Creative Director and founder of Houston Graeff on her journey through postpartum depression and her seriously impressive – yet surprisingly affordable – skincare routine
by Colleen Crivello
SHARE THE LOVE (& THE STYLE)
With a ton of friends in common, is was high-time that Esther I connected. When we finally met it was love at first site immediately bonding over our shared interested in house music. Stunning as can be with a depth of character that will send chills down your spine, Esther is a woman to aspire after – join us as we chat with this stunner about her postpartum depression and road to recovery, how meeting her husband literally changed her life and why sometimes loosing everything can actually cause you to gain so much more. @estherhouston
Photos by: Elizabeth Pettey @elizabethpetteyphotoWhat do you collect? I try not to hold on to possessions and I actively give a lot away. A couple years ago, I did the dumbest thing and decided to check my carry-on luggage – I would never generally do this, but the flight was so delayed and I was so tired. During that leg of the trip, all of my valuable jewelry was stolen from my bag and it became this very dramatic situation in which I tried to sue the airline. The takeaway from the whole experience – while initially it was a really big deal, I eventually decided to drop it and when I did, I ultimately stopped caring about “things” in general. It completely consumed me for over a month in dealing with lawyers and such and to what end is it all really worth? Suddenly I realized that none of it mattered. When all was said and done, I had one piece left – a really beautiful Rolex with diamonds. I sold it and gave the money to charity in order to be liberated from the whole experience. Truth was, it was a very powerful lesson for me about what’s important in life. Simultaneously I had become a mother which entirely changed my focus and what I prioritized. I lost everything plus had a baby at the same time and realized it just doesn’t matter – it was freeing.
A woman you’re inspired by: I’m surrounded by so many phenomenal women, from my own mom to my mother-in-law plus so many amazing female founders leading incredible organizations. For example, my friend Christine Kane, who started A21, an organization that’s battling sex trafficking. Their work is so important in that they not only rescue these women/children but they also set up programs to help them adjust and acclimate to society rather then simply setting them out into the world with no skills and years of abuse. They also work to prosecute the people that are doing the actual sex trafficking. She’s focused on fixing the problem and truly helping people.
On meeting your husband: We met at a dinner with friends – I sat across from him. It was basically all couples and the two of us. I’d just gotten out of a long relationship which was a challenge to detach myself from and I felt I had to change my group of friends as a result. When we met, Joel was this random Australian guy that had zero ties to my old world and he felt so good and safe to be around. He’s a really good person, which was the opposite from the environment that I’d come from, i.e. fake and shallow. I needed to be surrounded by people who had good values, considered family to be of utmost importance and believed in basic things like not cheating on your wife. Joel was so refreshing, he trusted me and loved me – he brought me back to the values that I’d grown up with and that my last relationship had stripped of me. I was mesmerized by the whole thing, all the love and respect. We didn’t start dating immediately but became best friends instead and started hanging out all the time. Ultimately he changed my life and I saw him change other people’s lives too. There’s nothing more gratifying than that.
On Hillsong:Obviously with my husband’s side of the family we have the church and all that comes with it. There’s this whole other level that goes with his family in which it’s always about helping people and putting others first. The call to action is, how can we help when people are suffering? If there’s an issue somewhere, we go to aid or we work on community building by going to the women’s prison for example and distributing makeup so they can feel a little better about themselves. All of this was such departure from where I was before I met Joel and by taking the focus away from yourself, you find love, joy and true friends.
On going the distance: I believe how you grow old with someone is by having the same end goal. What we want to build in 20 years is the same thing, so we have to keep on it and we always have those goals to return to – it’s about the bigger picture. Even if we argue, because that’s part of the reality of living and raising a baby together – we always come back to our common goals and where we want to go and grow together.
