Our Business Didn’t Start as a Business… Our Origin Story

Alchimie Forever does not exist because one day my father, Dr. Luigi L. Polla, sat at his desk and decided to start a skin care brand.

Alchimie Forever does not exist because a consultant ran focus groups, identified white space in the market, raised some money, and created a business.

Alchimie Forever exists because my father is a softie and can’t stand to see children suffer.

Alchimie Forever exists because 30+ years ago, my father couldn’t find the perfect product to help heal the skin of his young patients post procedure.

Let me tell you our “origin story.” (Thanks, Marc Ross, for teaching me this terminology.)

My father opened his dermatology practice in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1986, and was the first dermatologist to offer pulsed dye laser technology to treat children suffering from Port Wine Stains and hemangiomas. Parents brought their children from near and far to have Dad erase these debilitating birthmarks, an endeavor that required numerous treatments over a period of months, sometimes years.

I was already working with my father back then (at the front desk) and I remember hearing the children crying from the pain, as the laser treatment created heat and discomfort, redness and inflammation, and a burning sensation. And if there is something my father can’t stand, it is a child in pain (he switched his medical specialization from pediatrics to dermatology after realizing he could not handle seeing terminally ill children). He needed a product to help make them feel better – to help heal their skin.

Not finding the right product, he created his own “recipe.” He would send his patients’ parents to a neighborhood pharmacy with a compounding prescription, the pharmacist would whip up a magical product in little white jars right there and then, and the child would stop crying. The prescription was for what is known today as our Kantic Brightening moisture mask. This compounded product, meant to help heal the kids’ skin post procedure, smelled so good that the mothers ended up also using it, and asking for more at the follow-up appointment: “it makes my skin glow,” they would say. For their convenience, we ended up “pre-making” the product.

One product led to another, and to another, and finally to the brand that became Alchimie Forever.

Alchimie Forever exists because of what is still our hero product, our Kantic Brightening moisture mask.

Long before this mask had a name, it had a loyal following.

Long before we had a brand, we had skin care solutions.

Long before we had a business, we had a mission.

Geneva

Places to visit, eat, and play in Geneva

I am often asked for recommendations about places to visit, eat, play in Geneva. This despite the fact that I left when I was 17, and that when I go back every quarter, being a creature of habit, I mostly go to the same places.

A couple of years ago I wrote about a few of my favorite places, here. But I realized in sharing this with my sisters that it was time to update my list, in particular for a couple of friends heading that way this summer.

Here are a few more current favorite addresses.

The best view of Lake Geneva is from the rooftop of the Hotel Metropole, recently opened, where you can have an apero and enjoy a glass of champagne. Get there early to secure a seat.

My favorite steak restaurant L’ Entrecôte, closed, so I had to find another one. One of my sisters recommended Entrecôte St Jean on the Boulevard Carl Vogt, and indeed the steak and fries are to die for.

For something a little lighter, a “US-sized” salad, Twins also on the Boulevard Carl Vogt is a great option. And in the wintertime, make sure you head to the Quai des Bains for a fondue, outside, on the lake.

After dinner, head to Bottle Brothers in the Eaux-Vives neighborhood, for original cocktails and great conversation. And for late night fun, the Baroque is still the place to be to drink and dance –including dancing on the tables. Indeed, when I ate there recently, Taz’s Angels were arriving just as I was leaving… and dancing on the tables there was!

How to tell you are in Geneva…

There are many reasons I love coming back to Geneva, where I just spent three days. Family. Friends. And the inescapable feeling of being home. Still, even though it has been almost 20 years since I left.

I was struck during this visit by all of the things that make Geneva, Geneva… Perhaps not even the things, but the subtleties, the behaviors. Here’s how to tell you are in Geneva.

1. Everyone still wears a watch. Usually a very nice watch. Which means no one is constantly looking at their phones to figure out the time.

