MACAU, China — Spa Philosophy has opened its doors in Macau, making it both the enclave’s first-ever day spa and the world’s first fully oxygenated spa.

The decision to open a day spa in Macau, which boasts a population of only 500,000, has surprised many in the region. Mandy Chan, managing director of Spa Philosophy, understands the skepticism, but said times have changed. "When I moved to Macau seven years ago, it was a mess here," she recalls. "There were so many problems – even bombings and gangs. But after the handover [to Chinese sovereignty in 1999], things settled down. There was instant change in the security of the city."

Chan wasn’t the only one who noticed the difference. Spa Philosophy is just the latest evidence that this former Portuguese colony has all the markings of a boomtown. Consortiums, including two led by Steve Wynn and Stanley Ho, are building new casinos and entertainment complexes that are slated to open within two years. A new cultural center has just been unveiled and a theme park is in the works. "We might be a little early," says Chan of her timing, "but we want to be pioneers here."

The spa opened Nov. 23 and looks to draw attention from the town’s surrounding five-star hotels, which have the only other spas in town. The spas, however, are available to hotel guests only.

Chan spent $641,256 to build the 3,500-square-foot spa and worked with the German outfit Oxyvital to make the spa fully oxygenated and "pollution-free."This means that behind the scenes, air-processing units work to ensure that the oxygen content throughout the spa is 21 percent. According to Chan, the average oxygen content of outside air is between 13-17%. "I want to create an atmosphere where just being here makes a difference," explained Chan, who describes the oxygen boost as a "premium service" for Spa Philosophy clients.

Another premium is the unusual atmosphere of the spa, which is relaxing and luxurious, but without the common "Zen" look. To achieve this, Chan hired Hong Kong-based firm CL3, whose previous projects include specialty stores Seibu and Lane Crawford as well as the International Finance Centre. For Spa Philosophy the mandate was to create a space that evokes the Macanese lifestyle. Hence, there are tile mosaics in each treatment room, antique Chinese basins for pedicures and simple rosewood chairs and tamarind-colored sofas in the reception areas.Also mandatory was the incorporation of the five Chinese elements: fire, water, air, wood, and metal. Candles line the wide wooden staircase, metal handrails add a modern touch, and water runs under slated stones and over the wall in the Healthy Garden.

The five treatment rooms are each named for a different element, while a couples suite is called Yin and Yang. The warm hues of the interiors were inspired by gemstones, so there are rooms in amethyst, peridot and aquamarine. Unusual for Asia, where space is at a premium, each cabin features its own private shower. They also have Thai silk-covered cushions, fresh flowers, a journal for recording the experience and candles in lotus-shaped holders.

The five-element theme is repeated in the spa’s beauty products. Most treatments incorporate Swiss skin care brand, Phytobiodermie, which bases its system on a combination of natural ingredients, plant extracts and the energy principles of traditional Chinese medicine — in particular, the five-element theory. Its signature facial, The Chromolift, uses colored lights, essential oils and a high-tech lymphatic drainage system for a "noninvasive facelift." The treatment lasts for 80 minutes and costs $109.

For aromatherapy treatments, Spa Philosophy relies on British specialist Aromatherapy Associates. Both companies have helped to develop treatments that are exclusive to Spa Philosophy. A good example is the Macanese Massage — a vigorous massage for men using hard-pressed olive oil and acupressure points.

Chan says that she expects between $167,000 and $256,000 in revenue in the first quarter. Long term, she also hopes to add a line of spa clothing, open an adjoining restaurant that would specialize in healthy cuisine, and to launch other Spa Philosophy locations in the region.

The venture, which has such noteworthy investors as Alvin Li (of Dickinson Garment Group, the third-largest manufacturer of outerwear in the region), has already been endorsed by the Macau Tourism Board, which will help to promote its activities. "The government has spent a lot of time and resources to foster Macau’s growth," comments Chan. "They are dedicated to bringing Macau to the world stage and they know we want to be global. We want to create something that originated in Macau, but is recognized around the world."

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