[Life Au Lait]

Adventures in Beauty

A sleepover with Annie & Emma

Well it’s raining buckets, as they say, on the Thursday evening that Annie, Emma and I had penned in for our high school inspired lady sleepover. The sisters – who run the popular Bloomfield Beauty Co. in Prince Edward County – met me at the spa, then we drove carefully back to Emma’s, groaning as we passed some die-hard County joggers powering down the roadside. Maybe tomorrow will bring that kind of energy. But tonight, we’re cosied up in our matching onderbroeks robes, have a pop-film cued up on Netflix, an Emma-curated lineup of beauty products (for midnight makeovers) and a feast of classic Chinese takeaway from Saigon Wellington to go with a bottle of Three Witches from Karlo and bubbles from Closson Chase. Okay, so it’s not exactly like high school, but it totally meets our vibe.

ANNIE AND EMMA are the type of sisters who are built-in best friends. Five years ago, they came up with a plan to rally their expertise and take the relationship to the next level, founding the medical-meets-beauty spa that’s perfectly situated right in the middle of PEC on Bloomfield’s Main Street. Of course, the spa is a hot spot for visiting bridal parties and girl-gangs from the city, but to us, it’s the place where everyone from the County-ladies-who-lunch to the farmers-who-grow-lunch go for our beauty bar essentials, skincare strategies, and sometimes, just some “me-time,” away from our intense daily schedules.

“I always remember that article you wrote on us in LIFE AU LAIT that had this clickbait-y title that was like ‘Here’s the thing about your face…’ and then inside it was like ‘The thing about your face is that you’re perfect just the way you are,’” Annie says, picking up a chicken ball skilfully with her chopsticks.

That’s how I actually feel. The first checkbox on the consent form at the spa is I understand that this is an elective cosmetic medical procedure. “Yes, obviously it’s elective,” I dig, “but I literally need to obliterate this wrinkle.” I point to my forehead, teasing, but also kind of serious.

“No one needs any cosmetic procedure ever,” Annie says firmly, as she brushes a powder blue beauty mask onto my cheek. Emma nods, filling our glasses.

“I knowwww,” I say, trying not to move my face too much while it sets, “but really, I’m so grateful for the times when I can face life as it is and choose how I want it to be.”

It’s a Friday in late May, happy hour. The three of us are sitting at the main bar of The Royal Hotel, laughing hysterically into our cocktails. My vision is so obscured by tears that I can’t tell whether the other patrons are amused or annoyed – honestly, I can’t even remember what got us going in the first place, but suddenly the whole stressful work week has just melted away into nothing.

BACK IN 2018, WHEN BLOOMFIELD BEAUTY CO. launched, the three of us met for our first interview at the café/retail end of the long white marble counter that spanned the main reception area. We sipped surprisingly good lattes (that evolved over the years into very good lattes) and talked for hours. The sisters were born and raised in Kingston. Annie moved out to Prince Edward County in 2014, met a local boy and settled down in Wellington, and Emma settled with her family in Bloomfield. When they found the right property, they jumped into an intense reno, thankful for the hands-on help from their dad and handy partners. Emma, the CEO, brought proven business experience and design skill to the table, while Annie, an RN and nurse practitioner for eight years, brought three years of focused medical aesthetics experience to the practice. We covered everything from self-esteem to relationships to country living and by the time we finished talking, I had two pros in place to help me to restore my own skin to its pre-sun-worship glory and to guide me towards new healthy perspectives and practices. I also had two new friends.

Because young-adult Annie struggled with acne and young-adult Emma with rosacea, it made sense that the spa’s focus would be on skin health. Bloomfield Beauty Co.’s mega-skilled team of nurses, estheticians, spa-coordinators and a recently added naturopath, sherpa us through the process using a bunch of state-of-the-art tools and processes like medical-grade facials, laser, micro needling, and skin tightening – alongside cutting edge skincare advice from invested, educated experts. Dedicated to becoming the best in their field, the sisters travel widely to attend global industry conferences and train directly under the masters of acclaimed techniques – from Julie Horne’s in-demand lip fencing method in Oslo, to Tom Van Eijk’s famous Fern Pattern filler technique in Amsterdam, to Mauricio de Maio’s full face rejuvenation in Brazil. With eight years of applied study under her belt, Annie is bringing the most sought-after medical aesthetics approaches to their country spa. And it doesn’t begin or end with injectables, the ladies’ approach to education is ongoing and includes the team who are regularly provided with training on the best techniques for their specialties.

