Susan Harmsworth on the philosophy of ESPA
“Modern life demands instant everything – and that’s rarely good for you in the long term.”
Susan Harmsworth has been involved in the spa world for most of her professional life, helping define the concept of the modern spa and anticipating by decades the trend for holistic treatments and natural products.
"The reason I created ESPA was I couldn’t find the type of treatments I could see people needed.
I’d started out in fashion and beauty, writing for Vogue in London and New York - where I was also involved with Vidal Sassoon. Later I moved to Toronto, where I came into contact with the therapy traditions of the city’s Eastern European community.
I’d come from a country where salons dealt only in beauty. Here though was a group of therapists who’d all studied medicine first. It was there that my vision - of combining health and beauty, the mind and body, the natural and the scientific – was born.
A truly holistic approach to modern living
I opened my first business, a salon, in Toronto before moving to France to run a thelassotherapy resort (sea water therapy) and then a health farm. From the off, I had therapists and medical professionals working side by side - aiming at prevention as well as healing.
It sounds straightforward now, but it was radical then. Until the early 80s, the continual stress of modern life was something barely acknowledged. To me it was obvious that just treating the body wasn’t enough.
And, from there, the move into creating my own products was inevitable. Essentially, what I wanted wasn’t available or only came in industrial quantities. You could get clinical aromatherapy in little brown bottles, or mud in great big buckets, or algae in buckets - but nothing usable for everyday skincare – which, as an industry, was still only really interested in the cosmetic. It wasn’t attractively packaged and had nothing to say to men, who were 30 percent of the clientele at spas.
The aim then, as now, was to pull together and integrate the more traditional prevention treatments with the world of luxury and beauty – to dazzle the senses and de-stress body and mind.
Sensuous, evocative skincare
When I create a product, it has to be sensuous in texture and smell. Scent is crucial to mood. We notice when something smells wonderful, but we are often unaware how powerful the effect is psychologically. We don’t need to use fragrance in our spas at all. Instead we use materials that become infused with the oils in the treatments, so each area naturally takes on the character of the treatment.
We see ourselves as guardians of our customers’ skin. Modern life demands instant everything – and instant everything is rarely good for you in the long term. Our philosophy is less is more: so don’t use too much too soon, try to use things that are relevant, be observant about your own skin.
The health of the skin comes from inner, there’s only so much you can do topically. So I’m very conscious when we’re formulating products that, while you can see immediate results, underlying it are ingredients that are working on the structure and health of the skin for the long-term.
I think the need for what we do is greater than ever. Whether its treatment for mind or body, people want companies – and products – that have integrity, and that understand what really matters to them. That was my vision and that’s what drives ESPA."