Rae needs no introduction. He is well-known, well-celebrated and very well-liked amongst his peers. But, after eight long, oft heady, years, Rae needed a little facial rejuvenation. No drastic cosmetic surgery, just a little nip and tuck, a facial; this is Byron not Sydney after all. When Vincent Rae hung up the haviananas (or more aptly loafer) some years ago, a changing of the guard occurred, and with the shift in management in the years since, of course some sort of transformation was bound to ensue. No such change was as great as the new helm. Under the sentry of the Catalano familia, this transformation (the first since the original owner) was articulated through the keen eye of one of Australia’s foremost interior alchemists, Tamsin Johnson.
With that celebrated Johnson jooj – each suite, penthouse and villa underwent a makeover – maintaining that rustic Rae charm but captured afresh with Tamsin’s pert new vision. A stylish pastiche of rattan-woven furniture, obscure objects, oversized sculptural white shells, Sisal rugs, splices of green; such beautiful curiosities were collected and curated from around the world. The wrought iron chandelier and carved concrete face that rises above a sea of agave plants in the entry were sourced from an antique fair in Parma, Italy. With a muted palette, all fabric is natural and materials are raw. Linen, washed cotton, carved sandstone, un-honed travertine, dip-dyed concrete, waxy venetian plaster, “the overall intention was to pull it right back and start fresh with a natural and beachy palette,” says Tamsin of the refurbishment. Local artisans punctuate the space, with artworks from local Byron Bay resident, Todd Hunter, whilst that iconic 1960’s Argentinian facade, with its curved, undulating white walls, remains the same.
The soon to be released staff outfits, along with custom towels and games for guests, come courtesy of Australia’s jewellery darling Lucy folk – who, after relocating to Bondi found a whole new groove (this one much saltier and sandier). Putting the tacos and corn chips in the pantry for a beachier aesthetic of freshwater pearls and fishing wire, Folk is designing a whole new wardrobe for hotel and restaurant staff. The staff are as one would expect – steadfast, prompt, but also down to earth and cheeky – possessing the affability that comes from a life by the sea. (Special mention to our charming waiter Josh, who laughed at my painful “Dad-esque” jokes, pointed me in the right direction of Chris Hemsworth and recommended the highlight of the meal – a superbly soft yellowfin tuna sashimi, so ruby in colour and so beautifully melt-in-your-mouth).
But, some things never should never change. And one of those things is Marionne de Candia. Having launched the spa at the hotel’s conception, and helming the hotel ever since, Marionne is part of the furniture (and much like the rest of it, just as beautiful, if not more). Quite simply, she is a dream. Both in presence and by way of hand. And in good hands I was, with celebrity clients such as Elle McPherson, Baz Lurhman and Kate Hudson, I was skin-struck.
For one who is squirmy at all hours of the day and night (honestly, a sleeping tablet struggles) I was moved to such dreamlike rapture I actually developed pins and needles I hadn’t moved for so long. Alas, Marionne’s hands worked their way to mine and smoothed out any stiffness at the end of the treatment with that gentle touch. It may sound odd, but often when a treatment is “that” good, it can reduce one to tears, impelled more so by a presence that is quite hard to describe. This has occurred only twice in my beauty life – not so much with a stream, but with a gentle swell of contained tears – the kind that boil but don’t quite bubble over. This was the second time. Perhaps, in part, due to components of Reiki, Marionne’s facial was tear-jerking, in a beautifully sublime way. It was wholly bespoke and tailored to my skin, and my skin only. And despite its rich finishings and glamorous facade, it was anything but – it was real. Cocooned in a dark Moroccan-esque alcove, the spa itself is small and compact. In this, a supreme cosiness is manifest; it’s the dark, comforting little nook in a kingdom of light where solace is sought. A haven flecked with pearlescent shells and scented with wood and spice, its Moorish arches and punctilious cut-outs only further accent the attention to detail. A spa oasis without the pretension.
Here, Marionne indulges us, this time by word instead of hand…
I have been in the beauty world for more than 30 years. Facials and skin science have been what I specialise in. I remain passionate about this and I have developed my own skincare range to be relaunched late this year, with improved formulas and luxe packaging. I have consulted on some top spas and am drawn to the nurturing atmosphere of spas and the sacred space they offer to guests allowing them to leave the outside world behind. Very necessary in the fast paced world of today. Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin were the first guests in our spa in 2006. They are special to me. Elle Macpherson is another much loved guest of mine, and Kate Hudson, Delta Goodrem the Veronicas to name a few.
How do you approach each facial? Do you change your technique according to individual, or do you always incorporate the same massage, movements, etc?
I do have set movements which work as a flow. I am very much a believer of Lymphatic Drainage and Acupressure that I use in my facial which is para medical. I work with this structure, do what is appropriate at the given time and what the guests needs are.
How important is a facial and why?
The face is an area which receives very little touch, a little neglected. Whilst I am giving a facial I enter into the guests personal space so trust is involved . I always respect this time. A good facial massage using good product the skin will benefit greatly.
What do you believe is key to a good facial?
Therapist’s touch. Certain subtlety in the touching and how the therapist uses this. There is a intentionality and appropriateness that is difficult to train . It is almost instinctual.
What is the biggest myth / mistake you see when it comes to their skin?
People can go overboard, they find something good and then they over do it, for example peels and scrubs. Tending towards excess.
What are your top tips for good skin health?
Be mindful of the sun. Continual use of a good product. Not all products are equal, you need to find what is right for your skin.
You have an almost magical presence, both strong and serene. Do you think a great facial comes down to more than just using your hands?
Absolutely, not only is it about touch, flow and movement, there is an internal state the therapist has to be in. I call it the zone. It is a mediative state that centres on loving kindness.
Who has been your favourite face to treat?
Anyone who is open to embrace the experience.
Define your Rae’s legacy in three (or more!) words.
This is hard to put in a few words. I created a space where the guest is paramount, a private, personal and safe experience; the true spa experience.