Bliss Spa founder, with the creation of Bliss, Marcia redefined the day spa and created an irresistible line of beauty products to go with it. Though sold in 1999, Marcia still works on every Bliss product and directs all marketing via her latest entrepreneurial venture, Brand Handling. In an exclusive interview with Karastan, Marcia talks about her work, her home and her greatest joy—motherhood. Here’s more of what we learned about her personal style.
Karastan Interviewer: Tell us about your background. What were some of the influences in your young life?
Marcia Kilgore: I grew up in Saskatchewan, Canada. There you have the wheat fields and blue skies, but not much else. So, you become in tune with the colors around you—the light, the openness, the plainness, and the potential of a space.
Interviewer: Given this background, how were the seeds sown for your eventual business life?
Marcia Kilgore: I remember going to New York when I was 15. I was awed by how many people we saw. The contrasts were so extreme—so much built so high in a tiny space versus the big expanses I saw growing up. After high school, I was accepted at Columbia University and worked my way through college as a personal trainer. Several of my clients were very wealthy, and when I went to their homes I began noticing the interiors. It was very inspiring to see this luxury but what caught my eye the most was the quality. It was a type of quality I had never been exposed to before.
Interviewer: That’s an interesting distinction you make about luxury and quality.
Marcia Kilgore: Well, we each have our own personal tastes. Mine are pretty simple. I love beautiful colors, interesting shapes, and great textures, but I don’t like them overdone. I don’t have a lot of stuff because I feel like it clutters the mind. I see quality in things that have beautiful clean and simple lines.
Interviewer: Obviously, you moved on from being a personal trainer and the days of client house calls. Tell us how about your first business venture, “Let’s Face It.”
Marcia Kilgore: One summer I decided to go to skin care school. Mostly because of my own complexion, which had been challenging since the age of 11. I began giving facials to my friends out of my East Village apartment; and before long, I opened my little space at “Let’s Face It.” I didn’t have enough money to make it fabulous. But, we painted each room a different color and bought a fun sofa for the waiting area. I think people appreciated that we weren’t trying to be something we couldn’t afford to be.
Interviewer: So, as your business grew and you became “Bliss,” how did the aesthetic change?
Marcia Kilgore: With Bliss, I decided to keep things simple and fun. We focused on the names of the treatments, the treatments themselves, and the quality of the treatments. The people we hired were fun, big personalities so that you would feel a really human experience. I didn’t want to clutter that up with the décor. It wasn’t about adding stuff; it was about relaxing and feeling the good energy in the place.
Interviewer: When you enter a home, what do you first notice?
Marcia Kilgore:The smell is very important to me. I’m sure that’s comes from being around cosmetic fragrances and essential oils. But a great fragrance is very inviting and warm. Space and light are also important to me. I don’t like to feel closed in. I love places that have big windows so the sun can shine in.
Interviewer: Many people begin decorating from the floor up, with carpet and rugs. Is this your approach?
Marcia Kilgore: I’ve come to think of carpet as the framework for a room. If you have the right carpet, you can go almost anywhere from there. You have that beautiful foundation. And, if you can get something that’s in keeping with your personal style, it’s all kind of easy to add on.
Interviewer: Since you brought it up…how do you define personal style?
Marcia Kilgore: I think it’s knowing what you look good in and being comfortable expressing what you are in every way, from your wardrobe to your haircut to your shoes to your vocabulary.
Interviewer: And how would you define your own personal style at home?
Marcia Kilgore:I think everything we choose to have in our home should be something we really love. If you love every piece, then generally it will come together and reflect your own style and be an extension of your personality.
Interviewer: While we’re on the subject of your own home, where are you and your husband [Thierry] and new son [Louis] living these days?
Marcia Kilgore: We’ve recently bought an apartment in London, although we still have our place in Brooklyn. Our London home is old, with beautiful moldings and incredible history. You just don’t see that kind of detail or attention to detail in modern buildings. I always feel there’s something really nice about the history of a place and what has been there before. Spending more time in Europe, in fact, has given me an appreciation for the old.