2. Everyone and everything is on time. All the time. Perhaps this is related to wearing a watch.

3. Geneva is a walking city. The alternative is to take the bus (manufactured by Mecedes-Benz, always clean and on time) or the Tram. If you must drive, you can always take out your Ferrari or Aston Martin. I rarely see as many fancy cars as I do here… (perhaps I need to go to Monaco).

4. You run into three people you know, on average, during a 5 block walk. Geneva is small, very small…

5. Everyone is well dressed, elegant, and thin. Perhaps it is because they know they might run into their former beau at any time (refer to point 4 above).

6. And everyone’s hair is always perfectly done. According to my BFF Erin who pointed this fact out to me earlier today, this is even more the case here than New York (she has lived both in the Big Apple and in Geneva).

7. While all black is known as New York women’s preferred wardrobe, women here wear a lot of brown on brown (during the colder months) and beige on beige (when the weather is warmer). This is somehow more conservative, more understated, yet more regal than black on black.

8. Lunches (including during the week) typically involve either a glass of champagne or wine. This is considered normal and lovely.

9. People do not walk and sip coffee at the same time. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen someone sipping anything from a travel mug or go cup.

Geneva, I love you… Don’t ever change!

Geneva travel guide: my favorite places to eat, drink, shop, and play

The beauty of my travelling lifestyle is that I make friends in one continent and find them again in another. Case in point, the fabulously chic and exquisite Erin Hazelton, whom I met in New York City when she was Erin Skrypek. She has since moved to St Pierre en Faucigny, France, about 30 minutes outside of Geneva. Today, we met at the Mirror Bar in Hotel Metropole for some rosé champagne and a catch-up. She inspired this blog, when she asked me for some recommendations of places to have fun, great food, and fabulous cocktails in Geneva. This made me think about my home-town, and all of the places I (and my sisters and my cousin!) love to spend time, shop, and people watch.

Best beauty address: Of course, there is only one… Forever Laser Institut, my father’s premier medical spa on the Place du Molard. Go there for a facial, for a massage, for the best injectables and medical spa treatments in Geneva and the surrounding areas. Of course, you can also go there to look at the art on the walls, my father’s favorite pieces from his personal collection.

Best art address: Analix Forever, also owned by my family. My mother will take the time to explain any show in detail, and show you an amazing collection of drawings and small pieces (which I love, as they fit in small (or what I like to think of as “normal-sized”) apartments.

Favorite hotel: Hotel Tiffany, on Rue de l’Arquebuse, directly across from Analix Forever. This boutique hotel with excellent service blends art nouveau and contemporary styles to perfection. Even if not staying there, this is my go-go place for a café on the terrace (weather permitting).

Favorite clothing boutiques: Of course, there is the Bon Génie , the best department store in Geneva. I go there mostly to shop for extravagant gifts for the children in my life (they are not mine, so extravagant gifts are ok), and to have a glass of champagne with my godmother at the BG Café. I also love to go to Apostrophe on Rue du Rhône for classic sweaters, slacks, and skirts.

Favorite Parisian-style café: if you want the feel of being in the heart of Paris, surrounded by intense and crazy intellectuals, the Remor is your place to go. In the morning for great croissants and espressos, while reading the paper. In the afternoon, go there for ice-cream  In the evening, go there for wine and conversation.

Favorite alternative, live music hangout: L’Usine. This is a recommendation courtesy of my 20-year old cousin, who loves the live music here, although he warns me that I might be too old and conservative for it… I seem to have recollections of going there during my high-school days, although I don’t get in to that conversation with him…

Three favorite places in one: As I ask my sisters for additional advice on this topic, the Grand Hotel Kempinski comes up a few times. Le Java is a fabulous night spot, pretty much representing the other extreme from L’Usine. I guess that would be the place for me, now that I am the age that I am and too old for L’Usine… Floor 2 also in the hotel is a great high-end, classy bar, where it sounds like I might want to take my husband, featuring great cocktails and an atmosphere that makes conversation easy. Then there is Le Grill, the restaurant in said hotel, where my sister Rachel says the thing to get is the “fillet de boeuf mademoiselle.” I am definitely going there!

