Since launching in the midst of the pandemic, Forma Pilates has quickly become the most in-demand — and mysterious — workout. Started by Liana Levi in her Los Angeles home, Forma soon garnered attention as being the Pilates workout of choice for the likes of Hailey Bieber, Kaia Gerber and Kendall Jenner. After two years of referral-only success in L.A., Levi is opening a full proper studio in New York this week, bringing her signature burn to SoHo.
“A lot of our clients are bicoastal. I wanted to open New York since last year — I was just finding the right moment,” Levi says. “You know, we’re a small business and scaling is always challenging. But we did a bunch of pop-ups in the last few months and had such huge success. For me, New York is just attractive as a place of brand recognition as well.”
Forma all began when, during lockdown, Levi purchased a Pilates reformer for personal home use. She was living at her mom’s house and wanted a way to work out and, having done Pilates for nearly 15 years, knew she could teach herself reformer sessions (she’s also certified).
It only took a few Instagram posts for her friends to get jealous.
“I got a ton of messages from my girlfriends wanting to come onto the reformer,” Levi says. “And so they’d come in and I would be like, ‘OK, have fun.’ And they’d look at me and they’re like,’”Wait, no, what do you mean? We don’t know what to do. Tell us what to do.’ And that’s how I started teaching.”
Prior to the pandemic, Levi worked in the fashion industry as a stylist and brand consultant. A native of L.A., she went to school in Paris before returning to California to start in fashion, and now fitness.
Of her famous clientele, Levi says she knew many of them from her days of red carpet styling.
“I used to work in the industry, so some of my clients I’ve actually known for a very long time and they saw that I pivoted to a different industry and decided they wanted to give it a shot,” she says. “I think ultimately, I’ve always been somebody who people turn to in terms of fitness. I take a lot of pride in taking care of my body, from the inside out. And it’s a small world growing up in L.A. and I am connected to certain people who I think speak highly of the method and how effective it is. I think the Forma method speaks for itself, and these girls have amazing bodies and they put in the work and that’s how we market our brand as well. They’re basically walking advertisements for Forma.”
“It’s an exclusive membership. We try to keep it very private and controlled,” Levi says. “I think people really trust us with that. Especially at the peaks of COVID[-19], we were always open and we kept things super safe and we controlled the levels in the studios, too.”
The New York space, located in SoHo on West Broadway, is a spacious proper studio with eight reformers and a private room with one reformer for individual sessions. Location was, of course, of the utmost importance.
“In L.A., we’re on Melrose Place, which is one of the hottest streets in L.A. We’re parked in the back and we have all the high-end stores and coffee shops and restaurants nearby. So in New York I wanted to find something similar,” she says.
So what is it exactly about the Forma method that makes it so in demand?
“When I’ve been doing Pilates, it’s always in a class with older women. It wasn’t really attractive to a younger demographic because it was a little bit slower paced. And over the years, as you know, all of these mega reformer studios opened up, which isn’t really considered Pilates. So what I kind of did is I merged classic Pilates and athleticism,” Levi explains. “We stick to the core technique of Pilates. We just make it more athletic. Most places will warm up your body or have a very base-level class. Our method really targets and burns from the moment you start to the moment you finish. And it’s definitely more challenging. It’s really quick transitions and our flows are very unique. You never really take a break unless you need one.”