I have quite possibly been ruined for all other facials.
A friend of mine gave me a gift certificate for a session with Margaret Hema a year ago. I had heard of her before, stumbled across her website, hummed and hahhed, typed out an email to book an appointment, but never followed through. Work always got in the way, and my motivation suffered from disappointment induced shyness derived from previous trips to spas with enticing menus of creatively named treatments that always failed to deliver. I will forever be grateful to my friend for that little piece of paper.
The spa is an unpretentious oasis, a gem hidden in a nondescript building on one of Wellington’s main shopping streets. There is no signage on the facade to draw passersby inside, Margaret’s sanctuary is revealed only to those who book ahead. Up a couple flights of stairs, down a narrow hall, and behind a plain wood door, there is a pink room where she blends fresh ingredients. An alchemy for the skin, sumptuous oils filling glass jars decorated with a logo designed by her son.
She asks me to take off my top and pull the straps of my bra down, holding forth a hand towel to tuck into my decolletage, head averted to one side for modesty. I lay back on her massage table, allowing myself to be enveloped in soft pink cotton and fuzzy purple fleece. After ensuring I am warm enough, she draws fingers, softer than any others I have ever felt, across my skin. Smoothing my brow and taking measure of my cheek bones, the shape of my nose, the boundaries of my chin.
We chat, a pleasant exchange of personal details mixed with descriptions of what she spreads onto my skin. Occasionally the sound of a violin in the hands of a master drift towards us from the shop down the hall. She tells me I have beautiful fabric.
This is the year that my smiles have started to linger around the corners of my mouth long past the mirth that put them there, and to my chagrin I still have breakouts despite high school promises that acne would just be a phase. But her quiet confidence and deft fingers have somehow instilled an unexpected trust in her opinion. Doctors tell me I have excellent eyesight, my blood pressure is healthy, cholesterol is better than average, and my liver is a model citizen. Now, this petite woman who has been working with skin for nearly 50 years, creating her own products for over 20, and running a salon since 1988, reassures me that the largest organ of my body is doing well. I am tickled pink.
This is not a facial. It would be wrong to lump an experience with Margaret into the same bin filled with expensive disappointments garnered in chocolate brown and teal spas hawking the latest laboratory tested exfoliants and creams. This is a fulfilling feast massaged lovingly into the fabric of my face, neck, shoulders, hands, and arms, void of the latest fads in steaming, exfoliation, and moisture sucking clay masks.
The Totara Tree, a magnificent specimen of the yew family endemic to New Zealand.
She confidently uses her own line of products, for the most part crafted from organic or spray free ingredients sourced from New Zealand, a few from Europe. She has developed relationships with the producers and in some cases personally visits the farms. She proudly tells me the lavender oil is grown by Susie White, known for her award winning Pacific Blue. She reminisces about her introduction to a scientist working with the wood of the Totara tree and it’s anti-bacterial properties through a client around 2005.
Margaret refined the steps of her signature skin care on the faces of principle dancers of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. Developing a line of products effective at removing heavy stage make up and revitalizing the starving skin beneath, while remaining safe for clients with weakened immune systems and women looking for a gentler alternative during pregnancy. There is no water nor fillers in the bottles neatly lining the top of her armoire. She blends each oil and unguent herself in small batches, her exceptionally soft hands bearing silent testimonial to the quality of her work. It is rare that the bottles sit there for more than a couple weeks before being handed off to eager patrons.
At the end of my hour I look at my glowing face in a small mirror hanging in the sitting room and lament that this is my last visit before I leave New Zealand.