Alina Roytberg and Lev Glazman with Her World editor Ng Yi Lian at a rooftop cafe in Chefchaouen (the blue city), Morocco.

We all know the importance of first impressions and the lasting effect they have. I first met Fresh founders Lev Glazman and Alina Roytberg last year when they came to Singapore for the debut of their brand’s Black Tea Kombucha Facial Treatment Essence. Amid 150 people in a noisy, crowded room, I struck up a private conversation with them for a whole 15 minutes – a rare occurrence at a two-hour launch party, and with the founders themselves, too.

They shared personal insights and stories of their early struggles, with no holds barred. When we reconvene a year later in Morocco during a press trip for the launch of the Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Sleeping Mask, Glazman and Roytberg’s personable earnestness allows us to pick up exactly where we left off.

At the first dinner of the trip at the Royal Palm Marrakech, I am seated right next to Glazman, and we chat ceaselessly for hours. He tells me with palpable excitement about the 15 Moroccan rugs he’s spent an entire day shopping for to decorate his new lifestyle project – The Maker Hotel in Hudson, New York. We talk about our mutual love for Japanese fashion designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. (When he learns I’ve met Kenzo Takada before, he relishes every detail I have to share.)

And we confess our facial masking obsessions to each other. “I’ll binge-mask five different types (of masks) in one weekend,” Glazman laughingly admits. “Different parts of your face can have different needs, let alone different lifestyle or seasonal
needs. So five masks over a weekend is not ridiculous at all.”

Glazman is a true creative, and getting a glimpse of his thought processes in our long conversations is a highlight of my trip. I realise that the Fresh Rose Deep Hydration Sleeping Mask is a direct result of Glazman’s masking obsession and creative genius combined.

“I wanted to create a mask that has two parts to it,” he explains while we tuck into a sumptuous spread of seafood tagines and hummus dips. “I wanted to infuse the skin with water, so the first step of the mask consists of rose water, which is the gel part. It’s infused with hyaluronic acid, which acts as a sponge and collects all the moisture. The second step, which is the cream part, seals and preserves the rose water and hyaluronic acid in your skin. It contains a time-release encapsulated technology, so it continues to release moisture into your skin as you sleep throughout the night.”

Despite Fresh being a global phenomenon in nearly 30 countries with more than 200 staff, and part of the LVMH conglomerate, Glazman and Roytberg are still deeply involved with the brand they created nearly three decades ago. They’re also surprisingly candid about how far they’ve come. In a small interview session before we depart Marrakech for Tangier, Roytberg shares, in her characteristic soft-spoken way, personal stories of how Fresh came into being.

“We really had a lot of dreams but could never be sure of our visions for our future. But I think that when you believe in something and want it to happen, it will.”

These accounts include how they learnt about Umbrian clay from an acne-plagued expat friend living in Italy, and being inspired by The Tale of Genji to create Fresh Sake Bath. And Fresh was the first skincare brand to use sugar as an exfoliant, thanks to Glazman’s Russian grandmother and Roytberg’s Ukrainian grandmother using sugar – a natural humectant – on cuts and scrapes when they were growing up.

“We really had a lot of dreams, but could never be sure of our visions for our future. But I think that when you believe in something and want it to happen, it will,” Roytberg says reflectively. “It may not necessarily be a business plan, but more of what you feel and believe. In 1994, Lev found a small factory in Provence that allowed him to create our own fragrances, and we ordered 800 soaps in single notes of wisteria, linden, cyclamen and verbena. Fortunately, we were able to get yet another loan to pay for the soaps upfront, (but before that) we had this very clear moment of panic.”

In fits of chuckles, Glazman adds that he then said to Roytberg: “We’re either going to be very successful, or if we become bankrupt, we’re going to be very clean for the rest of our lives.”

One may think Glazman and Roytberg’s self-deprecating sense of humour isn’t typical of founders of a globally successful brand, but it may well be that very same self-deprecating humour which makes them such brilliant entrepreneurs.

Grab a copy of the August issue of Her World magazine, out on newsstands from 1 Aug 2019.