Posted in People on 16 June, 2024

From her first spa gig designing with Baz Luhrmann to founding the FaceGym phenomenon, Inge Theron is unstoppable as she launches Surrenne, the Maybourne group’s first own-brand wellness venture.

WORDS BY Jess Miles

As wellness tourism emerges as one of luxury travel’s fastest-growing segments and nightclub culture wanes, it seems that living fast, dying young is out, and living better, sleeping better, and travelling better is in. “Wellness really is the new frontier in hospitality,” confirms Inge Theron, Creative Director of Spa & Wellness for Maybourne, the luxury hotel group behind some of London’s most admired addresses including Claridge’s and The Connaught. While some hotels have responded to the wellness boom by reassessing their spa services and expanding their offerings to include new treatments, fitness programs, or yoga and meditation retreats, Maybourne is in the business of leading the new frontier in hospitality, not following it.

Enter Surrenne, a next-generation brand of wellness and longevity club that’s just hit the market, confirming the future of wellbeing is now. Located in the heart of Knightsbridge, Surrenne’s debut club spans 2,000 square metres across four floors of subterranean space, shared beneath the newly opened all-suite Emory hotel and The Berkeley, both by Maybourne as well. Yes, it resides on prime real estate, but what makes Surrenne a cut above the rest?

Photographs courtesy of Maybourne

If you ask Inge – who conceptualised Surrenne’s world of wonder – she’ll talk about the UK’s first studio from global fitness pioneer Tracy Anderson, the medical-grade skincare by Dr. Lara Devgan, and the micronutrient-rich menu crafted by nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson at Surrenne Café. And that’s just for starters. She’ll then explain the inner workings of the Longevity Clinic by Virtusan, which focuses on scientist-backed physical training and cognition, along with blood tests and fitness assessments by concierge doctors from 3 Peaks Health. To say the least, guests can “get their VO2 max tested, have an ashiatsu massage, or meditate in the pool before moving upstairs to dine in one of the restaurants, have a martini at the bar or catch up on sleep in one of the luxury suites,” all in a day’s work, she concludes.

But as we float through each space of Surrenne, it becomes apparent that perhaps what other hotel groups have been missing on the wellness front, is their very own Inge Theron. Best known as the disruptive female entrepreneur who founded one of the world’s fastest-growing beauty brands, FaceGym, and as the driving force behind her eponymous spa and wellness design agency, Inge possesses both the vision and business acumen to conceive and execute such an ambitious concept.

Imagining her backstory would involve practicing as a therapist or perhaps a spa manager, it’s a surprise to hear otherwise. “My well-being career began at the Financial Times’ How to Spend It magazine as a beauty and wellness writer, before becoming the ‘Spa Junkie’ columnist,” she recalls. For over a decade, her column took her around the world putting both the latest innovations and ancient rituals to the test, learning about different cultures and their approach to treatments and skincare – from human wrapping in Japan to advanced beauty in Paris, “No Medi Spa was left unturned,” she says.

During that period, by her own admission she spent more time in a spa, than most people do in a lifetime. Following an introduction to Argentine hotelier and real estate developer, Alan Faena, she was asked to design the spa concept for his latest project, Faena Hotel Miami Beach. With no design experience, she suddenly found herself working alongside the likes of Norman Foster and Baz Lurhmann. A baptism of fire, “I really cut my teeth on that project,” she admits, “But Alan was incredibly supportive and encouraged me to recognise that the best spaces are created by those who frequent them. ‘You understand spas better than anyone,’ he told me. ‘You know what works and what doesn’t, the journey through a spa that leaves you feeling rejuvenated versus the one that doesn’t’ – and that’s really how I found my footing.”

A facial massage in Tulum that felt more like a workout, was the inspiration behind her next venture, FaceGym, which took the beauty industry by storm. Enter a FaceGym studio to expect treatment room walls stripped away, music pulsing, and therapists referred to as trainers, clad in sleek athleisurewear guiding you through a facial warm-up, sculpting, and cool-down. “Working with Baz Luhrmann on Faena taught me to treat experience design theatrically, and that makes you see things in a totally different way,” Inge says. Founded in 2014 with the first studio in Selfridges, FaceGym now has locations and product stockists around the world, and has firmly established itself as an industry phenomenon. “Through the success of FaceGym, I learned the craft of experiential retailing, and the skill of launching brands and ideas through strategic design,” Inge reflects. So, when during lockdown, she was approached by the team at Maybourne and invited to work on a new concept for Claridge’s Spa, she responded with a confident yes.

