While she would never describe it as thus, the gleaming new Naturopathica flagship on New York City’s Madison Avenue, a knockout of a space punctuated with cathedral-esque windows and 25-foot, herb-lined walls, just might be Barbara Close’s ultimate “I told you so” statement. After all, Close, who founded her iconic blue-bottled brand in 1995, was preaching the gospel of non-toxic, plant-based skincare decades before the concept seeped into the beauty landscape.
“It definitely feels like a milestone,” Close says of hitting the 25-year mark. “When I started out, Naturopathica was just this little herbal apothecary, then it led into skincare. I was talking about clean skincare, and wellness, in the 90s.”
Close concedes she’s a bit shocked it took the rest of the world essentially two-plus decades to catch up. “It used to be that ‘natural’ was the big thing and then it sort of migrated to safety, and ‘clean.’ It’s been really interesting to watch that progression. But I’m happy it’s here.”
A Deep-Seated Connection with Nature
A native of Virginia whose mother was a farmer, Close has had a deep-seated connection with nature from a very early age. “Through my mother, I always had a love of the outdoors, and I was very much into plants,” she says. “But another big influence was my aunt, who lived outside of Paris. When I would go to visit her, we’d go to all these herbal apothecaries. They’d custom-blend remedies for you, and that just blew my mind. And it created a passion for empowering people through simple rituals of health and wellness. Now we call that ‘self-care.’”
Despite having her eyes opened to the healing modalities of herbs and plants, Close, a lifelong advocate of community-building, initially chose a different path toward helping people: social work.
Close, who founded her iconic blue-bottled brand in 1995, was preaching the gospel of non-toxic, plant-based skincare decades before the concept seeped into the beauty landscape.
But it wasn’t long before that mentally grueling profession delivered some serious wear and tear. “I started getting massages to deal with my stress as a social worker,” Close recalls. “And I was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’ So, I packed up my car with my futon, my cat, and my cassette deck and I moved to Santa Fe, which was the mecca of all things New Age and natural.”
Flashforward to 1995. Close, by now thoroughly trained in herbalism (ultimately, she would receive a Master’s Degree in Therapeutic Herbalism, alongside credentials in esthetics, advanced massage, and aromatherapy) opens the Naturopathica Healing Arts Center & Spa in East Hampton. As an add-on to the holistic facials, massage, and herbal consultations it offered, the center spawns a product line steeped in the basic principles of naturopathic medicine and featuring unusual-for-the-era ingredients like oat, calendula, and passionflower.
And how’s this for being ahead of its time? Naturopathica’s Carrot Seed Soothing Facial Oil, which no doubt paved the way for modern juggernauts like Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum and Tata Harper Beautifying Face Oil, was launched way back in 1996.
Minding the Stores & Spas: Naturopathica’s Expanding Footprint
While it might be fun for Close to muse about her early-bird, pioneer status in clean beauty and wellness, she’s not much for reminiscing. Instead, she and her team are focused on moving forward.
In 2015, Naturopathica opened its second branded location, in the Chelsea section of New York. “That was really exciting because, since our inception, our East Hampton clients would ask, ‘When are you gonna open up in Manhattan?,” says Close. “So, we finally did and it gave us a chance to go back to our roots and really bring that herbal medicine story front and center. That’s where we have the Vitality Bar, where we make herbal elixirs, and it’s staffed by a clinical herbalist who works one-on-one with people. To bring herbalism back to the forefront, was, I think, very timely.”
The newest Naturopathica Holistic Health Center, which opened at the end of 2019, offers a slightly different menu. “We’re doing herbal IV infusions, and we’ll be introducing acupuncture and different energy modalities, so that also makes it different from Chelsea, which is more steeped in herbal remedy-making at the moment,” Close explains. “With the Madison Avenue location, it’s again bringing that commitment to community and education uptown, with different programming that’s exciting for the needs of that client.”
Another pillar of the Naturopathica business? Spa distribution.
From the get-go, Naturopathica has taken a two-pronged approach to its spa offerings—treatment protocols and the retail product line—and you don’t get one without the other. “It’s always both,” Close explains. “We like to say our products are ‘professionally proven,’ so the skincare, the body products, and the herbal remedies are used for skin and body protocols. We have a CBD facial and body treatment that we just rolled-out last year that’s being really well-received. And we’re just about to launch an acne range with some innovative ingredients like chlorophyll and colloidal silver, and a detox range, and we’re excited about all of that, as well.”
A point of pride for Close is the longstanding relationships she’s had with some of the top spas in the country, including Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson and The Spa at Sea Island in Georgia. “I think what really speaks to the quality of our practice and protocols is the fact that we’ve been in a lot of spas for over fifteen years, places like Lake Austin and Mohonk Mountain House,” Close notes. “We really are a good partner, and we work hard to earn that respect.”
And then there’s that legacy thing again. “We’ve been at it a long time.”