Health & Grooming

A little more va va groom

Sports-related injuries, weight gain, frown lines, insomnia… A new type of male-orientated city medi-spa targets the lot. Lucia van der Post reports.

November 30 2011
Lucia van der Post

Recessionary times throw up some interesting contradictions. While large sections of the population are belt-tightening and battening down the economic hatches, others are actually spending more to meet the challenges ahead. Some men, for example, are investing heavily in the image they project in the workplace. They want an edge – and are prepared to pay large sums of money to achieve this.

In the UK, the first signs that men were taking grooming seriously began in 2000 with the opening

of The Refinery – a one-stop male “grooming emporium”, as it calls itself. It was followed by Gentlemen’s Tonic in 2004, which besides offering

a traditional wet-shave also took men’s skin seriously, with facials and body scrubs. Gentlemen’s Tonic

saw itself as being in the business of “providing

self-confidence for gentlemen”, and made sure the environment was resolutely male – private treatment rooms, leather chairs, lots of wood and marble, plasma screens, Wi-Fi. Today it has three locations in London and this year it also opened in Hong Kong.

What is interesting, though, is that Olivier Bonnefoy, the man behind the Gentlemen’s Tonic brand, who used to be a banker himself and therefore saw the gap in the market, perceives that the aims have changed since they first opened. Once, the male image was mostly about vanity, about keeping the skin looking good, the hair well cut as well as the suit. Now there are more serious concerns. Today’s man has to look

as if he’s fit enough to compete – it’s tough out there in the job jungle, and there’s no letting-up on any front. “Lots of men in the City work at computers all day long,” says Bonnefoy, “and in the office they can’t afford to look stressed – but inside they are, and it begins to show, which is why more and more men are looking

for help. They are after an extra edge.”

Bonnefoy, like everybody in this market, says that the key thing his City customers are looking for is flexibility. So, if City man is too busy to come to the salon, the salon will go to him, in his home. Gentlemen’s Tonic will also open at special times and, come January, is launching two programmes specifically designed to get the stressed chap off to a good start. One will deal mostly with nutrition, stress and reducing toxins, while the other will aim to sort the overall external image.

At the Andaz hotel in Liverpool Street (formerly The Great Eastern Hotel), prime City territory, the services of its health club are primarily aimed at the business traveller, but there’s a growing demand from men for discreet help in a safe, private environment. So now it offers membership, at £100 a month, to a very select group of people (“We interview them,” says manager Johan du Plessis, “because we want to see if they will

fit in, and they need to find out if we can give them what they’re looking for. Also, they don’t want to come to a gym and find their whole office there.”) Though there are treatment rooms, the emphasis is on the full-service gym, where “there are always at least two personal trainers – and they’ll take members out running if they prefer to be outside”. Things are kept

on a small scale so that it’s never crowded, and there

is a sense of it being a private place where members

get full-on personal attention.

Susan Harmsworth started her business, Espa, in 1993 on the intuition that as the world spun ever

faster so stress levels would rise and help would be needed to relax and unwind. Now, eight years later,

she believes men can be just as high-maintenance as women. The Espa Life concept spa that opened this

July at the Corinthia Hotel London not only offers women all the pampering and aesthetic treatments they’re used to, but also aims to provide for high-earning men the sort of hand-holding tailored treatments that make them look better and can even change their lives.

For many men are in deep trouble, says Harmsworth. As the recession dug in

and it became harder for everybody

to meet their budgets, stress levels in

the competitive world of the City and

big business have risen. “Guys of a certain age in these professions, much more

than women, push themselves too far. They want not only to be the best at

work, they feel they must look good, and then when they reach their 40s and 50s they want to prove they can still run marathons and climb Kilimanjaro. We

see more and more men with sports-related injuries, knees that have been hammered by too much running, adrenal glands shot to pieces by too much stress; often they’re unable to sleep, some have fertility problems, and others have poor personal and family relationships because they bring home the aggression that they need to do well at work.”