Best Italian, possibly my all-time favorite place ever anywhere: Auberge Communale d’Onex. My family started going there in the mid-1980s, and I still go there today for the nostalgia and for the amazing food. Valentino, the chef and owner, is like family to me, as are his waiters, who all sport amazing mustaches. The ricotta is to die for, any pasta tastes as if it was from my grandfather’s kitchen, and the desert tray is the best there is. I will always remember that as we used to have an account there, meaning they would mail us our bill, it was to my sisters and me when we were younger “the place where we ate so well but never had to pay!”

Best lunch place: This is a tie, and a hard one. First, Le Relais de l’Entrecote, where they serve one salad, steak with an amazing sauce (all you get to pick is how you would like it cooked), and fries. It is always packed, lively, consistently delicious, and a must. Second, Le Baroque. This is in the same building as my father’s medical spa, and a great spot for business lunches (fabulous terrace, again weather permitting), or any lunch. I have to admit to also going there for apéro on weeknights after work, and only in part because their décor is exclusively purple…

Most artsy restaurant: Curiositas, a restaurant located at the intersection of three fabulous museums, i.e. Musée Patek Philippe, Musées d’Ethnographie, and Mamco (museum of contemporary art), where you not only enjoy great food, but also discover the cabinet of curiosities of owner Jean-François Schlemmer.

Best wine bars: there are two, depending on your style. Casual afterwork style would be the Soleil Rouge, where I know my team members have been a few times when I have called them around 1 pm Washington DC time… If you are looking for a slightly higher-end (aka more expensive) after-work glass of happiness, Rouge et Blanc on the “bord du lac” is phenomenal. If for some reason your “afterwork” is later than most people would expect, i.e. 9 pm or later, the Brasserie des Halles de L’Ile is the place to go (and apparently they do a fabulous Sunday brunch also, which I will have to try).

Best area in general according to my sister Roxane: Carouge. I don’t venture out there, or have not yet, but she recommended Brasserie de la Bourse on Place du Marché, for fabulous steak frites, and le DixVins, a tiny French-style bistro that serves amazing food.

Finally, if a meal just isn’t enough time and you want to make a weekend of it, the place to go is La Réserve, a fabulous hotel, restaurant, bar, and spa that makes for the ideal getaway from “normal life,” ideally with the love of your life.

To celebrate Swiss National Day, an interview with Christine Sager

August 1 is Swiss National Day. As I am in Las Vegas for Cosmoprof (and there really is nothing Swiss about Las Vegas), I thought it would be nice to speak to someone who understands Switzerland and the special significance of August first. Below, my conversation with Chrisine Sager, the wife of Manuel Sager, Ambassador of Switzerland to the United States.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Pennsylvania and raised in Hudson, Ohio and Syracuse, New York

How long have you been in DC?

Since November 2010… already 9 months.

What is your favorite place in DC?

I haven’t had much time to sight see, but I am always deeply stirred when I go to the monuments around the Reflecting Pool.

What is your favorite place in Switzerland?

I can never name a ‘favorite’ place…there are just too many wonderful spots. I do love Bern, it has everything from a beautiful medieval city center to lovely parks and easy access to recreation.

What is your number one beauty necessity?

I guess that would have to be a great moisturizer, without it one’s skin cannot look its best. I like Alchimie Forever’s Kantic+ intensely nourishing cream.

What is your greatest self-indulgence?

Deep tissue massages for my back and neck.

What do you do to stay physically fit?

I work out three times a week at the gym.

What is the quality you most admire in a man?

A true respect for women.

What is the quality you most admire in a woman?

Selfless care and concern for others.

How will you celebrate Swiss National Day?

