Mirror, Mirror: At Lush Spas, they're treating the inner person as well

In a room designed like an English kitchen, the blackboard offers 11 aspirational feelings, from esteem to peace.
In a room designed like an English kitchen, the blackboard offers 11 aspirational feelings, from esteem to peace. (ALBERT YEE)
Posted: January 16, 2014

Walk into any Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics store and your senses are tickled awake: Breathe in scented soaps, see the bins of pretty pastel "bath bombs," or roll cool, squishy shower gels between your fingers.

With the opening of Lush Spas in New York and Philadelphia this past Monday, American Lush fans are in for sensory overdrive with signature massages, reflexology, and skin-care treatments, plus tasty British teas and calming new-age tunes.

The spa is the brainchild of Lush cofounder Mark Constantine, who said he wanted to go beyond the basic massage and facial, and "give people what they truly want, to be uplifted." The first spa opened in 2009 in Britain, where Lush began.

The Philadelphia spa, the 12th in the world and the second in the country, is on the 2,790-square-foot second floor of the 1525 Walnut St. store. The company plans to use the Philadelphia spa as a training hub for North American Lush spa therapists as it opens additional stores in the next two years.

On Thursday the spa hosted a grand opening event with staff smartly dressed in black sheaths and patterned tights and speaking in calm tones.

Specialty cocktails were served on mirrored trays and tiny bites were butlered. Folk musician Simon Emmerson, who composed the spa's soundtrack, played live, while company cofounder Rowena Bird walked the room.

"One of the things that makes our spa treatments different is that we allow people to choose how they feel," Bird explained for me. "You want it to benefit your emotional state."

The treatments - most of which last 40 to 120 minutes - are generally what you would find in any spa and include a full-body massage (Synaesthesia); a deep-tissue massage (The Good Hour); a light facial massage that incorporates skin care (Validation); reflexology (The Spell); and exfoliation (The Comforter). Prices range from $120 to $230.

But the staff also gives you a consultation and coaxes you, just a bit, into believing in the power of intention, the power of deep breathing, the power of repeating mantras, and, most important, the power of letting go.

"We are more focused on the inner person, not just fix that pimple," Bird said.

As a person who is working on my beauty from the inside out, I figured I'd give it a shot.

I opted for Lush's Synaesthesia treatment. Synaesthesia is a neurological phenomenon when two or more senses respond even though only one is stimulated. For example, Constantine often sees shapes when he sniffs scents. (That explains why the bath bombs are so pretty.)

I took the elevator to the second floor and sat with my technician, Daphne Shotto, in a space designed to look like an English parlor, with hanging teacups and stone vases.

Behind me was a blackboard with 11 words that described aspirational feelings, from confidence to enlightened. I went with uninhibited - after all, I had a party to go to that evening.

Shotto then told me to choose from more than a dozen pairs of emotions that spoke to me, like curious and quiet, sweet and in nature. I went with hug and warm embrace. After the subzero temperatures I'd experienced that week, I needed some.

What followed was 120 minutes of a massage designed to feel like a one-day journey.

Emmerson's sounds of nature flooded the orange-lit room with falling dewdrops in the morning and owls at night. I felt as if I were in a warm climate. Sweet, musky scents wafted through the room, and even though my eyes were shut tight, I saw brief flashes of color: oranges at dusk, dark blues at night, greens in the morning.

Shotto smoothed out my back and placed warm and cold stones near my solar plexus (that's my tummy). After the massage, I enjoyed a warm cup of tea.

In the end, I didn't feel any more uninhibited, but all of my senses were definitely awakened. My center felt calm, and from what I understand, that's the first step needed for taking positive chances.

I think I'll try The Spell next time.


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704

@ewellingtonphl

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