Bastien Gonzalez This 7th episode of our travel podcast reunites our host Paul with the man behind the world’s best pedicure: Bastien Gonzalez, known as “The Foot Virtuoso”. Famous for tending to some very high-profile toes, the French podiatrist and pedicurist recounts his career from opening his first address at Place des Vosges at age 23 to making his entrance into the luxury hospitality industry and being present in 27 countries today. He also tells us the secret behind his black diamond scrub –caviar for the skin- and ultimately, about his longtime relationship with Mauritius, where he will soon be inaugurating his salon at the much-anticipated LUX* Grand Baie.

A Conversation with Bastien Gonzalez: The Best Pedicure in the World

Paul Jones: I am Paul Jones, and you are listening to the Spirit of Lux.

Bastien Gonzalez: As I defined pedicure as curing feet, it's not about painting nails like most of the people think pedicure is. If you go to the etymology of the world, pedi is foot and legs. Cure as a treatment. Pedicure is not painting nails. It's curing nails.

Bastien Gonzalez: I learned about Mauritian people having this very lovely round faces and amazing smile. And by sending them, they attract customers and they seduce them by being very meticulous in their jobs, passionate about it, and have an amazing experience. Still today, I have amazing women who are working with me from Mauritius around the world.

Bastien Gonzalez: It's a dream of me to educate people, as a customer, as much as a therapist

Paul Jones: Today we are very pleased to have with us the one and only Bastien Gonzalez. Bastien has been termed ‘The prince of hands and feet’. He is a global traveler because his clients are global. They move around. They're in America, they're in Europe, they're in the Middle East. They're in the Far East. They’re in China. In fact, Bastien, you have clients, the world over and when we first met, which was I believe, about 20 years ago, we were introduced by Liz Rountree. Liz, of course, is the mother of the delightful Alicia Rountree who I was talking to yesterday, because Alicia is one of our brand ambassadors for LUX*. She's now about to get married. But of course, when you met her, and all that while ago, she was dreaming about becoming a model. You, I believe, helped in that process as her mother, Liz, was encouraging her and you were talking to her father and reassuring her. So, Bastien. Tell us about yourself and how is it that you have become so famous with your famous treatment of hands and feet?

Bastien Gonzalez: Good morning, Paul. Thank you for these lovely introductions. It's true that we met exactly 22 years ago. We met in London in a beautiful place and we were introduced by Mrs. Rountree, as you mentioned. It's true that her daughter wanted to be a model and the mother was very keen on helping her in that sense. She has done an amazing career as we all know. I would believe very simple things because I like when things are very simple and straight. It's all about quality. If you do a job and I decided to go into a pedicure-podologue, it is a French diploma and it’s a four-year program, after a ski accident. I broke my cross ligament, but I felt I wanted to go further. So, I had an operation and the surgeon say the most important would be for you to do the physiotherapy. I was studying medicine at the time in central France. In the centre where I was doing my physiotherapy four hours a day, five days a week for six months, to go back into the competition in ski. I met a podiatrist who created ski boots - the insole for my ski boots - to change what we call touche la neige - how you touch the snow with your feet and skis - skis being a large extension on your feet. The following season I won half of the competition I entered. So, I was sponsored by a brand was very impressed because I broke my knee, I come back and I've been better than before. And I pulled out these orthopedic insoles, and I thought it was something magical and that's how I decided to go into podiatry to start with. I got the mind to work in ski boots. I got this medical license, the best to understand the biomechanics of the feet, and all the problems the feet can have. So, the pedicure medical, which is a very unique approach on foot care in France, and also worldwide as I've been traveling for the last 20 years the world, on a five world turn a year. I realized that I wanted to go more into the sport advertise. But sadly, my sponsor being bought by a major sports company, which at the end, I ended up to have a medical office in Paris and opened it in beautiful place called Place des Vosges in the Marais. Everybody thought I was crazy at 23 to have such an address. But I always believe in beautiful things, always believe that if you surround yourself by the amazing things that it will course through you. So, when I started this place, I put all my energy and my effort and created a very good clientele. At the age of 24 and a half, nearly 18 months later, I decided to sell it to go further in desire of luxury being defined by two simple aspects - Being quality of the work I was doing, always researching for better instruments, better technique, and also the service. Service meaning receiving the client in a very unique way. Having this medical office at the time, more than 20 years ago, I always have nice flowers. I always have nice coffee to welcome my guests. It was a very unusual approach. But I believe that was part of service and I decided to go into the hotel field. Because it was much more interesting to have all these surroundings and beautiful things around me.

