Vivien Leigh As Queen Caesar and Cleopatra 1945
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh - A Grass-fed Beauty Balm Fit for Cleopatra

Remnant Beauty is an artisan, organic and grass-fed skincare marque based in Brighton and inspired by Queen Cleopatra and ancient beauty ideas, ingredients and rituals to harness the therapeutic benefits of grass-fed animal fats from tallow to lard.

Editor Alison Jane Reid talks to the founder Michelle Miha, about her love of the vibrant, cafe society buzz of Brighton, recovering from serious illness and the lightbulb moment when she began making her own handmade, grass-fed chemical-free and water-free skincare to heal her own damaged skin. The star elixir - the exquisite Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Balm worthy of The Queen of the Nile and embellished with illuminating 24-carat gold.

Of course, as The Luminaries Magazine, we are forever inspired by Hollywood and Shakespeare's immortal lines about Cleopatra and the film icons who played her on-screen, especially Vivien Leigh and Elizabeth Taylor. Why not sail down the Nile this weekend and watch the moment when Burton and Taylor fell truly, madly in love on and off screen as Mark Anthony and Cleopatra in Joseph Mankiewicz's epic Cleopatra -  with the world looking on? But first, meet a small artisan business founder and learn how fat is making a comeback for vibrant health, nutrition and simple, no-fuss ageless beauty.

Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra 

AJR What are your passions and what is it like to live on England's South Coast in Brighton, a place that is often called London beside the sea?  It is also a place celebrated for fashion, royalty and organic and grass-fed ideas! Where's your favourite slow place in the city?

MM I am originally from South Africa and have been living in Brighton since 2010.  I remember visiting Brighton in my early 20s, and as the bus drove into the city I knew that I was going to live here someday.  I was instantly captivated by the laid-back, arty culture and the individualistic style of the Brightonians.  I now live in the suburbs of the outskirts of Brighton as I prefer a slower pace of life, and I love that I can easily dip back into the coffee-house buzz of city life.  My favourite slow place in the city is the Royal Pavilion Gardens, especially in Spring!

I am hugely passionate about healthy living, and pilates and I’m currently learning to speak french.  My favourite pastime is delving into very particular topics of research - whichever has peaked my attention most at the time.  My current topic of research is the MBTI personality typing system. I'm fascinated by how accurate it is and how much there is to it.

AJR Increasingly, people who do their research and listen to world-renowned scientists, professors and doctors are coming to understand that fat from healthy grass-fed animals is good for us - from butter to lard, ghee and tallow. There has been a lot of corrupt, paid-for science around fat and the low-fat diet industry that has now been debunked by scientists including The Big Fat Surprise. What was your lightbulb moment that led to the creation of Remnant Beauty?

MM Remnant Beauty came about so unexpectedly for me.  I had become extremely ill with adrenal fatigue, which led to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome / ME.  The reason I got ill was due to being on a plant-based diet for 3 years while doing incredibly demanding exercises daily and hardly taking any rest.  I believed the myth that you can get enough protein from a plant-based diet and my poor body could not cope with the lack of nourishment while hammering it with intense exercise (another myth:  the “no pain no gain” exercise narrative).  I consulted some of the best Practitioners in the Natural Health space and they all said that they would not be willing to work with clients who were plant-based.  That’s when the penny dropped!

Remnant Beauty Products

My skin got unbearably dry during this time - it was literally flaking off and felt like sandpaper. I kept ordering more and more expensive skincare to try to remedy the problem and it wasn’t improving at all.  My love of research came to the rescue as I found a few articles on Tallow and what a wonder ingredient it was for the skin.  No one in the UK was selling tallow skincare at the time; so I decided to find a recipe and made some myself.  I couldn’t believe the difference it made to my skin and how quickly it worked.  I decided then and there that I was going to put a couple of jars up for sale on Etsy and see if it would sell.  To my amazement they did, and people were over the moon to find someone who was making and selling tallow skincare.  Sales were incredibly slow to start; which suited me perfectly as my energy was still so low and it gave me time to learn the ropes of e-commerce and marketing.

AJR How did you become an organic and grass-fed beauty alchemist? What ancient techniques have you discovered and studied in order to incorporate the best, therapeutic ingredients from nature's larder to heal, restore and beautify our skin?