On your experience with postpartum depression: Often times as women when we take on this new role of motherhood we can put so much pressure on ourselves because we think we’re supposed to perform a certain way or be overjoyed with by our baby however the reality of everything that’s suddenly required of us during that time can be completely overwhelming. The moment you become a mom you’re responsible for the survival of this tiny person, which is so different than getting married wherein you certainly care about your husband’s wellbeing, but at the end of the day he’s still an adult and can take manage for himself. After I had my son, I found a lot about my new life to be extremely challenging, for example, breastfeeding. I didn’t produce any milk and felt like I was failing as a result because I couldn’t even give my baby the milk that he needed. In addition, simple tasks like getting myself coffee in the morning suddenly felt like an insurmountable effort. All of these major changes coupled with an extreme hormonal imbalance became completely paralyzing for me and I felt so alone. Unfortunately, I think a lot of women find their struggle with new motherhood hard to talk about and personally I was afraid of sounding ungrateful or that I couldn’t handle it. Overall I felt incompetent – by nature I’m very confident and generally I don’t doubt my decisions, but with my baby I doubted everything. None of that was actually true but rather my feelings were circumstantial and physical. After “trying to make it work” and living unknowingly in a constant state of depression, I figured out that what I was experiencing was actually a condition – postpartum depression. I was incapable of feeling any joy at a time when I had all the reason in the world to feel joy, i.e. beautiful family, everyone healthy, etc. If I met up with my friends or went out to dinner with family, I felt nothing and instead it made everything more difficult for me and ultimately not worth it. So, I stopped going out and I’d just stay home by myself to rest. I became so anti-social and removed. It wasn’t normal but I couldn’t get myself out of the depression even though I knew the thoughts in my head weren’t accurate. I needed to be aware of the difference between what’s true and what I was feeling because sometimes emotions have a way of clouding judgement. Thoughts like, even though I feel like an incompetent mother, I know that’s not actually true because I’m doing my best and I love my child – so why do I feel like I’m failing? After I made that distinction and they didn’t match, I finally understood that I had a crazy chemical imbalance and sought professional help. My doctor was shocked that I’d lasted 14 months in that state. Once I got help, over time I found my balance again – it’s been a journey. In my case, it had to get really bad before I was able to admit that what was happening to me was out of my control and that I needed to be treated professionally. Perhaps if the topic was more widely talked about, I would have felt safer to confront what I was dealing with. It’s important for women to know that a lot of new moms feel this way but that doesn’t make them a bad mother and certainly doesn’t mean that they don’t love their baby. The conversation needs to be open so that we can learn how to deal with postpartum depression in a real way and truly focus on self-care in order to free us up to be the best mothers we can be. I would encourage women to know that many of us go through this and not to feel embarrassed or shy about what they’re feeling. And remember, the life of others may seem perfect via Instagram but a lot of us are struggling in different ways.
On taking time for you and Joel: We’re bad at that and have actually been talking a lot about it recently – between tours, school, travel, a child and work it’s really challenging. WE need to get better about making time for dinner – just the two of us in order to constantly to reconnect. Once you have a kid, it’s hard to prioritize time for yourselves but we really have to make it a priority.
Beauty/health discovery for women:OMGosh yes! Korean beauty products are incredible, I’m so into them – I think that they’re better and cheaper than a lot of the stuff that we have available to us here. You could go for Le Prairie or something – also great products, but I have better stuff that costs 30 bucks. I buy them on Amazon majority of the time, and have always had a good experience – I refer to the ratings heavily. After all, when you get to a certain age you have to try everything and some things work and some not. For about a year now I’ve exclusively bought Korean products and nothing over $50. So far, everything is better than I had before and the results are unbelievable.
Makes you feel sexy – especially as a relatively new mom: A blow-out. You walk in feeling low and walk out feeling bouncy and refreshed.
Best treatment for puffy under eyes:The first 4 hours of the morning are the worst – so I combat with these incredible under eye patches found below.
Fitness routine:I never work out, I’m a disaster in that arena. In high school and college I was a hardcore athlete – Volleyball. I’ve been in sports since I was a kid, first in swimming and then when I was about 9 I got into volleyball. I practiced 5-6 days a week, 3-4 hours a day and traveled constantly for tournaments. I got a scholarship for college as Division 1 at St.Francis studying communications and I did that until I dropped out of college all together to travel around the world when I was 20. After I left school, I think I was just done with the whole thing and never worked out again. I still have a lot of muscle memory from all those years in sports but likely for health’s sake. I should consider doing something these days – we’ll see. I did yoga once and it was the best I’ve ever felt – of course, at the time I swore I’d do it regularly but never went back. I actually don’t mind working out once I’m in the zone, it’s simply more about finding the time.
Makeup routine: I swear by eyeliner and eyelash extensions – for 10+ years now.Lash extensions make you feel just a little brighter, plus you wake up “done” which is great for moms short on time. I do think you have to be really careful where you go and fill them in only once a month rather than every 2 week like they suggest. It’s important that you take really good care of them and keep them clean. In NYC I would suggest to go to Bling or Ebenezer.