Paul Jones: Yes. Bastien, you are present in some of the most wonderful hotels, luxury hotels throughout the world. In fact, my chairman for many, many years, a man who I worked with for so long, who I believe I introduced you to, he became one of your most regular clients. The late Sir Sol Kerzner. I know he looked forward to receiving his treatment from yourself in London or in Paris.

Bastien Gonzalez  :It was always a little bit complicated. You remember, sometimes he was arriving in a hotel and you have to do everything you can to make sure I was there when he was arriving in the hotel. I remember some experience in Morocco where it was quite intense, the way to be able to approach you or when we have done this amazing project in South Africa. Also, a big challenge. But that's true that these types of clients which I have been lucky to reach, mainly because of the quality of the treatment and the service. So, when they want me, I try to make it possible. If it's up to me to travel, then I will do this travel. We could be overnight receiving a message and then you have to organize yourself, so a little bit of an adventure into it. But their desire to have what they call the best, it's how you have to define your job being the best. So, as I defined pedicure as curing feet, it's not about painting nails like most of the people think pedicure is. If you go to the etymology of the word, pedi/podo is foot and legs. Cure as a treatment. Pedicure is not painting nails. It's curing nails. Feet are not only curing the skin, and the most important formula in a pedicure is the foot and leg massage. That's something I developed by meeting amazing therapists around the world. Also, something I was very happy to provide in hotels because they have the surrounding services - the spa. So, when I started 22 years ago exactly, spa was not where it is at the moment. I always believe bringing the medical touch, which means knowledge, will bring the difference to the customers. That's where I positioned myself in to this medical knowledge. I believe it's something you can pass on. So, education for staff as much as for a client is something very important. When you help them to look at their feet in a different way, if they have a problem with the nails or if they have a problem with the skin and their problem as a response and solution, which is as easy as a good therapy or a good pedicure. Then if you deliver the job, they are being hooked to you, especially men, actually. Men are like little boys. If they have a problem then you save their problems, they will do everything they can to make sure you come back to their feet. Sol was one of them.

Paul Jones: Bastien, when we think about treatment for our hands and feet, we always think about soaking in water. I remember your face, “What? Water? I will not have any water coming near the feet or your hands. My treatments are dry.”

Bastien Gonzalez: So, the good thing was dry skin allowed us to be very precise. If you put feet and hands into water, the water will penetrate the skin and you will never be as precise to work on the calluses or the cuticle as if you have dry skin. It’s like hairdresser. A good hairdresser will have always a haircut done on dry hair because you will have the real volumes of your hair and that's something very important. That’s my approach, which is very different than all pedicures around the world. But working on dry skin allowed you to have exact finishing. You know exactly when you finish taking off the calluses. Same thing with the nails. Because nails actually do not breathe. Nails are dead. That's why we can clip them, we can cut them. And they are porous. So, the water will go through the nails and make always the nails a little bit more weak or more soft, so more difficult to treat if there's any problems.

Paul Jones: I remember, Bastien, having my first treatment with yourself. You came out with this pink cream and then a sort of a shape and then you buffed the enamels and then I came out with these shining – I mean, they looked like mother-of-pearl on my hands and my feet, and everybody was so you, everything is so sparkly and wonderful. Yes, they look so healthy. How did that happen, Bastien? How did you come up with that?

Bastien Gonzalez: As I said in the beginning, I was lucky to meet amazing people throughout my career and you have to learn from everybody you meet, especially people who've been successful. Because you don’t become rich and successful by mistake. So, I was lucky to go into that medical field and through dentistry, I was able to find what we call buffing cream, based out of mother-of-pearls. At that time of marble dust. I customized it with mother-of-pearls to get finer grains. So, when I do the nails treatment, we use a dentist drill to start with. Always very impressive for people, because we have these drilling machine which can be scary. If you remember, you’re at the dentist, you are on this very special chair so you’re really out of your comfort zone from the pedicure stations normally, with flowers into these water bath. Actually, there is absolutely no pain and we will use full grains, finer than finer to be able to buff the top layer of the nails, clean out the yellowness, the dryness. With the mother of pearls, it's a finest grain we developed to be the last one, using the Chamois leather. You clean the nails until you find an amazing shine. The shine is actually the reflection of the light. So, nothing will stop the light to reflect. If you look around you, you have a lot of shiny object and see shines come from a perfect smooth aspect. We make a reflection of the light. So that was very new at the time because everybody was thinking putting colours and I remember having very strong marketing meetings, “But you must use red and you must paint nails.” I listened to it. French can be a little bit stubborn at the beginning. I will say, “No, no polish.” When we have these long discussions. But we develop what we called the Colour Touch, but when you go through the treatment, actually, the first step, there is no colour. Out of 67,000 pedicures, the best we did in 2019, we have 92% of the women, men rarely paint their nails. But 92% of the women decided after the treatment, especially in a resource where you enter into a different vibe and a different mode being more natural, being more healthy, and looking to understand and learn new things about your health and wellness. Then you have 92% of the women who decided not to paint their nails. That was quite dramatic for us because it's also business to paint nails. But it's very direct impact with our customers when they leave the treatment. We restore amazing nails. That's being inspired. That's funny also, the funny aspect, being inspired by my great grandmother. She was a beautiful woman, French, 92 years old, sitting on the sofa and I was sitting next to her to listen to her crazy stories and she was buffing her nails with this very specific model of home buffer. I looked at her and I said, “What are you doing?” I thought we were losing her because she was like intensively buffing your fingernails. She said, “I cannot paint my nails at my age. It won't be very nice and more vulgar. So, to have nice nails, I buff them.” As much as she loves the shine of her nails, I was fascinated about the health of the nails at 92. The reason is, when you buff feet with a Chamois leather, you accelerate the blood circulations, meaning you're bringing oxygen, you're bringing life to the end of your fingers. So, the matrix which is the foundation of the nails, is boosted and create beautiful nails. That's the secret.

