Anne Marie de Spa

‘A Legend’; it’s an expression we’re all too familiar with. And it’s an apt description of Anne Marie de Spa who is, without question, a legend in New Zealand beauty therapy circles. For almost 45 years she has been quietly at the forefront, laying the foundation for the beauty therapy industry as we know it today; a driving force behind the formation of the Association of Beauty Therapists. Anne Marie was born in Belgium and arrived in New Zealand when she was 16 – having spent thirteen of those years with her parents on the African continent. Settling into life in Christchurch wasn’t easy for the de Spa family. It was, perhaps, the most conservative of the four main centres. “I found it particularly hard. In order to complete my schooling I was required to go back to the third form because my English was not up to scratch.” Her interest in beauty therapy grew from a fascination with the products her mother used. “I was always interested in playing with her pots of cream when she wasn’t looking.” She attended the International School of Beauty Lise Loriot in Brussels for two years, and returned to New Zealand with a suitcase full of beauty products and high hopes for the future. Anne Marie launched her first clinic, Venus Beauty Institute, in Christchurch in 1964. She was following her passion; our first beauty therapist with all the glamour of European training. But, establishing a beauty therapy business in New Zealand in the ‘60s, was not without its challenges. Cold cream ruled and, for most women in those days, skin care amounted to a good scrub with soap and water. Keeping out of the sun was practically unheard of. “You couldn’t tell women to stay out of the sun. I learned that very quickly.” Import restrictions meant there were very few products available. “I made my own and my tools were my hands. A lot of our study at school was about the ingredients in the products – they weren’t as high-tech as they are today.” But, having established her clinic in her parent’s suburban home in St Albans, Anne Marie soon discovered another challenge. “I was in a residential area and wasn’t allowed to advertise.” Those restrictions on advertising her presence in the suburbs were soon history; Venus Beauty Institute relocated to brand new premises at the airport in Christchurch. “A new recreation centre had been opened with squash courts, sauna, plunge pool and massage. It was ideal.” It also supplied a steady stream of clients who understood what beauty therapy was about, didn’t regard it as an indulgence and, more importantly, had the time to enjoy it. They were the wives of the American Deepfreeze personnel, in New Zealand with their husbands, for up to three years. Anne Marie de Spa could finally hang up her shingle. She was also able to partially overcome the problem of sourcing the products she wanted to use in her clinic. “I managed to get an import licence worth about 200 pounds. That’s all I was allowed and it didn’t buy much. One had to be very, very, selective.” But, following the advice of her Swiss mentor, Lydia Dainow, she imported products which required further processing. “I was importing them in their oil and water phases and completing the process by mixing them. It took three hours to produce three kilos of product but it meant I could bring in much more than if I was bringing it in finished. It was a lot of work but it was fun.” The airport location worked well for Anne Marie. She was firmly established on New Zealand’s beauty therapy scene – so well that she was asked to move to Auckland and head Helena Rubinstein’s New Zealand salon at 246 in Auckland. “She was living in Australia and used to come here a lot then. But coming so close on my return to New Zealand, I didn’t feel I wanted to do that.” However, after six years she realised it was time to move back into the city and, at the same time, re-brand her clinic to appeal to the growing number of Canterbury women who were discovering the value of regular beauty treatments. Jouvence Beauty Institute was established in the grand old Fendalton home it still occupies. Beauty therapy today is ‘huge’, she says. “It’s totally changed.” Those changes however, are about a lot more than acceptance of beauty therapy as a regular part of a woman’s beauty routine. Technology has had an enormous impact. And while Anne Marie agrees it offers a wide range of benefits, she’s not altogether in favour of the ‘quick fix’ mentality, which frequently accompanies it. “We are in a society of quick-fixes. “I believe time is the most important thing. It takes time to look after one’s skin in a kind way. Clients who have been coming for 40 years plus are proof of the rewards of daily care.” Her mantra is ‘hands, heart and head’. “And still, today, I believe that is what people want to come for. They want to feel pampered, cocooned, know they are in good hands with safe products that give good results.” She believes newer developments, such as products incorporating AHAs, that have come into beauty therapy through medical research, are ‘fantastic’ and certainly have their place, but she notes an interesting trend back to the type of organic products she originally used. “We’ve just launched a new organic line at Sothys. I had a facial the other day and said to my staff, this is fantastic. This is like an old facial. I felt cocooned, I felt warm.” Anne Marie’s company, de Spa Cosmetics, is the New Zealand agent for Sothys – one of France’s top three ranges, available only through professional beauty therapists. Her son, Jean-Michel Tallott, manages marketing and sales in Auckland. “I discovered Sothys when I was training and when the market opened up twenty years ago and the licence was available I decided I wanted it.” Bernard Mas “my mentor today”, currently heads Sothys. His two sons are also part of the company. “It’s a family business and they are all passionate about their products, wonderful people to work with.” When Anne Marie first set up Venus Beauty Institute she knew a lot about beauty therapy. And nothing about running a business. Fortunately, her father was there with business advice and she had Lydia Dainow in Switzerland to provide advice on the beauty therapy side. So how important is it, when you’re in business, to have a mentor? “In my case it was huge. Here I was, just 20 when I arrived back in New Zealand, I needed someone to turn to. Someone to talk to.” Then, she says, ‘the others’ arrived. Among them, Joyce Blok. “Joyce and I used to spend a lot of time together.” And, together with Gertrude Kratky and Yvonne Storer, Joyce and Anne Marie decided that if the beauty therapy industry in New Zealand was to attain an international standard of professionalism, it was important to set up an industry body. Although their hopes of becoming part of the Comite International D’Esthetique et de Cosmetologie (CIDESCO) were dashed in 1971, when they realised the cost of membership was prohibitive for such a small group, they formed their own association. The rest, as they say, is history. Anne Marie has seen beauty therapy in New Zealand develop from a base of one operator to the thriving industry it is today. And, while she’s delighted it’s an attractive career opportunity, she also has concerns about the number of people enthusiastically setting up on their own. “Some do not understand that basically they are running a business. It takes more than passion.” There’s more to it than a comfortable bed and some equipment, she says. “They need to understand about the right premises, the right equipment for what they want to do, not just follow what other people are doing. They must look around and decide what they are happy doing. And leave a few dollars to buy the products they will use.” Last year Jouvence Beauty Institute won the NZ Beauty Industry ‘Best Spa’ award, an accolade that was particularly special to Anne Marie. “In all my years I have never entered any awards. Jean-Michel said to me ‘you have been here for a hundred years, it’s time’. He and Serena Hansen did the presentation and it was just fantastic.” Today Anne Marie’s involvement in Jouvence is limited to just two days a week. But she has a new passion that’s taking up an increasing amount of time and providing an immense amount of satisfaction. “My horses. My daughter rode and I got hooked. We have six race horses and our brood mare is expecting her fourth foal. Number two foal is racing at the moment and had a nice win recently. She’s a special girl. I just love it!” Elizabeth Arden famously used her products on her stable of thoroughbreds, so do Anne Marie’s horses receive anything special in the way of beauty treatments? She’s a little reluctant to divulge too much. “The trainer always says she’s never seen a horse with such a beautiful coat. I use a lot of manuka honey on any injuries.” And, with all the career opportunities available to the young and cosmopolitan Anne Marie de Spa wasn’t beauty therapy almost a given with a name like that? “I never even thought of it. It was just my name.”

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