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Thursday November 1, 2012

How to stay calm and carry on, Spanish style

A Spanish friend recently returned from a holiday in London and enthusiastically showed me some touristy spoils from his jaunt. Curiously his gifts- an assortment of gimmicky T-shirts, mugs, bags and stationery-were all imprinted with the words ‘KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON’. He told me that this soothing message would surely delight family and friends during Spain’s economic crisis?

It seemed churlish to tell him that the novelty of reading this phrase- originally created by the Ministry of Information in the form of a morale boosting poster during the Second World War- had long worn off. Whenever I return to London, supermarkets, department stores and gift shops seem to be swimming in such memorabilia and I can only imagine that Britons are as turned off by it now as I am. It may have worked in the Blitz but I’m not sure it still has resonance today.

All the same I was thinking about that hardy little refrain while reading Brushstrokes of a Lifetime, an autobiography by octogenarian Ricardo Fisas, founder of Spanish luxury skincare brand, Natura Bissé. In truth it was curiosity that persuaded me to read the book. I had been invited by the recently opened Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel in Majorca to sample a Natura Bissé treatment at its spa, and pondered about the origins of the brand. The company sent me a copy of Ricardo Fisas’s book –a testimony to how the human spirit can triumph over innumerable setbacks, trials and disappointments. In fact it should be recommended reading for his beleaguered countrymen in these straightened times.

A Jesuit student on the point of ordination, Ricardo Fisas faced a moral crisis at the age of 32 and returned to secular life. After a number of years working in advertising and marketing he headed up the Wrigley subsidiary in Spain in the late sixties before the dream ended and he lost his job. Next he directed a company that manufactured protein hydrolysates from collagen, elastin and keratin that were broken down into free amino acids. To Fisas’s amazement he noticed that those of his co-workers handling the amino acids had extremely smooth hands. Disaster struck when he again lost his job. This time it was 1979 and Spain was facing a severe economic crisis. Companies were closing down, unemployment was high, and at the age of 50, Ricardo Fisas was jobless with a wife and four young children to support.

It was then that he turned desperation into enterprise. He began experimenting with the ingredients used at the plant which had softened the skin of his workers. After lengthy consultation with dermatologists and cosmetic specialists, he finally launched the fledgling Natura Bissé-whose exotic name took its inspiration from nature and the actress Jacqueline Bisset. The rest, as they say, is history as it is now regarded as one of Spain’s premier luxury brands and enjoys huge international acclaim.

Three years ago, Ricardo Fisas suffered cancer of the lung, made a full recovery and together with his wife, Gloria Vergés, devoted the rest of his time to running the Ricardo Fisas charitable foundation, leaving his daughter Veronica and other family members to run the company. Sadly in January this year he died, but not without having left an incredible legacy to his beloved country.

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