Paul Jones: Wonderful. Yes. I think that the first, Bastien, that we created together in one of our hotels was in Mauritius. It became an island, or a destination, that went straight to your heart. Tell us about your association with Mauritius, Bastien.

Bastien Gonzalez: Thanks to you, Paul, when you bring me to this island for the first time, it was one of my first challenge because I remember a discussion, I don't know how but I want you to be in all my properties. So, that was the big challenge at the time, because I was a one-man show between the different cities. I developed what you call SOP, which was a new word in my language, the standards of procedure, where I put down on a book and today this book is around 500 pages, how you will be able to do a good treatment. I found working in Mauritius with these beautiful Mauritian ladies in the spa, real interaction and a desire to learn and a desire to deliver a different experience. So, through a partnership and development. I even use these girls from Mauritius to send them around the world, Dubai, Maldives, Turkey, to express this concept of pedicure and how to engage on foot care and educate people. When you go to a treatment in a spa, even nowadays, most of the spa pedicure, manicure, being very often, very neglected. Because it does not generate enough money, it generates more complaints because the cuticle is never right. So, most of the spa operators decided to stop doing pedicures, manicures and let that to the beauty salon. But in Mauritius, I found a lady who is very dedicated to do a good job and as we teach them, all my managers being podiatrists, we were able to have an amazing experience. I learned about Mauritian people having his very lovely round faces and amazing smiles. And by sending them, they attract customers and they seduce them by being very meticulous in their jobs, passionate about it, and have an amazing experience. Still today, I have amazing women who have been working with me from Mauritius around the world. Still Dubai, they even managed by people from Mauritius. It gave them an amazing experience to travel the world, make some money, bring back home, buying a house. It's very, very important for me. I even have a dream which I still want to make it happen - to open a school, a proper school in Mauritius, where people will be able to learn how to do treatment more in a better way, in a different way.

Paul Jones: That would be wonderful. It really would be fantastic, Bastien.

Bastien Gonzalez: It's a dream of me to educate people, as customers, as much as a therapist

Paul Jones: Yes. I think that's great because then you have a legacy and that legacy goes on and then you have, Bastien, we used to call them mini Bastiens, all of them.

Bastien Gonzalez: The mini me’s, flying around. You’re right. It’s still going. I've been lucky to do it also in Vietnam. I've been lucky to do it in Sri Lanka. So, I love the response of these people in Mauritius and the engagements they do. It's amazing how they will be faithful to your brands, to your treatments. I was in Dubai recently. I mean, to do a control, and it was immaculate. It was exactly the way I wanted it and the girls were doing beautiful treatments. So, I have big place in my heart for Mauritius. More than being the first place I started, because the people being very supportive in my development.

Paul Jones: Bastien, talking about Mauritius, we are working together on this magnificent new luxury resort, which is going to be the reference for the entire region, LUX* Grand Baie, and you have a fabulous salon…

Bastien Gonzalez: Thank you.

Paul Jones: Within this gorgeous complex. How do you see LUX* Grand Baie? How do you look at that project? And what will be different, and what will this launch of this resort mean for you, Bastien?