Precious Frankincense

MM In the very early stages of Remnant Beauty, I took a Diploma in Organic Skincare and was immediately disappointed.  The vision I had for Remnant Beauty was for it to be 100% unadulterated natural skincare, and the diploma was all about including all of the unpronounceable names that we see on ingredients lists, and that I was very intentionally avoiding in my own skincare (as I had learnt about how they disrupt the hormone and endocrine system).  I spent a huge amount of time experimenting on my own and researching, and that is really where I learnt everything that I use in making natural skincare.  I do not use water in my skincare so I don’t need to use any preservatives or emulsifiers and animal fats in particular have an incredibly long shelf life!

I also researched 18th Century skincare and took the best of what I learned there and blended it with what I had learned.  I was particularly interested in how they used natural colourings from roots and the techniques that they used to infuse colour into the oils.  A conventional lip gloss would only take me about 10 minutes to formulate, however my Lano Tint Lip Balm took about 60 iterations as the natural oils and colours turned it into an altogether different beast!

AJR Have you looked at Culpepper? There is so much wisdom, fun and knowledge in his pharmacopoeia.

Remnant Beauty Founder Michelle Mihah

MM Yes! I have a couple of his herbal books.  I have a particular soft spot for straight-talking, critically thinking trailblazers!  (Ed - That's Culpepper.) I also love how he was on a mission to make these remedies available to the poor and uneducated.  Truly a remarkable and inspiring man.

AJR  Your signature balm, the gold, frankincense and myrrh balm smells like no other modern face cream. It is sensuous, opulent, warming and uplifting. It's an elixir for the mind as well as the skin. How long did it take to perfect the formula and that regal aroma? Is it important that your balms act on the mind as much as the skin?

Deck Chairs at Brighton Beach, Overlooking the Pier

MM This balm was on my mind for about three years before I made it.  I loved the idea of creating a Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Balm for Christmas and decided that I was going to do it in October last year.  I had already studied the use of Frankincense and Myrrh in oils so I was confident about my formulation strategy. I wanted to use real frankincense and myrrh as so many Remnant Beauty customers are real purists and prefer not to use essential oils, and I wanted them to be able to use the balm as well.  I was less confident about using the gold leaf. Amazingly, it turned out perfect on the first go; which almost never happens!  I was in awe of the fragrance as I had never worked with real frankincense and myrrh.  To me, it smells exactly as you would expect:  mystical, ancient and romantic.

Surprisingly, my Unscented Balms sell the most, but that is because many of my customers have a “less is more” ethos and there are two schools of thought with essential oils: one being that they are therapeutic and another being that they have been isolated from the other properties of the plant and therefore not in their most natural form.  I use therapeutic-grade essential oils and I believe that they do have therapeutic value.  So not all of my balms smell as wonderful as the Gold Frankincense & Myrrh, and especially with the Unscented Balm you do experience a slight tallow undertone; however, it dissipates completely in a few minutes.

AJR The Luminaries Magazine celebrates life in the slow, sloth lane from slow journalism to slow food, fashion, living and beauty. Will you stay slow, artisan and precious as a business as you grow? What is your vision for Remnant Beauty?

MM Yes!  I have the same ethos and love the slow-living lifestyle.  I am uncompromising when it comes to Remnant Beauty as a company because the very thing that makes it special would be lost in a mass-production business model.  I am happy for it to stay smaller and maintain its values of being completely natural, handmade, sustainable, luxurious and unique.  I have been ruminating about adding a line of natural perfumes in the next year or two.

I am open to expanding as long as all of the handmade practices remain in place and I am starting to strategise and plan for that now.

Rex Harrison, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in Cleopatra 

AJR How have ancient histories and the fables surrounding Cleopatra and the Queen of Sheba inspired the beauty unguents you make? Would these ancient queens have used fat to beautify skin and body? What about other ingredients?

MM Yes, my Bee Balm was actually inspired by Cleopatra as she is rumoured to have used honey and olive oil in her skincare.  We tend to think that we have advanced so much in our modern world but as far as beauty treatments are concerned they certainly left most of our mass-produced products in the dust!

In Victorian times they used carmine (made of crushed beetles) as a red colouring, alkanet root as well as madder root.  I have used all of these in my lip and cheek products and they work well.  I also make my own propolis to use in the Bee Balm and I use Royal Jelly in there as well.

AJR Every woman wants to maintain the glow of their teens and early twenties. What is the best way to create a beautiful, luminous rose flush to the skin at any age?

MM I have created two products that may fit the bill!  One is called Pearl Polish, which is a pearlescent highlighter that can be swiped on the cheeks, cupid's bow and the bridge of the nose for a natural glow.  The other comes in a lip balm form and is called “Rosalina”.  It’s a gorgeous rose-toned glowy balm that can be used on lips and cheeks for that “I’ve just been for a walk in the winter air” kind of flush.

