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Photography by Scarlett Wild

On a warm, wind­less Wel­ling­ton morn­ing, I walked down Cour­tenay Place on the search for Mar­garet Hema’s salon. A search is required. For­tu­nately, I was fore­warned. I’d met Mar­garet for a facial pre­vi­ously, and I found myself, again, up two flights of stairs, through a door, then anoth­er, before find­ing her in the clas­sic her­it­age build­ing she moved her busi­ness to in 2012. A lack of sig­nage is inten­tion­al: hers is not the kind of salon you stumble upon — Mar­garet is avail­able only by appointment.

While she isn’t usu­ally one for inter­views, Mar­garet kindly agreed to talk to me. “I like to stay back — I don’t want to be a loud-mouth!” she says.

Her com­ment reflects much of what the HEMA brand stands for. With a dis­like for mar­ket­ing, Mar­garet says the only HEMA advert­ising is that which appears in people’s faces: her cli­ents’ skin.

Photography by Scarlett WildWhat sets HEMA apart from oth­er skin­care approaches is its min­im­al­ist style and strictly organ­ic ingredi­ents. After an extens­ive career in the beauty industry, here and inter­na­tion­ally, Mar­garet recog­nised that she had long been dis­sat­is­fied with typ­ic­al skin­care approaches. So she sought to cre­ate an “intel­lec­tu­al­ised” for­mula that focused on the fab­ric of the skin, keep­ing the six top­ic­al lay­ers and pore struc­ture unaltered with nour­ish­ing ingredients.

My back­ground in aro­ma­ther­apy and beauty ther­apy meant I saw cli­ents with sens­it­ive skin, and I found that the com­mer­cial products that I was using then would make them come up pink and itchy.”

After some delib­er­a­tion, Mar­garet stopped work­ing with com­mer­cial products: “I thought, ‘I’m not going to sell any products, just do facials.’” That is what led her to start hand-blend­ing oils, and then to cre­ate her new unbranded for­mula, for use only in her salon. In the early 1990s, Margaret’s new, stripped-back concept gained increas­ing pop­ular­ity, and in 1994, with bur­geon­ing cli­ent demand, her for­mula became “HEMA”.

Mar­garet says that her work is often a case of “fix­ing back up”, includ­ing her own skin. “I was in the industry for so long that it was neces­sary to try products on my own sens­it­ive skin — some of the products that I now call Jiff and Janola!”

She is an advoc­ate for min­im­al­ist skin­care, devoid of exfo­li­ants. “The beauty pro­fes­sion is often over­cooked and over­loaded, and I’m not going to use products that over­cook or over­load the skin. I don’t want to deprive people, but I’m not going to do facials with any­thing I don’t believe works.”

Since its cre­ation, HEMA has reigned as the ori­gin­al oil-based skin­care range. Early on, its loc­al repu­ta­tion boos­ted the brand’s pro­file with an inter­na­tion­al crowd. When the Lord of the Rings movie cast was in town, Mar­garet treated Mir­anda Otto, Eli­jah Wood and Liv Tyler with HEMA facials, and the word has since spread to oth­er celebrity clients.

After leas­ing a space on Lamb­ton Quay for nearly 24 years, Mar­garet has recently relo­cated. In keep­ing with her sig­na­ture salon look, her new space has been styled with the same pink walls, chan­delier and eclect­ic fur­niture, all posi­tioned in exactly the same way as in the pre­vi­ous salon. “I believe if you’ve got a for­mula that works, stay with it,” she affirms.

Margaret’s atti­tude to her salon’s endur­ing aes­thet­ic echoes her own con­fid­ent and inim­it­able style, which sees her wear­ing her hair long and dress­ing as she did in the 1960s. Most fit­tingly, her time­less nature and per­son­al­ity are reflec­ted in her tried and true HEMA formula.

Eliza Romanos

A confirmed Wellingtonian, Eliza comes from a family of journalists and has recently completed a BA at Victoria University in Art History and Media. Now making her own way in the world of journalism, she has particular interests in fashion and art. She misses the DTL in lower Cuba Street and the dance floor being at the other end of Good Luck Bar. Eliza lives in a bitterly cold flat in Brooklyn but appreciates the walk into town through Central Park every morning.