I turn up for my appointment at Gonzalez’s studio in Dubai’s One&Only Royal Mirage armed with a healthy dose of cynicism. Yes, the 75-minute Bastien’s Duo Treatment might cost Dh725; and yes, the celebrities at this year’s Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) VIP Lounge are being treated to Bastien’s services and products. But it’s still just a mani/pedi, right?
I am shown into one of three private treatment rooms – the feet are still a private part of the body so why shouldn’t they be treated in private, says Maxime Lureau, the operations and development director of the Pedi: Mani: Cure Studios, who is a trained podiatrist and the man tasked with transforming my feet.
I settle into an unfathomably comfortable, fully reclining leather chair. The room is all sumptuous dark wood and calming background music – certainly not your standard nail bar fare. There’s a range of strange-looking implements, some of which look like they might be better placed in a dentist’s ward. There are nail files made from glass, which, I am informed, respect the structure of the nail and skin and cause less damage than their metal counterparts; there are four drills that are used to remove dry skin from the nail bed; and chamois leather buffs that increase the flow of blood to the nails, leaving them shiny and pink. The treatment is dry; oversoaking is not good for the feet, I learn, plus this allows the therapists to see exactly what they are dealing with. My hands and feet are worked on at the same time; the nails are clipped, filed and buffed; dry skin is removed and moisturiser applied. Rounding the treatment off is an artfully synchronised four-hand massage that extends from the tips of my fingers to my elbows and from my toes to my knees.
There is the option to apply nail polish but it’s not part of the treatment. The theory is that your nails will look so healthy by the time you’re done, you won’t want to cover them. Plus, in these parts, polish is seen as make-up, something you apply on occasion but then remove to allow the nail to breath. As Lureau says: “You don’t put make-up on straight after a facial, do you?”
Gonzalez, who now operates 15 studios in some of the most luxurious hotels and spas around the world, and has his own critically acclaimed line of products, Reverence de Bastien, came to podiatry quite by chance. More than 20 years ago, he was involved in a serious skiing accident and tore a ligament. At subsequent physiotherapy sessions, he met a podiatrist who specialised in creating insoles for ski boots. “I enjoyed learning from him so I became interested in the industry,” Gonzalez explains. “After working with a podiatrist on ski boots I passed my podiatry licence. Four years later, I started my own business. At 23, I opened a medical clinic and sold it 18 months later. That is when I started my concept of the ‘true pedicure’. That was 17 years ago, when spas didn’t exist like they do now.”
Gonzalez’s approach was unheard of at the time. He recognised that there were three main branches of hand, foot and nail care: the medical, podiatry-based approach; the purely aesthetic approach favoured by nail bars; and the relaxation approach, which included things like foot massages and reflexology. He decided to create treatments that incorporated the best of the three schools. While this new and “peculiar” way of thinking did not receive immediate acceptance, a watershed moment came after a meeting with the hotelier Sol Kerzner. “Starting anything new in a world that is opposed to change is always difficult. I met Sol Kerzner, who wanted guests to have the best pedicure before going to the beach. We partnered and the rest is history.” Gonzalez first started offering his “true pedicure” in Kerzner’s One&Only Le Saint Géran resort in Mauritius 10 years ago.
The industry has changed significantly since then, says Gonzalez, as have attitudes to beauty, in general, and feet in particular. More people are interested in “natural beauty” and focus on health as well as looks, says Gonzalez, who is a firm believer in natural solutions. “My grandmother, an amazing woman, proved this to me when she was buffing her nails with a chamois leather at the age of 92. I thought she was going crazy but when I saw the results, I was so impressed with the shine. As the blood circulation gets stronger with more oxygen and nutrients, you get better, pinker nails. It’s the true French manicure.”
Gonzalez opened his studio in the One&Only Royal Mirage eight years ago and is now present in the One&Only on The Palm and The Atlantis Palm Jumeirah. The UAE market has responded particularly well to his treatments, he says. “Everybody lives in sandals. Add the heat and the sand and you have the perfect ingredients for [needing] a good mani/pedi.”
I can vouch for that. When I leave the studio, I am sporting nails that are shiny, pink and healthy-looking, and that, for the first time in years, are entirely free of polish – but would still, I like to think, be worthy of a turn on the DIFF red carpet.