First off, I have to confess that I’ve always been fascinated with Extreme Makeover, What Not to Wear, and other physical transformation shows. Of course, I know that beauty is not only skin deep and Gabrio Staff was the first to tell me so when I visited his Centro Benessere on the très chic Via dei Tornabuoni. His new centre, he told me, wasn’t just another hair salon. It was a place where beauty was treated from head to toe and from inside out. “Prove it,” I challenged.
The Staff at the Florentine had come up with the idea of the Ultimate Italian Makeover and guess who had volunteered to be the guinea pig?
With that, we set a date for me to spend a day at Olimpo Gabrio Staff. At 10 am the following Friday, I showed up ready to be “transformed.” I was very clear that I was only interested in the treatments that would show immediate results. At the Centro, they have many massages and aroma therapies, as well as Japanese and ayurvedic therapies that increase your chi or endorphins or serotonin. “Not interested,” I told Gabrio,. “I only want treatments that will make me look younger, thinner, and more beautiful.” (I’ve already admitted that I’m shallow enough to enjoy those shows, so why pretend I was there to have my “chi” balanced?)
“What’s that chocolate treatment that I read about that eliminates cellulite?” I wanted to know. We were taking pictures, and inner peace just isn’t very photogenic. So I undressed, got on the massage table and prepared myself for two of my favourite things at once — a great massage and chocolate! However, the chocolate stays on the outside of the body rather than accumulating as lumps and bumps on my hips via my mouth. The chocolate is rubbed, massaged, and used to marinate the body in order to exfoliate, improve circulation, and combat cellulite.
During the “marinade,” Moghe, the esthetician, turned her attention to my face. Sadly, I was informed that the machine that could take 10 years off my face wouldn’t be available for another 3 weeks, so I had to settle for a deep cleansing and rejuvenation a la fruit salad. As if the smell of chocolate wasn’t enough, now I had to “think thin” while layers of fresh papaya, mango, passion fruit, and yogurt (my favourite gelato flavours) went everywhere but down my throat. Not a good treatment to do on an empty stomach!
Now I was about to experience what I really came here for: “THE MAGICAL THINNING MACHINE.” Of course I know these things never work, but still I can’t seem to give up my hope that one day there will be a machine that I will enter a “big-boned American” and pop out a “skin and bones” Italian model. First my fatty areas (hips, inner thighs – come on girls, you know where they are) were basted in a sticky paraffin substance. I was then dressed in a fetching plastic orange suit that looked like something you might use on an exceptionally rainy day at a nudist colony. Then I was inserted into the Vibrosauna, which resembles a serious machine used for MRIs or a CAT scan. And perhaps, considering my expectations, I did need my head examined!
Once released, I did check the inside of the suit to see if my superfluous hip and thigh padding was swishing around inside it. I saw only water, which we all know doesn’t count.
Manicure, eyebrow shaping and dyeing, pedicure (the only place I probably did lose weight.from all the dried skin removed from my feet), and I was ready for my make-up session. Good thing we got pictures, I’ll never be able to apply the stylish, natural look by myself at home.
Now we’re finally at the piece de resistance..the true Italian hairstyle. Anna, the colourist, told me what she wanted to do, and having already given up on the hope that I would find someone on this side of the ocean I’d really feel safe with, I didn’t argue. I put myself entirely in her hands and her foils (this is called “meche” in Italy). To my surprise and delight what was revealed was a stunning rich colour with just enough edge to avoid the dread of looking like a middle-age patron or the horror of resembling a “punked-out” freak.
From the colour bowl, I was sent to the chopping block. Giuseppe didn’t consult me about what I wanted done with my hair. If he had, or if I had even been given a second to talk (and I am not known for being timid), I would have told him that I wanted to keep it long. Too late. He launched into action, snipping away, before I had a chance to insist that I wanted to keep it long. In horror, I watched chunks of my long hair drop to the floor, and tried to calm myself with optimistic self-talk. “It will grow back,” I reminded myself, fighting back tears. “He’s an expert and must know what he’s doing.” At one point when I saw him take a gash out of the middle of my scalp, I gasped. Giuseppe in his sign language and broken English told me to relax and trust him. And actually what choice did I have at that point?
In the end he was right. He gave me a fabulous haircut, which was totally suited to me. Good riddance to the damaged hair from past mistakes. And unlike the make-up, I had full confidence that I wouldn’t need Giuseppe to move in with me to maintain my new chic style.
Part of the deal with Gabrio was that he’d promised to find a stylist or shop that would complete my new look with a stunning outfit. I walked out of the salon and down the street where Adelaide, the manager of Escada, was waiting for me. By this time it was 7 pm. (Can you believe how much time it takes to make me look presentable?). I was led downstairs to the salon and given the VIP treatment I could so easily get used to. I played dress-up while Adelaide brought me everything I needed, including shoes and fabulous bags for each outfit. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that you don’t have to be Kate Moss to shop at Escada. Although it might just be that the Vibrosauna actually did do its thinning magic because it was unusually easy for me to find clothes that fit!
The last stop of my makeover adventure was a cocktail party in town. One does, after all, have to waste no time before testing the validity of such experiments. Amongst the various compliments and generous “oohs” and “aaahs” I received, came the comment that proved the experiment had succeeded, “Mamma mia, you look so Italian!”