For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an image of myself as an older woman living in New Mexico. But I didn’t start out here. I had to get here…all the way from Brooklyn, and that often evokes the response, “Now that’s a big change!” And certainly, it was. But every once in a while, I’ll have a magical déja vu moment that reminds me of what prompted me to be here—a particularly expansive view, the pluck of a guitar, or the way a room grows more blue in the evening.
Talking to Vapour co-founder Kristine Keheley about the magnetism of Taos, she helps distill my déja vu into the mantra, “Beauty, Space and Time.” This mantra has motivated Kristine since she got out of college and beelined to the Greek Isles with her best friend in search of “the perfect island.” They spent a lot of time on boats not finding it. Kristine remembers writing in her journal, “Why did I think I had to go so far away to find what I was looking for? I should have tried New Mexico.”
For Kristine, a self-taught oil painter, Beauty, Space and Time converge in Taos as light. “The light that drew me here is like that white light of the Mediterranean. It’s a light that defines objects, that creates fascinating spatial effects around objects,” she says. In her twenties and thirties, when she was studying intensely, she could sit for hours watching the light and the clouds shift. The movement of weather across vast sky and landscape influenced her early painting, and still resonates within her art and her color and skincare formulations for Vapour.
The altitude of the town of Taos is 6,900 feet and the nearby Ski Valley sits at 9,200 feet. This means a light jacket or sweater is needed throughout summertime in the evenings, and winter can be severe. To Kristine the high altitude creates a different kind of light and effects of light throughout the day. When the slant of the sun steepens, like during sunset, “color becomes incredibly saturated, incredibly intense, and definition of objects becomes different.”
“Taos is the perfect proving ground,” says Kristine of Vapour product creation. “This harsh high-desert environment ensures that our products really help protect the skin from bright sunlight, low humidity and extreme wind.” Kristine adds, “We’re very respectful of the fact that there’s not much water here. And we’re challenged to make products that are very moisturizing because that’s what’s best for our skin here.”
Taos boasts a wide variety of inhabitants. “Taos Pueblo is the longest continuously inhabited place in North America. Every mile of land is saturated with human story,” says Kristine. The Tiwa-speaking Pueblo Natives have tended the spirit of this place for thousands of years. The Taos Pueblo is a living Native American community as well as a National Historic Landmark and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some Hispanic families here trace their roots back to the conquistadors, who first visited the region in 1540. Anglos started arriving in the early 1800s as mountain men, trappers, fur traders and artists. The Taos Society of Artists was officially founded in 1915. Of today’s community Kristine says, “It’s a very fierce individualistic person that thrives here, because of the land, because we know that it’s more powerful than we are. People here really accept that as part of their daily life. It’s important to live a sustainable life, because we see how close we are to the land.”
All of these factors contribute greatly to Vapour’s vision. Kristine and Krysia met here in Taos, they founded the company here and they both love how much the Vapour staff and production crew reflect the community of Taos. As Kristine puts it, “It’s been important for us to continue to hire from here and to be a part of the community.”
Just for kicks, I asked Kristine how Vapour would be different if she and Krysia had met in Pittsburgh; she believes it wouldn’t be as creative. “Because we’re out here in this remote, high-altitude kind of Shangri-La town, we’ve done it our own way, with our own original set of ideas, and we’ve not been hindered by being told what wasn’t possible. We’ve been told on various trips to New York that something couldn’t be done…when we were already doing it.”
The magical mix that makes Taos Taos, also makes Vapour different from any other brand. Kristine sums it up, “It’s a little bit pioneer, a little bit outlaw, a little bit adventurer and a lot of art. I think we’re very much of this place.”
photos courtesy of Jack Mitchell Photograpy