First, with the Swiss Club here in DC, of course. Then we depart for Switzerland on the 31st of July, arriving on the 1st of August in Switzerland. There we will celebrate with family. My husband’s nephew has become something of a pyrotechnic and puts together great fireworks shows.

Do you have a favorite Swiss tradition?

I love the very rare occasion when, hiking in the mountains, you suddenly hear a distant beautiful sound echoing through the valleys from a hilltop…someone has carried his/her alp horn all the way up there to enjoy nature’s auditorium for which this instrument was made. I struggle enough getting myself up there, let alone an alp horn.

Do you wear a watch? If yes, which one?

Yes….Omega Consellation.

Which topic could you talk about for days on end, if anyone would listen?

While we were living in London, our work took us to Central Asia…specifically to Turkmenistan and Kirghistan….and I developed a close relationship to some artists there. The lack of hope that so many expressed, led me to found an organization to represent about 25 artists from these countries, by putting on exhibitions and promoting awareness for that region. I would love to do something to help them here in the US as well, but have not yet found the right contacts.

If you could have dinner with 1 person, who would it be?

My husband.

What is your favorite treasured possession?

My glasses (couldn’t do without them) and my Bible.

Self care advice from my Mom

In the US, there’s an inherent fascination with European women. How can they be so thin despite eating so much cheese? How can they be so healthy despite drinking wine, often at lunch? How do they achieve their quintessential elegant look? How come they seem to age more gracefully?

While I don’t pretend to have answers to the first two questions, I do believe that the European woman’s approach to skin care has much to do with the answers to the third and fourth questions. While speaking about European women is obviously a gross generalization, here are some tips on skin care habits that my Swiss mother engrained in me from my early teens:

  1. Skin care is a part of self care, part of health care. Facials are not luxuries, and a good moisturizer is not a frivolous expense. Indeed, I was taught that going to the spa should be considered as necessary as going to the dentist on a regular basis.
  2. Prevention is more important than correction. Don’t wait until you start seeing wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging skin to incorporate anti-aging products into your routine. If you are old enough to drink (and remember, in Geneva, this is 16), you are old enough for an eye cream.
  3. Spend time in your bathroom; it is your sanctuary. Growing up, I watched my mom take long baths, apply lotions and potions, and  spend a lot of time in her bathroom. That was her special time each morning–her way to get physically and mentally prepared for the day, and in the evening, it helped her remove the effects of the day.
  4. For every year you grow older, spend an extra 30 seconds in your bathroom. When you are 20 years old, you can jump out of bed, tie your hair in a ponytail, and leave the house in 5 minutes looking fresh and beautiful. As we age, getting to that look takes more time and more effort. Don’t fight against it, embrace it, and spend more time in your bathroom.
  5. Look at yourself in the mirror. Really look–don’t just glance. This will enable you to see every wrinkle starting to form, to see the appearance of very light brown spots and watch them turn darker with the passage of time. The process of looking, observing, and assessing will give you a feeling of control over the changes happening on your face and body and will ensure that you don’t just wake up one morning and think, “I have just aged 20 years overnight.”
  6. Taking care of your body is as important as taking care of your face. Treat your neck and décolleté with specific products. Nourish the skin of your body. Take particular care of your hands and feet. Not just once a week, but every day, twice a day.
  7. Makeup is meant for highlighting and color, not to treat skin. If your skin looks good, you don’t need to cover it with foundation. Show your skin. Use makeup to brighten and color.
  8. The worse you feel, the brighter your lipstick should be. Red is the color of power, wearing it will not only have people commenting on how great you look, but will make you feel powerful and in control, hence better. Find the shade of red that suits you, and use it.
  9. Keep your nails real, short, and oval. Did Princess Grace of Monaco have long fake nails? I don’t think so. Short is elegant. Nude is the best neutral, but bright red works on short nails too.
  10. Smile. You will look better, feel happier, and everyone around you will too.