Susan Harmsworth, founder of the England-based company Espa, has been instrumental in the transformation of spas from no-frills health farms to luxurious retreats. Since its debut in 1993, Espa has created innovative spas for top hotels around the world. Recently, Harmsworth and her staff have been especially busy, completing the Gianfranco Ferré spa in Milan, and the hotel spas at the One & Only Reethi Rah in the Maldives, The Peninsula in Hong Kong and the G in Galway, Ireland.
Here, Harmsworth—a frequent traveler and an avid wine collector— discusses why some spas make a powerful impact on their clients' well-being and some don't, and why great chefs have so much in common with massage therapists.
How have spas evolved over the years? There have been enormous changes since I started out in the industry, as a writer covering beauty and women's issues for Vogue and Nova in the 1960s. In those days spas were much more clinical. At the European clinics, or the original English "health farms," you used to go for a minimum of seven or 14 days. And you'd suffer and starve. It was all under very strict supervision.