Entering the Red Door spa was an act of faith in facials.
In 1985, guys didn’t do facials.
Both the art and the science of skincare were major factors in my new book, Fodor’s Healthy Escapes, a guidebook on America’s best spas. So with an introduction from T George, the editor of American Health magazine, I booked in at Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Salon & Spa on Fifth Avenue.
For many Americans, working 50-hour weeks didn’t allow much time for facials. Gallup surveys for American Health found that two out of three Americans aimed to do weekly exercise, one in three considered health facilities in planning a vacation trip. For my publisher, Random House, this was a virgin market. And I needed a fast course on facials.
Elizabeth Arden’s posh emporium of female charm was like nothing I had ever seen. Cosmetics were displayed like gems, the air was scented, and the staff seemed happy to welcome me. All they needed were the Rockettes parading products. This was show biz. Taking a tiny elevator to the treatment rooms, it seemed far from Fifth Avenue. A no-nonsense esthetician examined my complexion and began a series of “masques” to cleanse and revitalize skin that hadn’t known much more than soap.
That head-to-toe experience set the standard, not only for my book, but for all future spa visits.
When the Red Door closed recently, it was the end of an era. Sold to Revlon in 2016 for $870 million, repositioned for Millenials as Mynd Spa & Salon, they lost their core customers for wellness and beauty.
Founded in 1910, Arden’s Red Door evolved from a Canadian childhood, nursing school, and business acumen. Married to a Russian prince and banker, breeder of race horses, Arden understood the need for a place to rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit. Her summer home in Maine became a destination spa, followed by a fabled hideaway in the dessert near Phoenix, called Maine Chance, exclusively for women.
Work on the Fodor book took me to Marriott’s Camelback Inn, one of the best resort spas in the Southwest. When the GM, Wynn Tyner, learned that I could not get into Maine Chance, he arranged a private tour at lunchtime when the ladies were in their cottages. Most memorable: the wax vat for total immersion in paraffin. Shortly thereafter, the property was bought by its neighbor, The Phoenician, and torn down.
Every time an esthetician wraps my hands in warm paraffin, I think about being lowered into that huge open-air vat. Such soothing warmth. What an experience!
Health challenges led spa historian Bernard Burt to Canyon Ranch in Arizona, inspiring his 1986 book "Fodor's Healthy Escapes" for Random House. The co-author of "100 Best Spas of the World" (Globe Pequot), his byline has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Health, Spa Management Journal, and on Examiner.com. Based in Washington, DC, Burt is chairman emeritus of the Washington Spa Alliance and founding director of the International Spa Association.