In a city teeming with SPAS, it takes a lot to impress spa-savvy New Yorkers. And yet, the opening of Cornelia day resort, above the high-end luxury Italian retailer Salvatore Ferragamo on Fifth Avenue, is generating talk. The spa was inspired by the vision of acclaimed esthetician Cornelia Zicu, who was previously head esthetician at the Spa at The Peninsula hotel in New York City. There she built a loyal and star-studded clientele who is sure to feel right at home in the new surroundings. The very fact that Zicu and partner Rick Aidekman were able to secure such a prime piece of real estate in a city known for its intimately sized spas is a feat in itself—albeit one made easier by Aidekman's role as a managing partner in a portfolio of residential properties with institutional investors in New York City.
Reinforcing the idea that dreams really can come true, a fortuitous appointment with a client served as the catalyst for the partnership between Zicu and Aidekman. Always planning to one day open her own spa, Zicu knew she needed to learn more about the real estate market before venturing out on her own. It wasn't until she shared her dream with client Ellen Sackoff that her plans began to come together. Sackoff offered to put Zicu in touch with her husband, Rick Aidekman, whom she thought could offer some insight into the real estate market. Expecting nothing more than a meeting, Zicu was surprised when Aidekman expressed interest in becoming her partner.
Left: Located above the corner of 52nd Street and Fifth Avenue, the Cornelia Suite offers sweeping views of the city. Right: Towels feature Cornelia's logo. Orange was chosen as an accent color in honor of Zicus grandmother, who used pumpkin in many of her recipes.
Cornelia is in a class all its own—raising expectations on what a full-service spa can deliver. Although the spa industry has been moving away from the notion of indulgent pampering for a while, Zicu doesn't shy away from the concept. In fact, she coined a new term—"day resort"—to characterize the spa. According to Zicu, the new category is intended to better describe what the spa has to offer. "I wanted to create a place where the experience and results were at the same level," she says. You'd be hard pressed to find many spas—day or resort—that have a guest relations manager on staff to ensure five-star service. However, that's not to say the spa is all style and no substance. On the contrary, Cornelia is ultimately about delivering an individualized experience that is intimate, elegant, and sophisticated as well as fulfilling and results-oriented. Proving you don't have to sacrifice luxury for results, Cornelia strikes a balance between the two. "I want to provide a new standard in the beauty industry," says Zicu.
Top: The Quiet Room, adjacent to the Relaxation Library, encourages a peaceful environment with a plaque on the wall that reads, “Embrace the silence.” Above Left: Complimentary tea and snacks are available in the Library. Above Right: The spiral staircase leads to the cafe.
In creating the menu, Zicu was determined not to overwhelm clients with the smorgasbord of choices common in many spas. According to her, it makes it difficult for clients to decide on a treatment that fits their individual needs. "Because my international clients can book up to two months ahead, their needs can change a lot. That is why it is so important that we analyze the skin and make our recommendations before we start the treatment," says Zicu. As a result, she prefers to have her clients call and schedule blocks of time. That same individualized philosophy is reflected in Zicu's feelings about packages. "I don't believe in packages," she says. "I believe in a program created especially for each client."
With a refrigerator in each treatment room, estheticians and therapists can create fresh treatment masks. Zicu herself has created numerous recipes for different skin types. Also on the menu is the Romanian Mud Bath ($245, 90 minutes), which uses mineral-rich mud from Lake Amara in Romania, Zicu's native country. With exclusive rights to the mud, Zicu uses extracts from the mud in her Essentials and Works product lines. Drawing on traditions handed down by her grandmother, Zicu incorporated many beauty secrets into Cornelia's menu. For instance, before treatments, clients are served a spoonful of Yorkshire honey with a glass of cold water to energize them or hot tea for a more calming effect. Formulated by Zicu, the 100 percent organic tea comes in 19 varieties. She developed the teas based on her grandmother's recipes as well as her own research. Classically trained in botanical research as part of her studies, Zicu wrote the recipes in Latin and had to hire someone to translate them for development. Ninety percent of the plants and herbs used in the tea are imported from Romania. Several of the selections are also served in the library by one of the spa's many butlers.
