Spa Junkie at… St Pancras Renaissance Hotel Spa, London

Our reporter visits a “fragrance tailor” to discover her perfect perfume – and unwinds with a Polynesian massage

Image: Jay Yeo

There’s an art to choosing perfume – the right one conveys a potent message about the wearer. I’ve long been enamoured with the idea of calling upon the services of a fragrance tailor and, with time on my hands before a Eurostar trip to Paris, I decide to drop in at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel Spa and discover my “scent identity”, before embarking on a “Victorian journey of the senses” to Polynesia, a sensory adventure that blends tropical and ancient beauty rituals from this Pacific archipelago.  

The subterranean spa in George Gilbert Scott’s iconic red-brick building (the former Midland Grand Hotel) houses a pool, six treatment rooms (including a couples’ suite), a eucalyptus steam room, a sauna and a Technogym-branded gym with Power Plate and Kinesis machines. I make my way to one of the treatment rooms where independent scent consultant Virginie Daniau of Parfum Parfait awaits.

Daniau claims to not only understand the science and art of fragrance but also the “psychology of scent”, and sniffs out notes to complement her clients’ lifestyles from a curated library of 350 perfumes, matching them with a recognised commercial perfume. She explains that she builds an “olfactory profile” for each client, which takes into account the colours, style and scents that suit them. “It’s like fashion,” she explains, whipping out a glass bottle from her box of tricks like a magician for me to smell its contents. “One must build a wardrobe of fragrances, just as one builds a wardrobe of clothes – it’s an olfactory statement about who we are.”

She takes me through the different fragrances with the intimacy and intensity of a fortune-teller. She whittles the selection down to six, based on my character and how they react with my skin’s scent. Those with lemongrass and bergamot seem to suit me best. She says she’ll email me the full list of the scents, so I can buy one – or all.

Next for my journey to Polynesia. I lie on my front; the scrub uses traditional Polynesian remedies known as Rauu Tahiti – a vitamin and antioxidant-rich mixture of noni oil and Monoï de Tahiti (perfumed oil made from the petals of Tahitian gardenias). It feels even thicker and more luxurious than shea butter or jojoba oil. It is combined with avocado oil, coconut powder and sugar, to give it a slightly rough texture, which my therapist uses to buff away my dead skin cells, to accelerate cell renewal. The ingredients have been blended by world-famous “nose” Jean-Pierre Bethouart and the result is a heady aroma of orange, benzoin and vanilla. My therapist leaves no inch of my skin untouched, polishing from toe to finger tip with nimble movements and circular strokes.

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Next she warms a sweet-smelling monoï and noni balm in her hands, and works it into my skin. It is absorbent and doesn’t leave a greasy residue, just a velvety, soft finish. She focuses on my back and shoulders; the balm lets her slide around just enough to make her movements smooth, yet allows enough grip to manipulate the muscle. She uses her forearms for extra pressure – in long, continuous strokes and firm rocking movements between the grooves of my shoulder blades. It feels like waves crashing, a technique that’s called Lomi Lomi. I feel the knots of tension dissipating.

The bottom line:

The imposing architecture of St Pancras Renaissance Hotel has a majesty that’s echoed in the opulent surroundings of the spa. I thoroughly enjoyed my perfume consultation with Virginie Daniau – it’s an enlightening and spoiling experience that would make a wonderful birthday or anniversary present, especially as Daniau is available for private off-site consultations anywhere in central London, for £105. Now I know my fragrance profile, I also like the idea of taking the essences of bergamot and lemongrass and blending them myself to create my own bespoke concoction.

The massage treatment was heavenly, and although I found it hard to be transported to the azure waters of the palm-fringed Pacific in the shade of the Uru trees, I did feel relaxed and calmed, with my muscles unknotted, in time for my high-speed journey to France.

Spa Junkie is the founder of FaceGym. She pays for all her own travel, accommodation and therapies.

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