When Allison Humeniuk was a girl, she’d host Edwardian tea parties in her bedroom. When she got older, she began visiting living history museums and collecting vintage cosmetics such as powders, the kind you’ll find in almanacs and ladies’ journals published in the 1800s.

“I’ve always been interested in vintage beauty and the rise of cosmetics,” she said.

Today Humeniuk, who has a private studio in Saco, works full time as a small-batch, artisanal soap maker and freelance makeup artist, and has turned her passion into a business called Zolia Vera. She calls Zolia Vera “a labor of love, nostalgia and creativity.” Humeniuk is originally from Maine, but learned how to make soap in a “tiny apartment” in Boston where she lived for a while. When she moved back to Maine she started selling her products, including cold creams and her Gilded Rose Bar soap, on Etsy.com. She sells them, she jokes, “without the arsenic and mercury” – ingredients that were commonly found in cosmetics a century ago, along with stuff like lye and whale sperm.

Ladies’ almanacs were once the bible of skin care, Humeniuk said. Victorian women made their own soaps and other beauty products, and traded and tweaked basic recipes there. Victorian doctors made house calls with their medical bags filled with powders and elixirs for healing and skin care. Until the rise of department stores, Humeniuk said, lipsticks and other makeups were limited to prostitutes. Many cosmetics were unscented until the Edwardian era, when essential oils became popular (especially rose and lavender), and perfumes began showing up in stores. (It goes without saying that Humeniuk is a huge fan of “Downton Abbey.”)

Humeniuk’s “recipes” often begin with researching old almanacs for inspiration. Her Gilded Rose Bar is made of rose kaolin clay (which is good for shaving) and contains English rose-infused olive oil and rose absolute, a type of highly concentrated essential oil. In a nod to the Gilded Age, each bar is then hand gilded in gold mica.

“I’ve spent a lot of time studying what each ingredient does,” Humeniuk said.

Zolia Vera products are sold online through Humeniuk’s website, zoliavera.com, and through Etsy.com. In Maine, they can be found at the Victorian Mansion and Pinecone + Chickadee in Portland, Nest in Brunswick, Sugar Tools in Camden, and the Sea Glass Spa in Boothbay Harbor. (For a complete list of stockists, visit the website.) The Gilded Rose Bar sells for $8.95.

 

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