Behind Pavilion Spa
The spa at Dorsett group’s first UK hotel blends vintage charm with eastern philosophies to offer affordable results, discovers Eve Oxberry
Located in the famous glass roof of what used to be Shepherds Bush Pavilion, the new Pavilion Spa marks a double first for owner Dorsett Hotels. Part of the Asian group’s inaugural UK hotel, it is also the first company-run spa. And with Dorsett’s ambitious plans for the UK, which include a further four London hotels in the next five years, the spa is likely to set the model for more.
The hotel’s general manager Hillary Cross joined from nearby K West, which is well known locally for its luxury spa with wet facilities. “I wanted to make the spa here very different rather than going into direct competition,” says Cross. Pavilion has more of a high-end salon philosophy, with small heat rooms but a strong focus on affordable, results-driven treatments, including high-tech machines and entry-level maintenance treatments.
“We really learnt from the shift in the market away from the luxury day spa offer, seen through changes like the closure of The Sanctuary in Covent Garden,” says spa manager Elle Bretagne, who joined in February well ahead of the spa’s opening at the end of July.
With prices such as £40 for a 30-minute massage or facial and £35 for an hour’s gel-polish mani, TheDorsett’s treatments come in well below most London hotels and Bretagne says the idea was to bridge the gap between poor quality services and over-priced luxury. “A lot of spas price their manicures very highly, for example, but in doing that they are driving consumers to cut-price nail bars because the gap is too big,” says Bretagne. “Ours is only about £5 more and you have a beautiful environment, you have the hygiene and the confidence.”
Taking the lift up, rather than down, to a spa is a novelty in a UK hotel, yet penthouse spas are fairly common in Asia and that is just one of the ways in which Pavilion Spa is putting a new twist on the East-meets-West idea. “We’ve looked at everything that’s traditional about spa and asked why are we doing it?,” says Bretagne “Why are spas in the basement? A lot of the time it’s down to revenue because you can’t put windows in the basement but on a sunny day you don’t want to go into a dark dungeon; you don’t leave feeling energised.”
The interior is quintessentially English with vintagelook furniture, bespoke illustrated wallpaper and white wood floors. The spa makes use of its location with large windows, but blinds and cute floral eye masks mean clients can shut out the light to fully relax. With four treatment rooms, a relax room and small steam, sauna and infrared sauna facilities, the spa is modest in size but spacious in feel.
“When we first started talking about putting a spa in, the owners were shocked I wanted mixed-use sauna and steam because that’s unheard of in China,” says Cross. “We got round that by designing it so each can be made into a private space.” The three heat rooms are each self-contained with their own ante-rooms containing showers and space for seating, meaning each can be reserved for single-sex use.
“The spa part of the website’s now being translated into Mandarin and I did extra training in regards to Asian preferences for things like make-up,” adds Bretagne, who also chose skincare brand Ling-as-one of the main product houses due to the East-meets-West ingredients and protocols designed by its Hong Kong-born, New Yorkraised founder Ling Chan.
All the brands Pavilion is working with were selected in part for their niche status. “If we could be undercut by online sales then all our training and advice would be wasted,” she says. Other brands in the portfolio include organic line Pinks Boutique and cosmeceutical skincare Agera, plus OPI for nails, Perron Rigot wax and Airbase airbrush make-up.
With each brand Pavilion has adapted the protocol to put its own stamp on the treatments. With Agera, for example, there are more hands-on touches to make the clinic facials more spa. Other twists include a palm and arm massage during gel polish removal, which has the added benefit of giving that nail client a taster of the massages on offer in the hope they may upgrade.
The choice of airbrush make-up brand Airbase also gives the spa a point of difference and Bretagne says the intention was to cater for the guests visiting the spa for a special occasion. “We want to make spa an everyday thing but for most clients it’s part of a special day,” she says. “They might be going out for the evening afterwards, so I want them to be able to walk out feeling finished.”
While express beauty is high on the agenda, the spa also has a focus on wellness. “I call it Stay Well because wellness is an overused word and you’re saying ‘get better’, but if you’re not well or you have a mental health issue then sometimes it’s not about getting better, it’s about managing that and being as well as you can be,” says Bretagne. The menu features visiting practitioners including a physio and a hypnotherapist. Next to launch will be a Sleep Spa concept with mental and physical relaxation techniques and hotel guests able to book prebedtime appointments in their rooms.
Fitness packages include group workouts and runs that are free for hotel guests and £5 for locals. “We’re going to grow that because it’s really important from a business point of view,” she says. “It’ll raise awareness of the spa and it’s a community thing.”
As the spa grows, Bretagne is hoping to expand the offer to local corporates. “We’re starting by trying to get companies to have a staff prize of a massage a month,” she says, “and I’d love to develop a membership option.” However affordable and accessible treatments with a twist will remain at the heart of Pavilion Spa’s offer. “I just believe our prices are fair,” she says. “I want people to come regularly and I hear other spas say that but you can’t come regularly if they’re charging £140 for a massage.”
Lloyd Naake, owner, Airbase Make-up “We first Elle and the team at the Professional Beauty show in London. Express services, especially make-up, were really important to them; they wanted make-up that’s quick and affordable to apply before a night out or for businesswomen before a meeting so Airbase works well as application only takes 5-10 minutes for foundation. They’ve kept the prices affordable too at £25 for full make-up.”