Style » Grooming

Getting Gorgeous at Guerlain Spa

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Tuesday Nov 22, 2011

One of my favorite scenes from "The Wizard of Oz" is when Dorothy and her friends finally make it into the Emerald City - and promptly receive a full-body makeover. The Scarecrow gets plumped with new straw and the Tin Man gets buffed and the Cowardly Lion gets his hair done and Dorothy gets new hair ribbons - and everyone heads off to the Wizard looking all shiny and new.

That's what I want from a day at the spa: that shiny and new feeling so that when you click your heels and head back home, you're looking better than ever.

One late autumn afternoon, I found myself on Park Avenue in New York, staring up at the Art Deco twin towers of the Waldorf=Astoria, which, at that moment, looked remarkably like the Emerald City. Built in 1931 and occupying an entire city block in midtown Manhattan, the 47-story granite and limestone edifice with its bronze cupolas and imposing marquee was, at the time of its completion, the largest hotel in the world.

Marilyn Monroe lived at the Waldorf, as did songwriter Cole Porter - and also gangsters "Bugsy" Siegel and "Lucky" Luciano. Paris Hilton spent her childhood at the Waldorf. And in 1993, the Waldorf=Astoria became an official New York City landmark.

With a history filled with illustrious characters and notable events, the Waldorf=Astoria has been, for years, synonymous with grandeur and glamour - and it’s fitting that the first Guerlain Spa outside of Paris is now housed on the 19th floor of the Waldorf Towers.

One of the oldest and most distinguished perfume houses in the world, Guerlain has created more than 300 fragrances since its inception in 1828. For many people, Guerlain’s signature fragrance is Shalimar (1925), the house’s flagship perfume - and the one which many of us remember enveloping our mothers.

I called my mother as I stood in front of the Waldorf and told her I where I was heading. "Guerlain," she said, sighing. "Oh, it’s going to be wonderful."

Reopened in August 2011 after a stunning renovation, Guerlain Spa is a white marble sanctuary high in the sky overlooking Park Avenue. The Towers elevators open onto a lavish reception area, illuminated by hanging crystals and soothing water. The 14,000 square-foot space features 15 treatment rooms, as well as fully-appointed wet therapy suites.

As I waited in the hushed lounge with its views onto midtown, sipping green tea and forcing myself not to wolf down a silver plate of French petits fours, a young woman emerged from behind a door across the expansive room. Swathed in a huge robe, she sank onto a divan with a huge sigh of happiness, and then, catching my eye, she said. "I’m never going to forget this day."

Raised in the country on a Caribbean island, the young woman had just received the first massage of her life - at Guerlain Spa. "It’s so beautiful here," she said, gazing around and smiling. "I never want to leave."

The Caribbean woman’s awe was as ingenuous as it was understandable. With private treatment suites as large as some studio apartments in Manhattan and Tokyo, Guerlain Spa is a sensory oasis of calm and serenity - and indulgence. Signature Guerlain treatments and services include 5-Senses Hydrotherapy and Impèriale Relaxing Massage, as well as signature facials such as Abeille Royal Expert Treatment and Orchidée Impèriale.

My treatment room featured a private bathroom, a walk-in shower with a rainforest showerhead, and a built-in wardrobe. Orchid plants and blossoms were arranged on counters and the massage table. My esthetician asked me my musical preference - and thereafter, I sank into physiological and psychological bliss.

The four-step, 90-minute Abeille Royale Treatment utilizes Guerlain’s Abeille Royale skincare line, notable for its ability to restructure and tighten the skin. Abeille Royale is formulated with Pure Royale Concentrate, which is a blend of more than eight types of honey, including a French royal jelly from a sustainable Guerlain farm in France that raises the rare black honey bee.

The treatment commences with a gentle cleansing peel that helps prepare the skin for the Abeille Royale Serum. The second step is a healing massage with "heating stamps," which are similar to sachets of herbs that have been warmed to release botanical essences that are beneficial to the skin. During the third step, the Abeille Royale Serum is applied to fine lines and wrinkles, which is then followed by the application of Abeille Royale Cream.

Guerlain Spa is also known for its signature foot massage, which is offered to clients before the commencement of any treatment. As well, hands and forearms are placed in gloves filled with warm paraffin, leaving your skin as soft as a newborn.

As you might imagine of a skincare company initiated by the love of fragrance, Guerlain Spa is an olfactory paradise. Guerlain is the perfumer who created such classic men’s fragrances as Habit Rouge and Vetiver - and women’s classics such as Jicky, L’Heure Bleue, Vol de Nuit, and Mitsouko.

And as you lie on the table, your face enveloped in a bouquet of rare and natural ingredients, your nose leads you on a fragrant journey. Imagine floating atop a cloud through a fabled hanging garden, blooms and blossoms brushing against your face. It’s no wonder that our Caribbean friend never wanted to leave.

As in yoga, where everything is about the fluidity and flow between asanas, so, too, does Guerlain smooth the transitions between the idyll and the real - and as you ease back into the world you left behind, you’ll find yourself rejuvenated and relaxed - and looking more radiant than before. A lagniappe of freshly-baked macaroons insures that a smile remains on your face as you head home down Park Avenue.

Think about giving someone you love the gift of a day at Guerlain Spa - and do it for yourself as well.


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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