Something Borrowed, Something New

Wedding season 2012 is getting under way. Here’s how one Los Angeles hot spot draws big-time bridal business.

The Ciel Spa’s couples’ suite, where many bridal party guests are “entertained.”

Upstairs on the second floor of the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles sits the 5,000-square-foot Ciel Spa, an unlikely fantasyland of Zen serenity and boundary-pushing design. With all white and silver interiors, the spa distinguishes itself through textures—quilted locker doors, tufted chairs and gleaming silver mirrors—and unexpected touches such as the row of white ceramic hands protruding from the main hallway walls, each holding a spray a white orchids. It’s the kind of “Alice in Wonderland Just Checked Into the Penthouse” destination that lures such bold-faced names as Olivia Wilde and Uma Thurman.

But many non-celeb mortals have expressed a similar appreciation of this spa, and local brides in particular. DAYSPA checked in to find out what makes Ciel uniquely successful in catering to the wedding market. —By Alison Singh Gee

Something Borrowed, Something New

Ciel opened in February 2009, and while launching a spa in the midst of a devastating economic recession might seem counterintuitive, the luxury hotel outfit was determined to add this temple of pampering to its offerings. “With the spa, we wanted to create a destination—a place that would transcend traditional boundaries of what a spa should be,” says SLS marketing manager Emily Bernstein. “For us, Ciel was a natural and organic evolution from our brand—a gathering place for friends, an exclusive private club and a lounge experience that’s full of surprises.”

Yet, like the majority of spas, Ciel has felt the effects of the international financial crisis. The spa team isn’t talking numbers, but readily admits that immediately following the facility’s grand opening, it was forced to take an unflinching look at the state of the industry. Realizing a dire need to bring in more new clients and inspire long-term relationships, the team took a look at its spa’s distinctive assets and decided to go after the bridal party business in a big way, offering its space as a party venue and providing interesting perks for clients.

One such perk: At Ciel, if a bride-to-be and her bridesmaids book all six of the spa’s treatment rooms, including the couples’ suite, they then make the entire spa their private party venue (paying only for the cost of treatments). The spa offers the full array of services: facials, massages and body treatments (ranging from $35 for a manicure to $1,000 for a super-deluxe suite of treatments). While most bridal party members who have booked the spa have opted for individual treatments, party members are increasingly requesting manis/pedis en masse. “That way they’re able to socialize, making the spa outing more of a group activity,” Bernstein says.

Something Borrowed, Something New

The Ciel also saw the opportunity to transform typical group spa outings into festive occasions, effectively engaging the hotel’s full services and incorporating the much-Yelped-about menus of SLS culinary director José Andrés. With offerings such as afternoon tea ($45 per person, exclusive of a 22% service charge and sales tax), spa-food lunch and/or cocktails, the spa’s salon area seems to morph into “a full-force restaurant,” serving up such memorable fare as crab sandwiches and Spanish potato salad.

Looking to add value to its spa parties, Ciel also devised unique ancillary activities: Celebrants can use the hotel’s spa-adjacent fitness center and, if they book their outing on a weekday, head up to the SLS’ Altitude Pool Deck (designed by French visionary Philippe Starck), to lounge, swim, hang out in the whirlpool and gaze down at Beverly Hills’ sparkling city lights. Offering this perk to weekday guests revs up traffic on these non-peak days.

Bringing the Brides 

The marketing team has gone to great lengths to make the bride-to-be a main priority. The spa’s Brighten facial (60 min./$175; 90 min./$240), which uses ultrasonic infusions of citrus extracts to treat hyperpigmentation, is promoted as the treatment to receive the day before a wedding or photo shoot. As a rare treat for a bride, the spa suggests the Nirvana massage (60 min./$290; 90 min./$185), in which two therapists perform a choreographed rubdown. What’s more, the hotel now offers its dramatically designed grounds for bridal party photo shoots—even if the wedding is happening elsewhere—with location fees starting at $500. Such a promotion not only draws new business to the property, it also stimulates interest in the spa, restaurants and tearoom for other wedding-related festivities.

Response from bridal parties has been positive. “The feedback I most often get is that Ciel Spa conveys an incredible sense of serenity—and that’s essential for a bride,” Bernstein says.

Something Borrowed, Something New

A small-but-lovely spread can make a grand impression.

Doing It Small-Scale

Even if your day spa isn’t connected to a luxury hotel, you can attract a healthy bridal business by adapting some of Ciel Spa’s strategies:

Ciel Strategy 1: Serve elegant refreshments from the hotel restaurant.
Adaptation: Create tempting hors d’oeuvre platters using delectable treats from a local gourmet shop, and serve them on beautiful lacquer trays.

Ciel Strategy 2: Allow bridal party
groups access to the hotel’s fitness center
and/or pool.
Adaptation: Include an instructor-led yoga, meditation or stretching session in your bridal package.

Ciel Strategy 3: Offer impeccably designed grounds for wedding photo shoots, for a location fee.
Adaptation: Cross-market with a local wedding photographer, offering referral fees to each other and discounts for the client; if your spa has a garden, consider bringing in the photographer to shoot at your spa, and split the fee.

Finally, keep in mind that the key element that makes any event memorable, whether it’s a spa visit or a wedding, is the people. Warm, friendly and talented staff, and happy and appreciative guests, are always the winning formula—and that goes for all spas, from the 1,000-square-foot single-location to the sprawling hotel-based showplace.

Something Borrowed, Something New

Bride and groom on SLS’ Altitude Pool Deck

Website: cielatsls.com
Open since: February 2009
Size: 5,000 square feet
Facilities: 6 treatment rooms, including couples’ suite featuring side-by-side soaking tubs; his-and-hers locker rooms; relaxation area; retail space; salon with hair services and 2 pedi stations
Most popular treatments: Relaxation Massage (60 min,/$135), Brighten Facial (60 min./$175), CND Shellac Manicure ($55)

Alison Singh Gee is a journalist and author based in Los Angeles.

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