Nurturing a customer’s every need and knowing what they will need before they need it, has been in the brand’s DNA from the beginning.

Working in collaboration with interior architect Andre Fu to bring the spa vision to life, Inge designed a treatment menu that combines a holistic approach with results-driven, high-tech methods. Claridge’s Spa’s predictable success, only affirmed the decision for Maybourne to launch their first own-brand wellness venture with Surrenne. “They really invented the art of hospitality with Claridge’s,” Inge says. “Nurturing a customer’s every need and knowing what they will need before they need it, has been in the brand’s DNA from the beginning. So, it made sense for us to draw upon that DNA – of nurturing and caretaking – and channel it into caring for a customer’s well-being, longevity, and their true health in the next wellness concept.” On Maybourne’s decision to launch Surrenne inhouse, she adds, “At that point, we just couldn’t find any brand that could truly encompass our heritage, our history, our authenticity, our credibility – we wanted something incredibly special that nobody else could deliver, and alongside our exceptional portfolio, investing into this vertical was a no brainer.”

Primarily an independent private member’s club, with additional access given to staying guests at each of the hotels, Surrenne carries its own identity that transcends the label of a hotel amenity. “The UK and US markets are quite mature when it comes to health clubs. We have some incredibly successful stand-alone options like KX or Equinox, it’s a huge movement,” Inge says. “So, clubs within hotels is definitely a growing sector, and if you get it right, it can also be very profitable.” Historically, however, spas have not been a particularly lucrative proposition for hotels. “They’ve been necessary to gain five-star status, but with only the bare minimum investment they’re stuck on as an afterthought – and therein lies the biggest issue to date,” Inge explains. “With a change of mindset, investing in and building out concepts like Surrenne that speak to the industry as a whole – touching on the themes of longevity, age reversal, and optimal health – will not only generate revenue and build a leading reputation, but will also have an incredible impact on driving hotel bookings, which, let’s face it, is still our top priority.”

With upscale design details from the gold leaf ceiling stretching over the 22m pool complete with an underwater sound system, to Damien Hirst’s butterfly kaleidoscopes at almost every turn, Surrenne is certainly no side act. Throughout, a balmy palette of creamy nudes punctuated with pinches of electric blue, is warmed by carefully choreographed ambient lighting, perpetually casting the subterranean space in the tranquil hues of dusk and dawn. Subliminally instilling a sense of calm, soft scents and infinite soundscapes generated by AI technology that ensures no sound is repeated permeate the space – a cinematic touch courtesy of Inge. Meanwhile, the sail-inspired rippling stone and steel staircase, and array of port-hole-esque peepholes and mirrors, complemented by the meticulous curation of materials and refined finishes, bear the unmistakable signature of Parisian designer Remi Tessier – subtly echoing his passion for and expertise in yacht design.

The Tracy Anderson studio, heated to 95°F with 75% humidity, features signature suspended bouncy floors and ceiling-mounted resistance bands, challenging the body in new ways.

Lighting up as she talks about each guest touch point at Surrenne, Inge’s energy is enviable but speaks volumes of her dedication to the art of being well. Inside one treatment room, a mass of smooth white onyx sits centre stage for Surrenne’s signature wet spa experiences, all envisioned by Inge herself. From art galleries to restaurants, her inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere. “I was in Mexico, and they were grating these giant heaps of salt onto my steak,” she recalls excitedly. “And suddenly I thought – that, is how we will apply the salt on the body. We will GRATE the salt on the body!”

Having spent the last few years living and breathing everything Surrenne, it’s a wonder what’s next in Inge’s world. “I mean, I’m just getting started,” she muses, as if her nearly 20-year journey in wellness – exploring it, writing about it, and designing for it – has only been a prelude. “The use of AI in diagnostics is a really exciting area in the industry, and one that’s going to have such a huge impact to living these longer, better lives. Technology that is able to spot things, and connect the dots a lot quicker than humans are able to? That’s an area I really want to back.”

Without question, wellness is Inge’s passion. “I’m obsessed. I think about it night and day – that’s why I put my desk in my bathroom,” she says, blasé of the unconventional setup. “When I need clarity, I retreat to my bath. It’s where I find focus and inspiration. Then, when I’m ready, I transition to my desk. So, my workspace is quite literally within my bathroom, where I can just be surrounded by wellness.” While unconventional, it’s precisely Inge’s knack for reimagining conventions in alternative contexts that will continue to fuel her success.

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