In the Garden with Sothys

At the end of a roller coaster-ride stretch of road in the French countryside, in the small town of Auriac, sits a complex of gardens and buildings clearly designed to be one with the natural beauty of its surroundings. Les Jardins Sothys is, quite literally, the living legacy of Bernard Mas, founder and chairman of professional skin care manufacturer Sothys International, whose motivation in creating the site was to build a place where nature would be revered and protected for future generations. To a jet-lagged editor and a U.K.-based associate, the garden was a soothing break in a hectic travel schedule and an opportunity to learn more about this professional products company.

The gardens are home to a wide variety of local plants, artfully displayed in beds shaped like drops of water and in topiary recalling constellations in the sky—a real star in the extraordinary setting. The site also offers hiking trails with comfortable walks, winding through gardens, meadow and forest. Mas’ idea is to value nature “to keep it for the next generation.” He believes this to be the raison d’etre of this, “the most advanced culture in history,” as he regards the present era.

In addition to the gardens, the site includes a long, low building housing a shop and restaurant. The crumbling wooden structure of an existing barn was rebuilt using wood pegs and chestnut beams. Complimented by floors of oak, the effect is both elegant and soothing in a way that only the truly natural and indigenous can be. Mas’ concept was to build a place to relax, like a lodge, plus a place to offer locally produced specialty foods and crafts. The effect on a weary traveler is rejuvenating, a surprise considering the spa—part of Mas’ vision for the site—is barely a blueprint at this point.

Indeed, Mas hopes to expand the concept to include a hotel and spa, a project that could get underway in the next five years or so. The spa would be open to the public but also would be a place to train the Sothys method. He envisions a place where Sothys customers can come for a week to train on the latest products and methods while enjoying the site in comfortable surroundings. But, first things first: He wants to finish the garden and there is quite a bit of work to do there. In addition, Mas will soon begin to renovate the nearby family farmhouse into a small hotel.

The garden and spa project is growing up in the place where Mas himself grew up. And while much of his family now lives in Monaco, they still gather in Auriac whenever possible. Mas’ son Christian, managing director of Sothys’ Bernard Cassiere line, said his father purposely built the garden in the village where he grew up and the garden is now becoming a core part of the Sothys story.

As legacy’s go, Les Jardins de Sothys is as unique as the story that brought him to this place, but it doesn’t end with a walk among the flowers. Mas is working with the University of Limoges to study natural polysaccharides and peptides from local plants with a view to using more organic and natural ingredients in his products. He is quick to say that while he doesn’t want to compete with his suppliers, he likes the idea of using ingredients from plants in his own garden. According to son Christian, they may be growing their own plants and developing their own actives by 2012.

The stroll through Mas’ serene garden was the culmination of a two-day visit with the company that started the day before in its elegantly appointed corporate headquarters in Brive, about four hours by train from Paris. Mas has centered his company in this area of France known for camping and other outdoor activities, and Sothys is one of two major employers in the area (along with ingredient supplier Silab) with about 350 employees. Its factory in nearby Meyssac is GMP, French Affssaps, ISO 9001 version 2000 and OHSAS 1801 certified. The company has another production facility in Miami, Florida. Its logistical heart is in Ussac, not far from Brive.

The company comprises skin care and cosmetic brands Sothys, Simone Mahler and Bernard Cassiere, with 15,000 points of sale in more than 110 countries, and three Sothys Institutes, located in Paris, New York and Tokyo maintained as training facilities for Sothys estheticians.

Spa Devotees
From humble beginnings as a single Paris salon, the Sothys brand has grown into a global beauty institute training more than 1200 beauticians each year. Though there is appeal in creating products for the mass market, the Sothys brand stays loyal to the professional beauty world where it started. And as Christian Mas says, the brand is not really developed for the mass market, made up as it is of 40 face products.

The company has a cooperative agreement with the city of Spa, in Belgium, to use its famous waters in its Sothys Spa Therme body line. In exchange, those products are sold in a spa opened officially in the Radisson Hotel there several years ago by the Belgian king, and Mas pere proudly reports that the king’s daughter, Astrid, uses Sothys products.

The Secrets de Sothys prestige line offers an anti-aging program for face and body. Secrets de Sothys Soin Excellence brings a multi-sensorial approach to professional skin care: rare textures, a unique atmosphere, relaxing music and a signature perfume. The line includes smoothing body balm, global anti-age de-stressing cream and serum, intense lip cream, eye contour serum and eau de parfum. Secrets de Sothys includes both a retail range and a range used only in the treatment room.

Sothys’ clinical brand, Simone Mahler, offers a high-tech approach that includes diagnosis, and is the only Sothys line to include machinery and equipment in its treatments. It is positioned to customers who are concerned with efficacy and performance. Founded more than 60 years ago by Simone Mahler, it has been part of Sothys for seven years. There are 60 Simone Mahler salons today in15 countries outside of France including China. According to Christian Mas, body care, including slimming treatments, is a growing area for the line.

The Bernard Cassiere line launched with a hemp hydrating care line, which has become its best selling line. From there, the brand has worked to stand out from traditional beauty salon offerings. In 2003, it was ahead of the curve when it launched its cocoa care line made from edible chocolate. Just last year, the brand was awarded the H. Pierantoni 2007 Innovation award for its Honey Oxygenating care during the 37th International Congress of Applied Aesthetics in Paris. This annual award is named for Humbert Pierantoni, creator and founder of the Congress as well as the journal Les Nouvelles Esthétiques.

A Walk in the Garden
After a splendid meal and a walk in the garden that was beautiful even late in the year, and that promises a spectacular future, Mas senior playfully demonstrated the operation of flock of fanciful handcrafted fountains to a pair of delighted visitors. It was a fitting conclusion to a memorable visit: for the visitors, as for Bernard Mas, after all the hard work comes time to play.

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