Bastien Gonzalez: As I just mentioned, the impact of Mauritius in my career was very strong. And even more than 20 years later, I’m still a big fan of the island. It's to be able to shine as much as you are capable of creating beautiful destinations, to be able to implement this concept and these visions for more people. So, luxury, somehow become accessible to larger numbers of people. And you have with LUX*, the capacity to do some things beautiful. So, I like seeing the people in Mauritius. Mauritian people are something very important, to give them the capacity to shine through a treatment. Very often, people ask me, “What's special? What's new?” Everybody looks for new. I'm not someone who's very new. I'm someone who's very constant. The quality comes with consistency. Into a treatment, as much as you will have a Shiatsu, or Thai, you define exactly what the Thai massage and Shiatsu massage is. I want to be able to redefine what the foot treatment is, with these different steps of cleaning the nails, cleaning the skin, and giving good foot and leg massage. I adapted the treatment to be able to give people a very unique experience. We have new drills coming out which I develop in Germany based out of ceramic. We have this constant research I'm doing with my suppliers to be able to have a new product, new equipment, and that's something which will be highlighted in this partnership, Paul.

Paul Jones: Tell us about your products, Bastien.

Bastien Gonzalez: So, my products are being developed in a very unusual way of cosmetic people because I started – remember our launch in Paris 18 years ago, with a very big cosmetic group in France, asking me, “Why are you doing so much press? What's behind these ideas of being in the magazines every week?” And I say to them, “I want to create one good foot cream.” And they look at me say, “Oh, cosmetic doesn’t work with one product. You have to create lines and different lines for different category of feet.” I look at them and I said, “I'm sorry, guys, but people don't even touch their feet.” So, what’s the point if we have 25 products and 10 different lines.” So, I developed, I was lucky to meet the president of the French Cosmetic Associations, was invited to that lunch and out of it, he looked at me and he said, “I need to speak with you.” And he said, “You have a very successful name for me in cosmetics. My name is Gonzalez. You have 17 pages of Gonzalez in the Paris phone book” So, it didn't really mean anything to me. And he said, “No, I created a brand called PHYTOLIORAC I created for a hairdresser, was very successful brand worldwide, called Patrick Ales. And his real name is Gonzalez. He cut his name into, “You are Gonzalez, I want to do this success again.” I was very young at the time and I said, “Fantastic. You have no budgets. I want the best foot cream.” I had no idea what I said at the time, but the guys develop an amazing foot cream, which is still going on. We adapted it every two or three years, I will say, but we started with the cream, with the fact the skin on the feet is seven times thicker than on your face. So, if you want to moisturize, if you want to bring the molecule of water deeply to help the collagen to blow, to give more independency of the different layer of the skin, to have a better skin, more elastic, more graceful in some aspect. It's important to have very good ingredients. When we work around the numbers, how much it will cost, then he went quite high and I said, “No, we continue.” When we went to the lab to go into productions and we brought the product for foot cream, which was put on the jar, the laboratory cannot believe because we put such amazing ingredients in this product that they will go on to feet. Over time, we developed a little oil, we developed a little talcum powder, we developed one product after one product. So, I will say, 18 years later and having 12 different references between instruments and product, and I'm not looking to have 50. I'm looking to have one exact product to deliver the experience

Paul Jones: Is it true you had caviar on the feet?

Bastien Gonzalez: No. I have black diamonds. Much better.

Paul Jones: Black Diamond.

Bastien Gonzalez: Black diamond scrub which is something I developed after working in South Africa. Because the black diamond is a certain category of people that will organize themselves and using this black diamond scrub gives your skin an amazing feeling, very good and very soft. What’s happened is when you open it, you look like caviar. That's where perhaps you confused it, but it's really looking like caviar. But when you use it, this gray, this dark gray, black colour, when you use it, it turned white and foamy. So, that's clearly the only scrub in the world where you have a visual contact when you finish scrubbing, because you’re very often in your bath, under the shower, you scrub, you scrub a little bit more, but you never really know where it's the end of the scrubbing action. But with this product, the black diamond scrub from Reverence de Bastien, we have exactly the knowledge by visual contact when you finish scrubbing. So, that's always a little extra I try to put in my product.

Paul Jones: Nowadays when we talk about Hollywood, we talk about Netflix and I believe a little bird told me that Netflix have been chasing you, Bastien.