AJR How and where do you make the balms and flower-scented elixirs? Are you a one-woman cottage industry? Any disasters when you first started to craft your formulas?

MM I have just had to move as Remnant Beauty outgrew my previous residence.  I have assistance during the Christmas season but I mostly work on my own.  It’s not going to be sustainable for much longer though which is why plans for expansion are high on the agenda!

MM I always learn so much from my formulating mistakes, so I’m never too upset about them.  When I first started formulating I was experimenting with making an eye cream and accidentally picked up the wrong oil.  The result was a high-gloss eye cream, which is never a good look!  I decanted my error into little pots and used them up as lip balm, and that has actually turned out to be one of my personal favourites! I wear it almost daily with my favourite nude lip liner.

AJR Where do you source your organic, grass-fed ingredients, gold leaf and intriguing botanicals?

MM I buy my animal fats directly from farms.  I am very fortunate to live in a rural area and have made some good connections.  As for the botanicals, I infuse all of my own oils so I buy the herbs and make them myself.  I often get feedback that my Tallow Balm is “the best” and I am convinced that it is because I am one of the only makers who are buying the fat and rendering it in-house, so the quality is maintained.  Deodorised Tallow is much greasier and less nourishing than the real thing.

What is the most interesting ingredient you have discovered and included in your beauty elixirs?

Gold Leaf

I was using Camel Hump fat a while back and it is so wonderful, however, it became too expensive to import.  I would say that Ghee and Emu oil are some of the stranger fats that I use.  Carmine is definitely the most interesting colouring ingredient - I haven’t heard of anyone else using it!  And of course, I have to mention the Frankincense and Myrrh too!

AJR How has setting up Remnant Beauty changed the way you live, eat and take care of your health?

MM I feel like my health journey and the birth of Remnant Beauty are so interconnected!  I really do live out my brand ethos.  I have always been one to experiment and go the unconventional route, so using animal fats in skincare feels really fitting for me!  I am very committed to taking care of my health and I make my own probiotic foods such as sauerkraut and kefir, and I drink bone broth daily to support my gut.  There is definitely a theme of making everything naturally, from scratch using traditional methods!

MM Having a handmade business means that I have to be very intentional about my time, my health and living a balanced life, as it would be very easy to only focus on work and neglect other important aspects of life - like relationships.  It has definitely (through quite a bit of trial and error) helped me to put what is important into perspective.

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 Film Epic Cleopatra

AJR How do you feel about women and icons who increasingly are subjecting themselves to Frankenstein treatments to hide the ageing process? How can women reclaim the natural ageing process with grace and confidence in an ageist world?

MM I really believe that health is beauty.  Glowing skin, bright eyes and great energy are inherently attractive and ageless.  Eating well, drinking clean water and exercising are infinitely better investments than injecting highly dubious substances into the face.  Many celebrities continue to chase youth in this way and end up with faces that don’t move naturally and often do irreversible damage to their faces as they continue to undergo more and more procedures.

MM No amount of plastic surgery or fillers improves skin quality, but a great diet, adequate sleep and hydration do!  It’s amazing how simple the best solutions really are.  A happy, healthy face of any age is far more attractive than one that has had unnatural interventions.  My personal ethos is to focus on health, balance, enjoying life and being present in relationships and not bowing to societal expectations.

Alison Jane Reid was in conversation with Remnant Beauty Founder Michelle Miha. For more information visit the website. Remnant Beauty

Watch the Queens of Hollywood play Queen Cleopatra

Cleopatra - starring Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Rex Harrison. The epic 1963 film directed by Joseph Mankiewicz cost £31 million to make and would almost bankrupt 20th Century Fox. Fortunately, the critics liked it, and the film garnered four Oscars. Cleopatra is notable for the chemistry between Burton and Taylor, the lavish sets and costumes and the makeup.

Watch Cleopatra

Caesar and Cleopatra, Starring Vivien Leigh, Claude Reins, Stewart Granger and Flora Robson.  Adapted for film by George Bernard Shaw from his play. 1945.

The film was well-received in the US but never recouped its huge budget. Caesar tries to heal the wound between a young Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy. He also schools Cleopatra in the art of power.

Caesar and Cleopatra can be found on YouTube and various pay-to-view channels, depending on where you live. The film is also available in the US on Amazon Prime. Caesar and Cleopatra


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