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SPA treatments

A storied New York City spa recommends a menu of services designed to help Type-A brides calm down and spruce up before the Big Day.



A well-known New York art critic once told me that the secret to his long and happy marriage was to never subject his partner to “the 3 a.m.’s”—those existential, amorphous anxieties that literally keep you up at night. His point, of course, was to not treat your husband or wife like an on-demand therapist. Even in a committed partnership, you sometimes just have to stiffen your upper lip, gather your resolve and figure things out for yourself (or maybe just take an Ambien). I’m planning a wedding, and this advice rings through my head each time I send my future husband an all-caps text that says something like, “THERE ARE NO GOOD BISTRO KNIVES TO RENT.” In other words, absurdist, self-manufactured concerns that don’t merit his patient replies or kindly worded entreaties to just ask the wedding planner. I’m lucky to be marrying the nicest man on Earth, but not proud that I’ve spent the better part of six months acting like a human-sized fidget spinner.

In an effort to, ahem, calm the fuck down and remind him why he wanted to get married in the first place, I sought out professional help. Not the “lie down on the couch and tell me how you’re feeling” variety, but rather the “lie down on the spa table and tell me if you’d like cucumber water” kind. Luckily, the exceedingly nice folks at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon and Spa in New York City’s The Chatwal hotel stepped in to help me construct a menu of treatments aimed at de-stressing before The Big Day. According to the Red Door’s Andrea Berberian, this is standard protocol. Brides-to-be are assigned a personal concierge who works to “design the ideal service itinerary leading up to the big day—a fully tailored, recommended regimen of services.” Apparently I’m not the first lunatic to need round-the-clock hand-holding while I plan a little party.

A quick note about location: the stately Chatwal is situated just off of Times Square. Not a well-known oasis of calm, but blessedly central to those of us making the diagonal trek from 11th Avenue catering warehouses to Madison Avenue stationary shops. Plus, the Red Door is tucked underneath the hotel’s lobby like a wellness bank vault. Ambient noise is minimal.

On the day of my appointment, I showed up a solid 45 minutes late—because… life?— and expected to hear that one or more of my treatments would have to be cut from the schedule. Instead, I was greeted by a gracious front desk staffer who told me to relax (I get that a lot lately) and assured me that it was no problem to begin late. The little anxiety meter in my brain moved down from red to orange. Not a bad start. The attendant then ushered me into a private bathroom suite, which I considered to be a substantial upgrade from the usual communal locker room situation. For the less anti-social, Berberian says the Red Door adopts a “the more the merrier” policy in regards to bridal entourages. But I was thrilled to have a moment of solitude and a space to haphazardly fling all my stuff. I began to seriously wonder whether I should just lock myself in a big, nice bathroom for the next few weeks when I was interrupted by a knock at the door—time for my first treatment!  


The technician Mary—who gave off a pleasant, hippie art teacher vibe—got started on the Olive Oil Salt Body Glow, a head-to-toe exfoliation to promote good circulation and even skin tone. Since the circulatory system delivers oxygen to the brain, I had vain hopes that a good sloughing might make me feel more sane. That didn’t pan out (shocker), but the sensation of shedding rough, dry skin was almost as gratifying. While I blathered on about table decor, Mary worked quickly, rubbing the antioxidant-rich scrub on my arms, legs, back and shoulders. She seemed totally unfazed by my nervous energy—”I work with a lot of brides,” she offers by way of explanation—and paused only once to remind me not to get too stressed that I forget to eat. I wish Mary, I wish.

After a quick shower to rinse away the salt grains, I jumped back onto the bed so she could apply a thick, thorough coating of an ultra-rich hydrating cream all over my body. When it's all over, I can't stop touching my own arms. They feel like baby skin. This is not bad skin to get married in. Maybe the secret to successful wedding prep is just to act like a baby as much as possible?


These deep thoughts are interrupted by Kate, the Red Door's lead esthetician, who informs me that it's time to get started on my facial. Kate is a good advertisement for her own services—imagine Michelle Pfeiffer with no pores—and she's been with Elizabeth Arden for over a decade. We chatted awhile before getting started and she asked all the right questions about sensitivities, concerns and my daily skin care routine. She proposed the Oxygen Infusion Facial sans extractions—my skin is as reactive as I am—to address the dull, gray cast I’ve developed from regularly staying up til 2 a.m. to Google “wedding mistakes you don’t realize you’re making.”

The facial started out simply enough: cleansing, steaming and hot towels. Since oxygen infusions require some sort of exfoliant to penetrate, Kate used an uber-gentle papaya enzyme mask to lightly remove dead skin cells. While she worked, I peppered her with questions about her own perfect complexion—sunscreen, reapplied at least every two hours—and what she deems the ideal pre-wedding regimen. Her advice is refreshingly straightforward: start working with an esthetician about six months out, get monthly maintenance facials to thoroughly clean out your pores, and don’t freak out about what you eat (but do try to avoid alcohol and salt in the days immediately preceding the event). Even in my addled state of mind, that seems doable.

The post-mask facial massage was an unexpected, deeply appreciated surprise. Turns out it’s a Red Door signature, based on a method pioneered by Arden herself that combines lymphatic drainage, pressure point and effleurage techniques. Somehow, a headache I didn’t even know I had has vanished. Is it weird to invite a facialist that you just met to the most meaningful occasion of your life?

Next was the oxygen treatment itself. Kate used a machine that looked and felt like an airbrush gun to deliver a pressurized stream of pure oxygen molecules all over my face. It took no longer than five minutes and was completely unobtrusive—imagine the sensation of opening a refrigerator on a hot day. The results, however, belie the simplicity of the procedure. When Kate passed over a hand mirror, I was—for the first time in awhile—kind of speechless. My skin was dewy, hydrated and devoid of textural flaws. While the results are short-lived—the glow lasted about four days—the peace of mind you get from knowing about a fail-safe, last-minute skin care fix is worth 1,000 hours of meditation. For the next five minutes, I felt uncharacteristically beatific.


Until I glanced at my phone—don’t bring your phone to the spa, it defeats the whole purpose—and realized I was supposed to meet my fiance at the hotel bar in ten minutes. In all honesty, I wasn’t crushed about skipping my manicure, the next treatment on the agenda. Even before I got engaged, I had a bad attitude about manicures, referring to the process as “hand jail.” Are you supposed to just sit there, immobilized, for 30 minutes? And not touch anything while the polish dries? I truly don’t get it.

Accordingly, I told Dalila, the manicurist, that I was just going to skip out early. She narrowed her eyes and sized me up: “I’ll have you out of here in five minutes.” Quite obviously, Dalila knew her audience. I caved and sat down. Five minutes later, after a lightning-quick file, massage and buff, my hands look noticeably better. The treatment wasn’t revelatory—after all, a manicure is just a manicure—but I felt fortified in my knowledge that there are kindred spirits out there who can match my manic pace. Well done, Dalila.

I headed upstairs to join my husband-to-be, who was waiting for me at the bar with a martini. “You look great—you’re glowing,” he exclaimed. It was a nice moment and I got excited, for the eleventh million time, to marry him. With or without a big party. “Let’s skip the wedding talk tonight,” I said, “it’s really not that big of a deal.”