Interviewer: Now that you have a baby, do you spend a lot more time on the floor?
Marcia Kilgore: I spend all of my time on the floor. It’s funny, because I was just trying to figure out what kind of carpet I would get for the floor in his room. We just painted the walls with white clouds on a blue background. I want to get him a carpet that is fun to help create a little fantasy world.
Interviewer: What comes to mind about the impression your own home makes?
Marcia Kilgore: Energizing. Especially our apartment here in New York with the windows and the view of the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges. You see the traffic coming and going and you feel like you’re in the middle of it. I think our apartment in London also is quite inspiring. There’s a volume and grandness to it, and it gives the illusion of being much bigger than it really is. It’s really quite fabulous because you walk in and just take a deep breath and really feel the energy of it. And I love that.
Interviewer: A lot of people need a home to be a sanctuary and a place to regenerate. You’re describing a very opposite sort of effect. Do you need your home to be that also?
Marcia Kilgore: I think there are certain areas of a home that can satisfy that need. A sanctuary for me is in the bathtub. But, I like the spaces I live in to be more motivating and inspirational—something that makes you feel empowered.
Interviewer: What is luxury for you?
Marcia Kilgore: Being able to appreciate what I have. It’s more of a mental luxury, isn’t it? I think having my baby has helped me realize this. It’s grounded me and made me realize that the life you have now is going by and you better take advantage of it and appreciate every minute. He has helped me slow down. I don’t really pay attention to the small annoying things that once bothered me. I find I can let go if it and enjoy myself a little bit more.
Interviewer: I’m going to change the subject and steer you back to the business side of your life. I’ve always been curious…do you write the copy for your catalogs and are those deliciously descriptive treatment and product names your idea?
Marcia Kilgore: When we started, I couldn’t afford a copywriter, so I came up with everything myself. I wanted to create a place that was fun and decided to do it through humor because humor makes everyone feel welcome. Entertailing, you know, that’s the new buzzword, and we were one of the first to be doing it. We made it fun to go in and have your treatment and fun to go in and spend your money.
Interviewer: Are you still so hands-on with the business?
Marcia Kilgore:Absolutely. I work with the chemists and work on which ingredients should go into each product and work on the textures and all kinds of things. And, then create the name for the product.
Interviewer: Define a Bliss customer.
Marcia Kilgore: I think a Bliss person is someone who aspires to quality but that doesn’t take himself or herself too seriously. They’re realists, but also want to enjoy life and have a great time and a good laugh.
Interviewer: Marcia, you’re involved in a lot of charity work. What’s your favorite?
Marcia Kilgore: The latest one is the Winnicott Foundation. It’s a charity that supports the premature baby unit at St. Mary’s Hospital in London, which is where Louis was born. And, it’s fantastic, because it really supports the parents, taking care of their kids, as well. We’re redoing the parent area right now—it’s an apartment area where parents can stay when they’re taking care of their baby who’s on the ward. We are trying to make it a really happy place, because it’s such stressful time for them.
Interviewer: Earlier, when you were discussing personal style, you mentioned you approach the design of your home much like you do fashion. What is your opinion about the synergies between design and fashion?
Marcia Kilgore: Like anything, design is influenced by trends. So, whether you have Middle Eastern trends or Indian or Moroccan trends, you’ll see it especially reflected in fabrics and textiles. I go back to the idea of comfort being so important. People need to feel just as comfortable in what they’re wearing as what they’re sitting on.
Interviewer: Interestingly, a recent show at the Met [Metropolitan Museum of Art] on 18th century fashion and interiors showed that people dressed for their rooms.
Marcia Kilgore: It makes sense because people who have a very traditional home normally are not wearing Yoji Yamamoto. And, vice versa. So, your taste is going to span across all the elements of your existence from wardrobe to furniture and carpeting.
Interviewer: So, you feel, therefore, the home reflects your personal style just as much if not more than what fashion you wear?
Marcia Kilgore: I think it’s a mixture of both. Ask Scarlet O’Hara. You can always wear your curtains!