Do you believe in botox? I love it – I think that botox is the best thing ever. I’d say, stay on the conservative side, not too much as you never want the skin to look shiny – people are way over doing it! It definitely helps you look a little younger. Also acids and laser are great which I’ve done in the past but now I’ve gotten into doing my own facials at home and I have all those machines. My friends actually come to me for facials – which produce very effective results. I used NuFace for awhile but now I have the next level up from that which is very serious. I also use the LED lights.
On practicing wellness and self-care:I know what’s good for me but I don’t necessarily do it 🙂 Recently I’ve started to take vitamins – Im on this whole regiment. I’ve always hated taking vitamins but I found this brand of gummy vitamins for adults called Vita Fusion that I actually take because it’s like eating a candy – there’s a Biotin for hair and Omega 3 for skin. Vitamins are annoying because you generally can’t take them on an empty stomach but the gummies are different. Plus, I found this massage for my face that you’re supposed to do 10 min, once a day for 2 weeks and you’ll see results immediately. I have done it twice only now and I’ve already notice a difference – a lift and less definition of fine lines. You can view the video here on how to do the massage. I also have a very good oil from NY Biology that’s supposed to be slimming, skin tightening and cellulite reducing. It’s meant to be applied right out of the shower when you’re still a little wet – you’re a bit oily, but the effects are there. For the face I have a therma lift machine from Norlanya which is good for shrinking the pores and skin tightening – two things that keep you looking young .
On life in the burbs:It’s been amazing – I love having the space! I was afraid to leave the city because I thought I was going to be lonely but honestly I was more lonely in the city. The total time we’ve lived here now, I’ve probably spent about 4 hours alone – we’re always hosting and the house is constantly filled with people we love. I’ve never lived in a house before – city girl apartment in Brazil to city girl apartment in London to city girl apartment in NYC. It feels so good to know that it’s my property and I’m not sharing any walls. I’ve always loved the city, but interestingly I’ve found that I don’t want to be there as much as I thought I would, although I do come in for meetings quite often. When you live in the city, you really need these common spaces like SohoHouse and restaurants to host dinners and you share those spaces, but up here I can do all of that in my house – it’s been wonderful.
A typical day of eating:I eat horrible – I need to get it together! I eat processed sugars and I’m too lazy to cook. It’s worse now that we live out of the city too because it used to be that at 10pm if I was hungry I could at least order something delicious and relatively healthy but forget that in the ‘burbs – it’s pizza or I’m eating Zi’s snacks. You really have to plan ahead up here, which I’m not yet used to, so instead I pour a glass of wine and call it a night.
App that most changed your life:Instagram for sure. Although, it’s no longer fun because it’s become so work oriented. Maybe Uber too. And JetSmarter! I just got my membership and recently did my first trip to Miami – it’s kind of like the Uber pool of flying. I feel like that one is about to change my life.
Most eccentric closet piece:Off the top of my head, the most unusual piece is a glitter gold gown that’s very “JLo vibe” – super low cut, long and ombre. I wore it to the amfAR gala.
A styling tip or trick: Layering. I love long, black pieces that are flowy and add a little drama. Also, knee high boots over pants can make an outfit in a very easy way, a total no-brainer.
Your teenage style:Oh my, I was like Brittany Spears – Uggs and all. I wore really low-rise jeans and my belly button was pierced. I thought it was so cool back then, now I look at those photos and I’m terrified – no wonder my mom didn’t want me to leave the house. I wore full on midriff tops (read: not cute on-trend crop tops). Sweatshirts tied around my waist and ugly sneakers – the whole thing. Obviously I couldn’t leave the house like that so I would wear something over it and then take it off once I was out the door. Horrible.
Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?Coco Chanel because she’s a legend.
On launching Houston Graeff, your brand: We’re good friends and always wanted to do something together – both in love with fashion. The concept is small quantities (no more than 50 pieces) with exclusive one-offs that all feel really special and unique yet are very affordable. We believe that designer clothes are ridiculous because there’s so much good stuff out there that’s not a fortune. We launched initially as passion project but have since seen that it really has traction so we’ve started putting plans in place for 2017 in order to really ramp up the business and take it to the next level. We’re now working to get everything together with a business plan. It’s can be challenging living in two different cities, we talk a lot but will start to spend more time going back and forth to work more closely with one another.