The new world of day spas is transforming with
a variety of choices for men and women
It used to be that when it came to seeking out health and beauty options, men and women were as divided as the hygiene counter at the corner drug store. Men went to athletic clubs or the local gym; women went to salons and took aerobics classes.
But things have changed. With the metrosexual movement, popularized by shows like “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” the concept of both sexes being pampered in one environment doesn’t seem so unusual. The dividing line has become blurred, and the day spa is now something for everyone.
“People who haven’t gone to a spa and have a notion picked up from “‘I Love Lucy’ or “‘Seinfeld’ are in for a surprise,” says Doug Chambers, co-owner of Benu Salon and Spa near Mockingbird Station.
The image of Helga karate-chopping your back in a locker room no longer holds true. But while many gay men probably know more about day spas than their straight contemporaries, there is still something mysterious, and even intimidating, about the idea for many guys. And a new breed of spa is beginning to emerge to make it easier on them to assimilate.
“We heard a lot of customers say, “‘I’m worried by the temple-like environment. I’m afraid I’m gonna do something wrong,'” says Chambers. The concept of Benu and similar spas is to demystify the spa-going experience.
Storied formal retreats like The Spa at the Crescent continue to maintain appeal for lavishness and style, but places like Benu are developing a different approach to the spa experience.
One of the innovations: A concept that is more Eastern philosophy than Western machismo.
“That’s by design,” says Chambers, who traveled the world extensively before starting up Benu. “We were trying to take some of the clever things in projects we’ve seen all over the globe without making it necessarily attached to one specific locale. We wanted a tasteful sampling of some projects that had appeal to us.”
The spa teamed up with styling guru Billy Yamaguchi, whose feng shui beauty concept infuses many esoteric ideas into the practical application of making people look and feel better. Feng shui is Japanese for “wind and water”, which represents the air we breathe and the high water content of the human body.
Benu wanted to apply these rules to the human sense of beauty and achieve a synchronicity of the client’s body, personality and lifestyle.
The challenge was to transfer Yamaguchi’s innate skills over to a staff of stylists. According to Chambers, the feng shui framework not only allows the stylists to come to a more thorough understanding of the guests’ personalities and lifestyles, but it also allows guests to be better to articulate what they want.
“A lot of people underestimate the anxiety of getting their hair cut or colored they are putting a lot of trust in a stranger,” Chambers says.
Eric Werner of Benu is one of the stylists who approaches an ideal appearance not in terms of how muscular and toned one’s physique is, but how well the elements that make up the person are highlighted. He performs regular feng shui consultations that determine which elements apply to individual clients, and maximizing their look.
“It makes us more attuned to all the variables at play,” Chambers says. “Somebody may be an accountant by day but wants to be a rock star by night, while someone else might be an accountant by day and a parent to young children at night.”
Chambers himself was suspicious at first of what he calls a “well-founded skepticism about a New Age spa,” but many of the rules employed have definitely made sense.
“In Hong Kong, one of the things we really admired was the social atmosphere of some of the spas and how popular foot treatments are,” Chambers says. “I had a treatment in Hong Kong that I thought I was gonna hallucinate from. We didn’t see a lot of focus on foot treatments in many of the Western spas we were familiar with.”
They also have what they call a water house, which is something more than just a whirlpool and steam room. The co-ed room has hosted parties and other social events in a relaxed, spa atmosphere.
“We try to recreate in a Western version some of the social aspects we see in Asia. We make it accessible but not take ourselves too seriously,” Chambers says.
The services offered are all gender-neutral by design. Other spas, Chambers notes, might list six facials on a menu, “and then the last one is the “‘men’s facial.’ Men were telling us they felt odd asking for any of the other facials. There’s no reason why any wouldn’t be appropriate for male or female.” The same holds true for everything from manicures to pedicures to massages. The client profile is almost evenly divided between men and women, “which has been an emerging trend over the last few years.”
Benu also shares access to Trophy Fitness Center, which expands the services beyond a typical salon or massage parlor to a full-service athletic club.
While there’s not one type of spa for everyone, places like Benu are helping show a wide variety of customers that they can be as friendly, and as soothing, as they want to make it. And no one should be afraid to order a facial no matter what it’s called.
Benu Salon and Spa, 5555 E. Mockingbird Lane, Suite 300. 214-827-4200. Benuspa.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, February 24, 2006.