Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Lifestyle: Weekend FT New Yorkers Do It Better

New Yorkers do it better

Weekend FT
By Julie Earle-Levine

January 5 2008

A small mountain of shopping bags and a coat rack 20-garments deep filled the waiting area at Soho Nails in downtown Manhattan. It was not an unusual scene in this shopping Mecca where women drop in to the popular salon for a quick manicure, pedicure or bikini wax in between hitting the boutiques. But on a recent weekday, the lines were too long, the wait took several hours and the chattering ladies were largely speaking in foreign accents.

Blame the economy. British, European, Japanese and Canadian shoppers are swooping on New York to take advantage of the favourable exchange rate. But they aren't just going for clothes bargains – they are also booking in at hair salons and spas for "half price" treatments. And the spa business is booming as a result. One British woman at Soho Nails, for instance, exclaims her delight at the basic $7 manicure. "It's a steal," she says.

Alexandra Marshall, a Paris-based writer, has just spent Christmas in Los Angeles but had planned the Hollywood-style beauty regime she would undertake on holiday weeks before she arrived. "I was getting manicures and pedicures every other day," she says. "They're impossibly inconvenient and expensive in Paris" – a cry often heard in London too, where many beauty treatments are prohibitively pricey. Salons are not so prolific in the French capital, says Marshall, and there are no walk-ins – a more traditional appointment-only basis operates there. And the prices are more restrictive too with an average price of €35 for a basic manicure and then up to €8 extra to apply polish. "And they don't actually do a great job," says Marshall.

Emily Cohen, founder of Pout Cosmetics, which she has since sold, saves all her beauty treatments for when she is visiting New York for meetings on future projects. "I have my waxing done, my pedicures and manicure. I get it all done and save myself a fortune, plus the treatments are better in New York. Even the little places on the corner in New York offer really stonkingly great manicures. Fifteen bucks and you get quality."

Suki Duggan, owner of Donsuki's hair and beauty salon in Manhattan, says she has noticed many more international clients in the past eight weeks. "A lot of Americans are staying home because of the softer dollar, and their European friends are visiting. They bring in their friends and they are getting everything done here – colour, cut, styling – because it's so cheap here."

But, according to Duggan, a brisk business at her Upper East Side salon is not just as a result of visiting Europeans – it's also being driven by locals. "Many of my New York clients are not doing a weekend to Paris to shop. So they are getting more beauty treatments in New York because they still want to stay chic in a tough economy."

Other stylists and salon owners confirm business has never been better. Europeans don't blink at $600 massages because they feel as though they are only paying as little as half price, says Kim Matheson, a spa consultant. She says spas across the US have been seeing an influx of Europeans. "We are also seeing a lot of women from Asia, South and Central America getting treatments here."

Camille Meyer, of TriBeCa Medspa, agrees that travel-savvy New Yorkers are skipping weekend shopping jaunts in Europe. "No one is travelling right now, and everyone else is travelling here. We get a lot, especially from London." In recent weeks, those visits have been for Botox shots or one-off treatments such as dermal fillers. "Botox takes 14 days to really kick in, so they get it just once [in a trip]. We are also seeing a lot of Canadians and Japanese who might get skin resurfacing. They just walk around Manhattan with red skin for 24 hours but they don't care because they are on holidays."

Locals, of course, are still spending but some are doing it a little more cautiously. "They are buying laser facelifts. Usually they buy them in a package of three but in recent weeks they would rather pay each time," says Meyer. Even wealthy clients, who previously had no problem writing a $10,000 cheque, now just want to pay for single treatments. "They are saying, 'My husband will kill me if he sees a large amount [on the statement] all at once.'" Ellen Sackoff, founding partner of Cornelia Day Resort – famous for its customised facials – says her American clients are also travelling less but are spending more. One woman who once travelled to exotic locales with her husband is staying at home and making the spa her away time.

"Customers who would buy a $5,000 handbag still feel guilt associated with it," she says. So rather than opt for a new seasonal accessories fix, she says "now they are putting money into beauty and wellness. They realise it is good for them."

Regardless, for Sackoff, out-of-towners are still the main ones driving the business. While the average spent by her weekend clients is $350, those coming from Europe are parting with anything from $800 to $1,000 dollars a go. "They feel like they are getting a great deal. People don't care about prices. We raised them recently and no one blinked."

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Reach for the spas

Soho Nails, 458 Broadway, 3rd floor; tel: +1 212-475 6368
Donsuki's Salon, www.donsukisalon.com
TriBeCa Medspa, www.tribecamedspa.com
Cornelia Day Resort, www.cornelia.com