October 25 2012
Sorority; from the Latin soror, or sister (on the pattern of fraternity).” Fundamentally, sisterhood, although the 21st-century connotations of the word are mostly to do with university-age bonding and clique-y rites of passage. But at its essence – the ancient ideal as well as the etymology – is the concept of a genuine female society, fed by cultural and idea exchange, the celebration of womanhood, and the collective pursuit of wellness and goodness, both personally and for the greater community.
London is full of women – wealthy, connected, accomplished, socially committed ones who call the city home for all or part of the year – to whom this ideal is probably deeply appealing. London, somewhat paradoxically, is also a city whose most prestigious and established private members’ clubs are resolutely unisex (if not men only). Why? In the year 2012, why is there no redoubt for women only, furnished with all the services and pleasing accoutrements they seek, where they can be themselves in like-minded company?
Kate Percival has for the past few years had these questions very top of mind. A luxury brands and services marketer who divides her time between London and Monaco, she is the epitome of the above-described woman. She is also the founder of Grace Belgravia, the city’s first and only non-university-affiliated women’s members’ club, whose doors on West Halkin Street will discreetly open this month.
“Sorority” is a word she reaches for more than once in describing Grace. To wit: “membership is not about being rich, high powered or well connected; it is about wanting to be part of a sorority of like-minded women. We’re asking them to leave their egos at the door and, irrespective of their title, job, background, dress size, number of children and so on, to be willing to embrace the opportunity to be part of a dynamic movement.”
Percival’s path to Grace, as it were, was a personal one. “At the age of 49, when I had run two businesses, I hit that point of wondering where I was going,” she recounts. “So I took a masters degree in luxury brands and services, and chose the convergence of spas and medicine as the subject of my thesis. We know that spa therapies aren’t deep enough to address most medical issues; but similarly we know that massage, for example, is extraordinarily important to overall wellbeing. Meanwhile, there are destination spas that offer a sort of oasis of wellness, but they’re completely removed from real life. So where did total, daily woman’s wellbeing come from?” By which she means mental and physical health and fitness, without question; but also social interaction, intellectual stimulation and cultural development. “And there was no actual physical place that offered all of that.” (The women’s network known as The Sorority, founded in 2010 by designer and bussinesswoman Lisa Tse, was heretofore the closest manifestation of this idea, but as it has no actual bricks-and-mortar space for meetings, it is more an online community than a members’ club.)
Thus was the idea of Grace Belgravia conceived. “I had all these friends,” continues Percival; “and I noticed that the ones who hadn’t worked and whose children had grown up were a bit adrift, and the ones who did work were focused on the next professional stage and not acknowledging other, perhaps impoverished, areas of their lives. What I wanted to create was a place for advice and services – initially focused on holistic wellness, but then it became clear that intellectual, social and cultural fulfilment had to be part of it, too.”
Housed in an 11,500sq-ft Grade II-listed Georgian building that has been renovated to leverage every last source of natural light while also providing seclusion from urban distractions, Grace at its core is about supplying expertise of a level that Percival maintains is unmatched by any other such facility in the UK. Starting with wellness, the roster of specialists Percival has partnered with is formidably best-in-class. Medical director Dr Timothy Evans is apothecary to the Queen and director of the medical clinics at Buckingham Palace; he now practises exclusively at the Royal Palaces and Grace Belgravia (and is, along with Percival and her venture capitalist partner, one of its founders). Matt Roberts, the trainer to whom David and Samantha Cameron, among others, entrust their fitness, is running the gym. The Austrian clinic Viva Mayr has signed a partnership with Grace, and will send specialists to London on a monthly basis to provide long-term and post-detox programme support. And an exclusive agreement has also been met with Biontology creator Henri Chenot (read about Spa Junkie’s experience of the Chenot Detox on howtospendit.com); Grace is the first destination to utilise his gene-science Detox Cosmetique range in its aesthetic treatments, but it will also offer the Chenot regimens and a selection of its signature body treatments.
The founding partners have invested significantly in the integration of software that allows staff from across the spa and clinic as well as fitness personnel to access and update members’ records, collaborating closely on individual progress. This way, with the agreement of members, but excluding confidential medical records, all staff can access clients’ personal programs – their goals, previous treatments, results, recommendations and symptoms.
Food and beverage, similarly, is in the most qualified of hands: those of Anton Mosimann, the Swiss chef and owner of private dining club Mosimann’s, fortuitously located two doors down from Grace. “Contrary to what a lot of people assume about Anton’s cooking, he was a pioneer of healthy eating; his approach, inspired by three months he spent in Peru, is based on organic meats and produce prepared with minimal fats and salts. It lends itself perfectly to what we’re doing here,” says Percival. In addition to both the wellness and restaurant menus for the dining room, there are “bento boxes” for members on the go.
While health underpins Grace Belgravia’s offerings, it is by no means the sum total of them, as attested to by the club’s events spaces – the elegant restaurant and bar, the library, screening room and atrium-sitting room. “We’ve teamed up with 5x15 [the five-speakers, 15-minutes-each ideas-exchange forum that draws the great and good worldwide to participate] to hold exclusive events here throughout the year,” she says. Marquee names, male and female, from finance, politics and policy, fine arts and philanthropy will also host private salons, readings and film screenings. Concetto Marletta, founder of a leading independent lifestyle concierge service, Indispensable, has created Indispensable at Grace, to which all members have 24-hour access. Members will have special access to couture collections of Anna Valentine, who designed wedding attire for Serena Linley and the Duchess of Cornwall, with private fitting rooms on the premises. Caroline Stanbury, founder of gift-library.com, will curate the in-house atelier, which will regularly feature pop-up boutiques. And Grace Belgravia members will automatically receive VIP services from online shopping destination Net-a-Porter, which will entitle them to first access to collections and sales, as well invites to exclusive trunk shows.
Culture and ideas exchange, relaxed social interaction and retail therapy all factor, uniquely and refreshingly, into Percival’s vision. “But we’re not going to be proscriptive,” says Percival. “Some members might use Grace purely as a social or dining club; they might never venture into the spa or the clinic.” Others, she notes, might join to commence a lifelong wellness path of the sort Grace is ideally calibrated to support. “First and last, it’s intended as a beautiful space to be surrounded by women who will all support each other. We wanted to make it easy for women to be true to their best selves.” She smiles. “Hence the name.”