BEVERLY HILLS — For all her infectious laughter, which comes easily and frequently, Aida Thibiant is incredibly serious when it comes to skin care.The Lilliputian grand dame has dedicated 52 of her 74 years to the science and business of the category. The aesthetician emigrated from France to California in 1970, and three years later, with her husband, opened a salon in Beverly Hills, where she saw to clients such as Ali McGraw. Soon Thibiant began developing technologically advanced products under her own name as well as offering private label services for the mass and prestige markets. Today, Thibiant International Inc. is an $80 million annual business.She pursued her profession after having a facial in the hopes of solving severe teen acne problems. "I was terribly embarrassed and we visited so many doctors. Finally, my mother, who was very coquettish and took very good care of herself, said ‘Why don’t you go to a salon d’aesthetique?’" she recalled. "When I saw the difference, I completely changed my mind about becoming an engineer."While Thibiant remains chairmanit’s her son, Patrick Thibiant, who is seeing the company into its next phase. Since assuming the role of chief executive officer and president when his father and the company cofounder passed away five years ago, the 47-year-old has steered the growth of the privately held firm, based in Chatsworth, Calif., to more than fourfold in sales. In the next two years, he expects to add another $20 million in revenues. Already, the 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the art, three-building facility, with some 500 employees, is reaching its maximum use. And that doesn’t count the 52-member staff at the Canon Drive spa. An educational center, not far from the spa, trains aestheticians from around the country."It’s an American success story," Aida Thibiant beamed. As good genes and personal care would have it, she appears much younger than her age — a living testimonial to her philosophies, which she shares with frankness. "There are a lot of things I don’t approve of in the industry," she declared, her accent still coloring her English. "The microderm abrasion machine. It’s against my principles. I have too much respect for what I’m doing to take on something that is hurtful to the skin."Then there are the dermatologists getting into the act, a move she believes has more "negatives than positives. They are trained to cure diseases. They do not learn how to beautify the skin," she charged. "I have too much knowledge of my business to accept the fads."Private labeling generates 95 percent of company sales. The Thibiants declined to comment on the many international brands they develop. However, Aida Thibiant did join Victoria Principal on TV to launch Principal Secret in the late Eighties. Thibiant International continues to produce the line, but the aesthetician has split the act.The other 5 percent of sales derives from the Thibiant lines and Guinot, the French-based spa brand Aida Thibiant introduced to the U.S. in the early Seventies and began producing Stateside soon after. Through her namesake spa and product line, Aida Thibiant has been credited with innovations such as the body facial and for pioneering products free of animal lanolin, mineral oil or waxes. Despite her anti-fad stance, her signature products, sold, for now, only at the day spa and through, do nod to current trends, such as the herbal infusion toner or the antibacterial foaming cleanser. In 2000, the brand was relaunched with new formulations and packaging. It no longer bears the "Aida" banner and has gone a dark green with an abstract silver leaf logo. The toggles and jars are now more unisex friendly, a consideration, admitted the founder, to the growing men’s market. (Not that men have been shy in visiting the spa. For years, Rod Stewart has had a standing regular facial appointment.)The renamed line — Thibiant Beverly Hills, Next Generation Skin Care — ranges from the $24.50 Clear Active purifying toner to the $120 multivitamin repairing serum called Vitasource. The Aida Thibiant Tahitian line remains in tact, with a devoted following for the monoi oil and tiare flower fragrant thick Milk Batch, $45, and dry oil Satin Finish spray, $28.50. "We never tried seriously to take it somewhere else," said the company matriarch of the lines. "I didn’t want to go into the wider spa market because we have the Guinot line there."Yet, that may all change, her son admitted. "It’s why we’ve broadened the line beyond the needs of the salon to where it can be aggressively marketed to the public. We could transition to spas very easily," said Patrick Thibiant, adding that department stores and other retailers may not be out of the question if the fit is right. But first, the Thibiants will complete the overhaul of the spa from an old-world European classic style to a more "zen-like, Santa Fe modernism. Something very American, very fresh," Aida Thibiant noted. Spa architect Tag Galyean returns for his second facelift of the space, this time after only eight years. "When I started, I would speak about skin care and people would think I was talking about makeup. I am thrilled to see the boom in the industry since then," she continued, her assistant noting that her tireless schedule still includes extensive travel to beauty summits and other industry adventures, as well as visiting the spa and factory daily. "I love the evolution, the changes. Why retire? This it too much fun."

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