Left: Guests can relax and socialize between treatments in the Relaxation Library. The rooms warm colors and soft lighting make it an ideal haven from Manhattans hectic lifestyle. Right: Fresh juices are available along with an assortment of fruits and sweets throughout the day.
As a highly regarded esthetician, Zicu drew on her own experience in developing the menu. "During a facial, it's all about improving the skin's condition," she says. "I found I never had time to relax the client by devoting time to hands and feet, which is why I insist on having two estheticians in the room during a facial, one to work on the face, another to take care of and massage the feet and hands." To pamper feet, a customized footbath comes with each facial. A custom-built footbath is found in all of the treatment tables for that express purpose. Still highly in demand herself, Zicu continues to treat clients in her private suite, which has spectacular views of Fifth Avenue. A 60-minute facial with Zicu is priced at $300.
Knowing that the success of her new venture is based on her employees, Zicu hired the staff two months prior to opening, paying them for eight-hour days while they trained. She felt it was important to create a family-like atmosphere to help clients feel at home. For the staff, she created a separate entrance and a lounge so they could have some downtime away from clients. In an effort to create a new standard in the beauty industry, Zicu is focused on making everyone feel like a VIP. "I want my staff to appreciate every single client," she says. "They all receive VIP treatment because there isn't any other type of treatment at my spa." That's not to say that many of her clients aren't already used to being treated as such. "Most know quality and what good service means," she says.
Above Left: Providing a more masculine feel, the men's locker area features black walls and a flat-screen TV. Right: Makeup services are available after treatments in the vanity area of the women's locker room. Bottom Left: An elegant treatment room, set up here for Thai Massage, features silk draperies, a refrigerator with fresh ingredients, and a computer to input client preferences.
Going beyond traditional retail, Cornelia offers exclusive items found around the world that are distinct, handmade, and of the highest quality. "We love and respect all cultures and believe every culture has something unique to offer," says Zicu. "We want to bring that to Cornelia." From stunning, one-of-a-kind handcrafted jewelry to leather handbags and crocodile clutches, all of the pieces are hard to come by. None of them are available elsewhere in New York City or, in many cases, the country. Sackoff, who is now serving as Cornelia's retail director, travels the world in search of extraordinary items. "I want clients to see that we spent time and energy to discover the very best for them," says Zicu.
Top: The full-service hair salon, with custom-designed furnishings, features five styling stations. Above: A separate color lounge gives clients a more private area to relax in while waiting for their color to set. Right: The salon also has six manicure stations and four pedicure stations.
What truly sets Cornelia apart is the attention to detail lavished on making the spa experience exquisite, from the custom-built shampoo chairs with special massage-lift function to towel warmers in the showers to the iPods given to clients for the duration of their visit to the lockers personalized with their names. Clients who opt for manicure and pedicure services are given the bottle of remaining polish, available in 120 shades developed by Zicu, for touch-ups at home. This is also intended to prevent cross contamination of the opened polish. And, wanting to replicate the healthy salt air found in Romanian resorts, Zicu worked with engineers in Romania to develop a machine that produces air of a similar quality. She now has 24 salt-filter machines situated throughout the spa.
Above: Cornelia’s 600-square-foot retail boutique offers exclusive items from around the world. Right: In addition to the latest fashions and jewelry from such designers as Asia Leong and Federico de Vera, the boutique also retails Cornelia’s signature skincare line.
Only time will tell if Cornelia lives up to its own high standards and is able to recoup the substantial investment that went into creating one of the most luxurious spas New York City has ever seen. In the meantime, Zicu is more concerned with making sure her clients and staff are happy. "I see Cornelia as a huge house where I'm the best hostess," says Zicu. "I want to invite everyone in and lavish them with attention, care, and love. "