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Avenue of Escape

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By Sahar Khan

THE CARLYLE HOTEL HAS BEEN AN UPPER EAST SIDE INSTITUTION OF HOSPITALITY SINCE ITS DEBUT IN 1930. A ROTATING CAST OF WHO’S WHO, FROM JACKIE KENNEDY AND FRANK SINATRA TO LADY DIANA AND GEORGE CLOONEY, HAS WALKED THROUGH ITS DOORS, WHETHER TO STAY IN ONE OF ITS OPULENT GUEST ROOMS AND SUITES, DINE AT THE VIP-DRENCHED CAFÉ CARLYLE, OR SIP A COCKTAIL AT BEMELMANS BAR, FULL OF DARK CORNERS ILLUMINATED BY COLORFUL MURALS BY MADELINE AUTHOR LUDWIG BEMELMANS.

But a landmark must stay up to date without altering the character that earned it the lofty status. In April of last spring, the hotel did just that by gutting its spa and transforming it into a wellness escape managed by French skincare brand Sisley. At 4,000 square feet, the spa’s intimate scale concentrates more opulence per inch than the average Manhattan retreat—think Petit Trianon rather than the Palace of Versailles. Crystal wall sconces light the way, and a vaulted staircase with a gold mosaic ceiling leads to four treatment rooms where a dove gray and milk white palette, Carrara marble, and even more chandeliers dance a waltz of aesthetics that seamlessly steps from downtown sleek to gilded aristocracy.

Après treatment, guests retire to the jewel box-sized relaxation lounge. Deep and low sofas in velvet are too enticing not to slip off the slippers and curl up against the silken fabric with a cup of tea in hand. Black-and-white photographs of bare flesh add a playful flavor to the refined Old-World glamour. The lobby features jewelry and accessories from local artisans to Chanel and Hermès, a nail design studio, and a hair salon by master stylist Yves Durif, whose boldface clients include Mika Brzezinski and Daphne Guinness.

But that’s only the environment. Sisley’s first spa in North America delivers its benchmark phyto-cosmetology through a menu packed with phyto and aromatherapy treatments. Sisley products undercut environmental and natural aging causes with plant extracts. Take, for example, the signature Expert Phyto-Aromatic Facial ($200). Described as a 50-minute “sensorial journey,” the therapy begins with a light exfoliation—the brand ethos espouses gentle over harsh—followed by a moisturizing mask for deep hydration. (All treatments are customizable, giving guests an extra dose of targeted attention to their skincare needs.) This blood-pumping massage helps alleviate puffiness and diminish fine lines. A brighter and more refined complexion emerges.

To continue the indulgence, the spa’s body treatments produce head-to-toe renewal. In one, a glowing tan can be achieved sans sun; transcendent relaxation through another. All leave skin smoother, and the mind calmer, than before. Our favorite is the Energizing Phyto-Aromatic Body Treatment ($330)—after all, what New Yorker doesn’t need more energy? During the full body massage, skin is bathed in a hydrating cream mixed with healing essential oils. Focused massage movements enhance blood flow and lymphatic drainage that uplift and energize thanks to a rebalancing of energetic pathways. Guests are left feeling lighter on their feet and ready for a night on the town. Luckily, Bemelmans Bar is a short elevator ride away. 35 East 76th Street, thesisleyspa.com.

Sahar Khan is a New York-based writer and editor. She covers fashion, travel, beauty and art. You can read more of her work at saharkhan.com.

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