion is herbal medicine," says the founder of World Organic, a company which makes not one, but two, new natural skincare lines.

She draws inspiration from the East - and her past - as seen in the objects she cherishes and displays in the home she shares with her Uruguayan partner Richard Cesan and their two children, Ruby, 14 and Bruno, 11. Handily next door on a 5000sq m family block in Alfriston is her father, Sir Roger Douglas.

"It's healthy to keep extended families together," she says of the proximity of the controversial Act MP. "Lineage is too often ignored."

She can look back to great-grandfather William Anderton's mother who was a village healer in England. He was brought out to Christchurch to found the Spiritualist Church after World War I, but moved north, setting up shop in Symonds St in 1923. It was after this that the Red Seal company name was introduced to natural medicines, health supplements and herbal teas. Douglas remembers her grandmother dispensing herbal remedies before her father sold out of what is still a functioning business. He has now invested in his daughter's venture, which has taken four years of development after she trained as a herbalist and naturopath and gained a BSc in Health Sciences.

While fashion has lost its thrall for Douglas, when she first returned from overseas 15 years ago she worked as a costume designer and stylist and taught at AUT. The past did influence her present with the realisation that she "still wanted to design beautiful things". But it was developing product that appealed most. The idea of using her business skills and aligning them with visually appealing products that she believed in gave the venture impetus.

World Organic draws on her connections with India, using herbs grown on organic community farms outside Mumbai, and her beliefs in empowerment, providing women with the opportunity to develop their own businesses through direct-selling the products.

Douglas believes "greenwashing" is rife in the retail market so she has opted into EcoCert compliance on her products. She is also using super-critical extraction methods on her plant-based ingredients, with the percolating process helping yield high concentrations of active ingredients. "The idea is to make a natural range that penetrates into the skin, acts as a moisturiser, but keeps things in the skin."

Returning to India is a bonus - she has a 20-year association that ranges from partying in Goa to having a T-shirt range she was selling into Japan made there to now working with an Indian business partner. "It is like a second home."

She was always attracted to India, though the she remembers being shocked by what she saw initially: "the reality is rawer". Eventually she'd like to export her range back there, but first she will look to the Australian market.

Another plan is to develop an internal skincare supplements range as an extension of her view that appearance-wise "we can only do some much from the outside". For women wishing to learn more about the holistic approach to health she has developed a natural remedies website with an A-to-Z guide. "It's very much in the blood and I do believe in generational support from the family," she says of how her life has drawn on both her own heritage and a world of different wisdoms.

10 FAVOURITE THINGS

1. African hand-beaded rug

I love this beautiful hand-woven woollen blanket. It is the creation of a women's village enterprise in sub-Saharan Africa in collaboration with an English designer. I find it so visually striking that I hang it on my wall as a favourite piece of art.

2. The I Ching

This book has been my close companion since my early 20s and lives on my bedside table. The I Ching, also known as The Book of Changes, is one of the oldest of the Chinese classic texts. It is not only an ancient divination system but also an ethical or philosophical document. The wisdom behind the book is that it does not see the future as unalterably fixed, but rather like a constantly shifting flux with which we can interact. I find it always a wise read.

3. River Veda toner

This is my present favourite product from our skincare ranges. It's cooling and refreshing and, the smell of ylang ylang always leaves me happy and uplifted. A small touch of luxury and great mood enhancer!

4. Lakshmi bronze sculpture

Lakshmi is a goddess of auspiciousness, fortune, luxury, beauty, fertility, and blessings. I carried her back from one of my trips to India, which probably added quite a few kilograms to the journey, but I really like her style!

5. Our sauna

We built a sauna in our house from a second-hand sauna that someone was knocking down. It is big enough for two people to lie down in or for four to sit. It is my sanctuary whenever I am tired, cold, grumpy or feeling sick. Nothing beats the sauna for inside/outside detoxifying, especially when you apply a few drops of eucalyptus oil.

6. Measuring scales

My grandmother Jennie Douglas used to measure out herbs for customers in her Health Food Shop in K Rd in the 1970s and early 80s with this set of scales. I remember standing by her while she dispensed the herbs along with her words of wisdom. Richard has recently restored the wooden cabinet of the scales to its former glory and polished back the brass to mint condition. It looks great and is practical too.

7. My great-grandfather's and my grandmother's herbal diaries

These are precious hand-written diaries that my great-grandfather and my grandmother created and they are filled with all of their generational herbal remedies and notes of health. They were given to me a couple of years back by my aunty, herbalist Suzanne Woods, so they truly feel like family heirlooms.

8. Mac desktop computer

I've only had it two months and as I spend a large percentage of my days on the computer, this wonderful new Mac has made my life so much more pleasurable. I love the aesthetic and functional contributions it gives my day-to-day office world. Anything that makes sitting at a computer for long stretches at a time more pleasurable gets all my appreciation and admiration.

9. Women and baby sculpture

I love the dynamic motion and the innate happiness of this sculpture. To me it is a beautiful expression of femininity and strength, which also manages to convey the joy of the mother and child relationship.

10. Family and friends

My family and my close friends are the most important part of my life and my real, irreplaceable treasures. No material thing or personal achievement could ever be as life inspiring or a 100th of a per cent as dear.

- NZ Herald

Your views

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 21 Dec 2014 18:37:48 Processing Time: 508ms