“You’re not just here for the hunting, are you?” I took a sip of Lambrusco and leaned back in my chair at the old Stella’s, having shared with Annie in excruciating detail the story about that time in university when I met a bear in the woods. It was our first solo-hang and she was crying into her oysters. We sat together, silently shaking with laughter for ten minutes in the dim redlit wine bar.

THE FIRST THING I LEARNED in my time at advertising school was that when it comes to selling toothpaste, it’s not clean teeth that people are after – it’s smiling, it’s kissing. That insight changed my whole understanding of the world. I suddenly got that we’re all moved by this complex formula based on layers of perceptions about who we are and how we relate to each other. It’s what’s so gorgeous about people and also what’s so difficult to unravel. Most of us want elective beauty procedures because something about the way we look gets in the way of feeling like who we really are. I didn’t want to get rid of the persistent wrinkle so much as I wanted to get rid of the persistent notion that people were seeing a wrinkle and not me. After Botox I was free to fully open my eyes, laugh as hard as I wanted, be myself. In that first week, no one asked me where my wrinkle went, but a bunch of people asked me if I was in love.

“This is me before,” says Annie.

“Oh, do a before and after photo!” says Emma. Annie messes around with the phone for a bit and shows me. “I had skinny eyebrows then! And now I have cheekbones, a little bit of chin filler and a little bit of jaw filler. I have my nasolabial folds done and tear troughs done under my eyes. And I’ve had a bunch of Botox.”

I study the before photo and Annie looks different, for sure, but not as different as her laundry list might make you think. She still looks like Annie, but the Annie in the after photo looks ready to laugh.

“These types of interventions can’t do what a face-lift does, or plastic surgery,” explains Emma. The change is subtle and artful.

“I love what I do,” says Annie, “but I am always going to do a free full consult first to make sure we’re on the same page. I need to know that you’re here for you, that you’re not coming in because someone convinced you to or because a breakup made you want to reinvent yourself.”

“Beautiful” is at best a complicated conversation and in this era’s wild west of uber-validation, it’s a minefield…

I nod: “new hair” is my breakup M.O. “And I mean, we do all of these things to make ourselves feel more beautiful,” Emma says, “it’s nothing new. Making yourself look beautiful is thousands of years old – it goes back to the beginning of time.” It’s true, we’ve been keeping records for five millennia and evidence of both women and men using cosmetic and ritual beauty go back about seven. “Cosmetic intervention is the same as wearing makeup or dyeing your hair or picking out an outfit in the sense that it’s about how you present yourself and how you want to present yourself – you should have full control over that,” she says.

It’s after midnight and Annie and Emma have just unlocked each other’s phones by doing impressions of each other’s faces. “Giving us better eyebrows and fuller lips definitely made us look slightly more alike,” Emma says, “but also, we’ve always looked alike and now that we spend so much time together, we’re like married people who look like each other more and more.” I’m full-body laughing now and her cat Gracie bolts off my lap, unimpressed with her mom and aunt’s ability to foil Apple’s security system.

“BEAUTIFUL” IS AT BEST a complicated conversation and in this era’s wild west of uber-validation, it’s a minefield, but at its heart, the way we feel about ourselves and our looks is deeply personal and the freedom to own, express, contextualize, and act on those feelings is a great liberty. “Perfect is boring, human is beautiful,” said Tyra Banks in her infinite wisdom and maybe Annie said it better. “There’s what we call timeless beauty: a clear complexion, even skin tone, perfectly proportioned features and facial symmetry – but there are so many people who don’t meet those beauty standards and are drop-dead gorgeous. When you feel good about yourself, you shine from the inside out. “People assume that I do what I do because I’m trying to make my clients’ faces beautiful, but what I’m trying to do, what I’m really passionate about, is giving someone the space to be who they feel they are, confident and radiant – to be their most real self.”

Story by:
Lonelle Selbo

Photography by:
Kassandra Melnyk

[Winter 2022/2023 departments]