Interestingly, this complex array of needs seems to apply much more to men than to women. “Women,” says Max Tomlinson, a trained naturopath, homeopath and nutritionist who heads up the complementary therapy division at Espa Life, “are often far more able to deal with a multitude of tasks, while guys are better at nailing a single task. So now that life has become so much more complicated, many men are finding it difficult and we’re seeing far more highly stressed men. They often work with colleagues who would cut their throat in a dark alley if they got half a chance, they have no time for real friendships, and they feel they have to look good to compete. So they want all the “girlie” bits – the massages, the facials – but they also often have semi-medical needs. And for these sorts of men, health is wealth. If they don’t have the drive, they’re not making money – and often their libido goes too. For years if they felt under the weather they just took a day off, but today their jobs are like

gold and they have to be seen to be at their desks, full

of testosterone, keeping up with the young alpha males yapping at their heels. Their needs are not easily addressed by conventional medicine.”

Which is why Espa Life is offering men a complete package, a one-stop shop, if you like, where the questions of exercise, grooming and nutrition can all be looked at. These men don’t have time to waste. They want results. If they come for an hour, they want that hour to really deliver. So, instead of the client (who personal trainer Stephen Price describes as the “least-qualified person”) deciding on his own programme and going to, say, a chiropractor for his aching muscles, to a gym for some pilates, and to an aesthetician for some Botox, he will be properly assessed by professionals with a “Gatekeeper” (an Espa Life naturopathic practitioner) tailoring a programme to his individual needs. “If they’re in charge of themselves, they do mad things,” says Price. “City boys go in for crazy, crazy highs. They’ll train every day, and do marathons, and boxing – that’s huge in the City – then they rest up for three months, before they do it all over again. It’s why they get burn-out. We try to get them to understand their bodies better, that they need to recover and that they need to relax.” There will be functional medicine testing for vitamin, mineral and hormonal deficiencies, and proper science-based nutritional advice. They’ll get help with insomnia, with fertility and digestive issues. And then, of course, there’ll be help with looking good. “Deep down, everybody wants to look good, ” says Price. “If you look terrible, you can get depressed.” And men, he says, are able to admit that now. So there’s a Daniel Galvin hair salon, and aestheticians for all the usual beauty-salon business (massages and facials, from £95, to day-spa packages, from £270).

“Many alpha males,” says Harmsworth, “have

barriers up all over the place. They’re dealing with

data overload and they don’t seem to have ways of dealing with negative stress, nor do they often know how to deal with emotional issues. When they look for help they don’t want it in a work environment. They want it somewhere away from their colleagues. Here, they’ll find it all under one roof.”

In essence, Espa Life is offering the sort of package that is mostly only found in destination medi-spas. Membership comes in two levels, Quartz and Black, and starts at £3,500 a year, with a joining fee of £1,500; therapists, naturally, are extra. Harmsworth says,

“We are the first to offer this kind of service in a city-centre five-star hotel; to pull together the grooming,

the wellness, the massages, the blow-dry. It’s very expensive to do. Whether it can actually be made to

pay, I don’t yet know.” What does seem clear, however,

is that the whole industry is busy watching.

Esther Fieldgrass also believes that this level of service is what many, particularly the highly pressurised, are looking for. She had been going to Austria regularly for vitamin boosts, as there was nobody offering them in the UK. This inspired her to found the first EF MediSpa in Kensington five years ago, followed by another in Chelsea, and she recently opened a third one in St John’s Wood. Her MediSpas are a one-stop shop where modern City man and woman can come for comfort and for help. She offers aesthetic treatments as well as complementary therapies, but it is the semi-medical treatments that her City clientele seem to love the most. She has trained nurses at all her centres and the Kensington branch is designated a private hospital. For tired, stressed-out clients there’s the Drip & Chill (£225 for one treatment); five different, specially formulated saline drips of vitamins and other nutrients (a consultation is needed first and a blood sample is taken, but the actual treatment takes just an hour). The Power Booster drip, for instance, is “designed for male clients who feel they need that extra kick to keep on top of the game, to get ready for a high-pressure week or hectic series of meetings.” Her City men also love the Vaser Lipo that, for £3,500, will sculpt a six-pack, and she now offers a whole range of treatments, including blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery, generally agreed to be the cosmetic treatment that gives the biggest return for least pain), under twilight sedation, which means no overnight stay.

It’s a demanding market to try and serve. The customer is prepared to pay, but wants exactly what

he wants when he wants it. Flexibility is key. It’s

also an expensive service to provide. Destination

medi-spas are not growing as fast as had been expected. Not everybody wants – or has the time – to spend

a week or two at a spa. City-centre medi-spas may

well be where the future lies.

See also