On Saturday, I ventured uptown to a quiet, tree-lined block just off of Madison Avenue, for a facial with Isabelle Bellis. She’s the proud occupant of the penthouse in a quaint prewar brownstone—a narrow, well-maintained building with an old-fashioned European-scale elevator. She answered the door and I practically fell in love.The authentic Victorian blouse. The smattering of gold earrings. That hair. I settled into the easy sofa and observed the chicness of her, and the space. “And Emilie, do you have two hours?” she asked, in the tiniest of baby voices but the thickest of French accents (French? Okay: girl crush cemented.) Huh? Two hours? “Um…sure, but, I’m just here for a regular facial.” She just smiled and waited for me to complete the questionnaire, which was three pages long and asked if I lived in the city or country (can’t get more city) and how many caffeinated beverages I drink on a daily basis (more than I cared to admit).
Bellis moved from Paris to New York and began working on skin five or six years ago. Before that, she trained with the legendary biologist-turned-epidermologist Joëlle Ciocco, whose eponymous product line she both uses and sells. And before that, she trained with a gemologist in Belgium and Israel, meticulously grading diamonds. Bellis’ attention to detail and eagle eye in identifying imperfections led her to the beautification business. That, and an inherent drive towards all things wellness-related: she grew up on the coast, in Brittany, with organic-vegetable-growing parents. “I had a beautiful landscape all around me; I like to be surrounded by beauty and nature,” she says. “It’s not only products you apply, it’s what you eat, what you think, your lifestyle. I’ve studied naturopathy, homeopathy, oligotherapy, Ayurveda. I continue to study because it never ends—there’s always something you can incorporate into your practice.”
I’d like to know what she didn’t incorporate into our practice. She began with a lengthy “natural massage,” which was really a guided meditation to calm the mind and scan the body of stress (“Now, go to your knees—the front, the back, and relax,”) and finished with a form of Chinese “cupping,” (“to bring the blood to the surface and just to move everything.”) But the majority of those epic two hours were spent massaging my face. “I am a strong believer in circulation—to fix the stagnation,” she tells me, her hands flying over my forehead at rapid speed. This “sculpting,” as she calls it, works to warm and release the muscles, freeing toxins and—dare I say it—relaxing fine lines and wrinkles. “When you have tension, your muscle becomes dry and this can leave marks,” and on that note, she instructs, “Now, open your mouth, Emilie.” Two latex glove-clad fingers slip beneath my cheek. What? Yeah. But…it actually made me think, dentists should do this as added value during a cleaning. Because it felt really, really good—in that tough-love-massage kind of way, because those muscles are tense! And who’d have thought? Bellis, apparently.
Mouth surprise aside, the entire Bellis experience was thoroughly relaxing and almost transportive—the rhythmic massaging lulled me into a light snooze, which I fought so I could ask, “What’s this mask?” (“Verbena, to soothe,”) or, “What’s that liquid?” (“Magnesium.”) The various layers of product being swept on and off became seamless, and all added up to the “Pow! Luminous!” skin that one beauty editor friend proclaimed I’d have afterward. Yes, it glowed, but more than that, it seemed like I’d had a facelift: my eyes looked alert and my eyebrows arched with new vigor. And, I was less puffy. “I like to make people feel good, and improve, because it’s the image you reflect,” Bellis said. At least for the weekend, I felt like a country girl who drinks nothing but spring water.
Isabelle Bellis, 60 East 66th Street, (212) 966-3262 www.isabellebellis.com