The pods inside Dermalogica’s flagship.

<B>Dermalogica’s Sci-Fi Skin Trip</B><BR><BR>Santa Monica, Calif. — For the design enthusiast, there’s much to get giddy over at the new Dermalogica Skin Center here on Montana Avenue, the casually tony shopping thoroughfare that is...

Dermalogica’s Sci-Fi Skin Trip

Santa Monica, Calif. — For the design enthusiast, there’s much to get giddy over at the new Dermalogica Skin Center here on Montana Avenue, the casually tony shopping thoroughfare that is home to the skin care brand’s first namesake and very cutting-edge flagship. Yet, it’s the two giant freestanding treatment rooms that resemble semigloss molars — yes, as in teeth — that really grab the spotlight.

“We started calling them pods and it just stuck,” said Jane Wurwand, the lithe, brunette British expat who in 1986, along with husband Raymond, founded the Los Angeles-based skin care line known for its no-nonsense philosophy, minimalist white-and-gray packaging and cult-like following. The new center also marks the end of the U.S. operations of Leonard Drake, the 32-unit worldwide retail arm of the company, which carried multiple lines. It represented “very much a Nineties concept,” believed Wurwand.

With the mushrooming of the Dermalogica brand into what industry sources estimate is a $100 million-plus company employing a staff of 500 in some 45 nations, its founders decided to reinvent its retail business into the Skin Center concept. This 1,662-square-foot unit celebrated its grand opening with much fanfare last Wednesday, following a soft opening this spring.

“What we wanted to do is get away from what exists at most salons and spas, which is a front area that is retail and then this secret netherworld that’s very quiet where everything goes on,” said Wurwand. “Snooty is not who we are. We wanted something with less pressure, with more energy. We wanted to bring the kitchen into the restaurant.”

With the architectural partnership of Abramson Tieger, the space’s openness extends beyond the limits of the shop front. Part of the facade was cut out a few feet off the ground and replaced with a glass wall that slides open and into the adjoining wall, providing a truly open link between outside and inside. On the inside of the grand window, a bench allows visitors to take a load off and read quirky titles on aesthetics and style stocked in a tall bookcase. A neighborhood’s sense of community attracted Wurwand to the 1923 building, which was thoroughly modernized inside, complete with polished concrete floors.

This story first appeared in the July 20, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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The spirit and a few elements of a library also were invoked. Besides the narrow case of books, there are horizontal rows of chalky white shelves stacked deep with product and a floor-to-ceiling ladder that rolls across shelves to access items up high. “Just as essential as books are, so is skin care,” noted Wurwand. “It’s not a luxury. You should be able to touch it, read the back, see the price.” Customers are similarly encouraged to play at the Product Pool, a four-foot-long chalky white rectangular table with a wave-like indentation, where products can be sampled.

Products can be tried on at the Skin Bar. Here, seated at turquoise-colored jelly stools, customers can look in a mirror and, with the guidance of a therapist who supplies a hot towel and Japanese bento box filled with their custom samples, they can experiment on themselves. They also can be set straight on how to correctly use products. Tea brewed from flower petals also is served. From there, follow an expanse of stained walnut which curves along the east and south walls and leads to changing rooms, appointed with sarongs instead of heavy robes, and the front doors of the pods.

The treatment pods, of course, are the centerpiece. Skinny rectangular windows go opaque when a treatment is in service. Inside, the sci-fi quality continues: recessed lighting gradually, randomly changes from 40,000 combinations of colors. Instead of commonly used fluorescent lamps for the treatments, therapists sporting magnified specs spotlight skin with the crisp, white light used in dental offices. Clients can control the adjustment of the duvet-covered bed, along with the volume and genre of music: Men tend to tune into rock, while women want the lull of new age or world music.

As for the treatments, the focus is skin care. “A big problem in this industry is everyone follows the spa route,” said Wurwand. “They offer these 15-page menus of services. But you end up doing everything in an average way. I wanted to be really great at one thing. No makeup. No wax. Just skin.” The 45-minute skin treatment is $60. Fifteen-minute “touch therapies” of the face, scalp and back — along with foot reflexology — can be added at $15 a pop.

While Wurwand is excited to roll out more Skin Centers, she doesn’t expect the next location to open until Spring 2006. Destination is New York, although no lease has yet been signed.

In the meantime, the company is consolidating its headquarters, laboratory, distribution center, warehouse and post-graduate training facility, called The International Dermal Institute, to a 150,000-square-foot compound it’s building in Carson, Calif. The move is expected in May 2005. The Institute, founded in 1983, espouses Wurwand’s mantra of education: “We don’t sell on the Internet. We don’t do direct sales catalogues. We don’t do infomercials. We believe in personal interaction between the trained skin care professional and people.” In August 2005, Dermalogica will host its quasiannual international conference in Barcelona, aiming to attract 3,200 Dermalogica-using professionals.

“My goal is to really change the whole perception of professional skin care and the environment skin is treated in,” said Wurwand. “I really hate that it’s still seen as something mysterious done in Pamela’s Pamper Palace. It’s not just about a ‘beauty treatment.’ It’s so much more essential than that.”

Saks’ Brush With Greatness

NEW YORK — Saks Fifth Avenue hosted its first “Brushes With Greatness” event Wednesday night, a soiree that featured an array of beauty industry personalities, including Laura Mercier, Trish McEvoy, designer Diane von Furstenberg and Gregory Bays Brown, founder of the Ré Vive skin care brand. The philanthropic effort benefited Mount Sinai Hospital and, despite rainstorms, attendance topped 800. McEvoy, whose husband is on the staff at Mount Sinai, roughed the weather in a helicopter from the Hamptons. The event raised $10,000 for the hospital.

— Allison Altmann