Bastien Gonzalez: So, it's not directly Netflix. But I've been lucky that I met – some time ago, I've met an amazing man who has the experience of the pedicures in Tokyo. He was very impressed with the result on his feet – he has been living in, between San Francisco and Los Angeles. His name is Wayne Wong. He decided to call me by asking the general manager of the hotel to set up a call. I didn't really take the call very seriously because I'm not really an LA person. But then the following year as he's been renting the presidential suite for three months, the GM called me and said, “You have to talk to him. He's my best customer. So, if I have to pay you an hour fee, you will charge me, but I want you to make him give his great experience of talking with you about footcare.” After four and a half hours call, I was in Vietnam, I decided to fly to Tokyo to have lunch with him. He set up a whole team. It's a big news, because I never really mentioned that before. But we decided to work on a series which will perhaps – it’s not finalized. So, it's very hard to say in a very big channel, which is Netflix, where we will talk about spa, and talk about spa around Asia. As to the evolution of what's happened with COVID, what's happening with flights, we cannot really travel, even going into a field which will be a shorter project. So, I'm having some fun time every Thursday speaking with a team in LA to create a scenario and a script and a treatment, the way we call it, as going down to a Bible, with these new words coming out. It's a fantastic experience. I don't know how it will end at the end. But working with such, again, an amazing film producer with visions of a project. When you build hotels and you’ve being sitting through like, next to you and we have these designers when we're in London and we're like, projecting, like creating simulations of the team and that's what’s fantastic. That's why I'm with you, Paul, because you have this capacity to create around your dreams, the same directions of – we deliver something very unique. That's what I've been experiencing at a different level with Wayne Wong. But that's what makes me drive and makes me excited and makes me wish to do more. So, it's not done yet because we have problems to travel in Asia. We have problems to – but there are very interesting investors in the film industry. We are very excited, just need to have these borders reopened and find again, this way of traveling we used to in the past and that we move forward.

Paul Jones: Bastien, it's always a pleasure to talk with someone who is so passionate as you are. You eat, live, breathe and sleep, everything to do with luxury, and luxury for you is all about the hands and the feet and making people feel good about themselves through that.

Bastien Gonzalez: I believe Alicia is a very happy woman, nowadays. If I didn't speak with her father at the time, she will certainly never have been in the amazing career as a top model she has been through. I was working in Paris. Her mother was a fantastic client. We were seeing each other between London and Paris. “You must come to Mauritius, you must come to Mauritius.” Finally, you invited me. But it's true that if you put passion into what you're doing with sincerity and simplicity, I believe success will come. You have to project yourself. I’m back in France for my holidays right now in my country house in France, I have a big property. Every year, I'm buying more land and buying more land and everybody's, “Oh, are you crazy?” But I've these visions to use the product, the plants that we have here in this land, to go into my cosmetics now. So, I'm working with Herborist. So, you surround yourself with people who are excellent at what they do, and then you have a dream, and you put them together and you work together. You’re never better as your team. So that's what I believe. Being a one man show, and one day, being able to meet you, goes towards the career we've been going through, it's because we have these visions to deliver a unique experience to our guests. I remember a discussion with Sol, saying, “I don't know how, but I want you to be in all the properties. Because I want to know that when my customers go to the pool, they would have perfect feet.” That’s details. That's where everybody was like, “What is he talking about?” But that surprised people, and that's what you want. You want to be surprised and leave an experience.

Paul Jones: Yeah. And you want people to come back. It's not just a onetime product. You want people to love what you do, and that's exactly our feeling about our brand LUX*. We want people to love everything that we're doing and make it so rich, and as you just said, the experiences, whether they be in the spa, the wellness area, or in the food and beverage area, or just simple relaxation. But it's all about having a memorable time, something that is so – actually, it's all down to the detail. As you've been describing what you do, it certainly matches what we do and we certainly believe in surrounding ourselves with passionate people. And you are probably one of the most passionate people that I know, in the world. Bastien, where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time? What do you want to achieve in the next 10 years?

Bastien Gonzalez: So, another big goal that drove me for the last 22 years is to change the vision of pedicure in America. I've done a very good success around Asia. I’ve been very, very successful around Southeast Asia and even Asia. Now, we are starting something very important in China. I've been lucky to experience many, many amazing countries around the world. We are present in 27 countries, Middle East being my base for the last 16, 17 years. I'm planning to go, I've been lucky that I got my 01 visa for the US. And I'm planning to go and work into that dream that I had for the last 20 years, was to change the vision of pedicure. If you are able to invent a job, which is what I'm working on at the moment in France, with a new title. If you're capable of inventing a job, then you create a legacy and you can go and retire wherever you want and disappear. Because you will have all these beautiful people, passionate with foot care. One of the very neglected treatment, but suddenly becoming a very must-have on your menu when you have a spa. I have a lot of hotel chains where I’m chasing my managers to try to hire them directly. But power of the brand and the power of the team create something also very strong. That's what I want to continue to do in the next 10 years, will be in the US. I will say, like, one of my major focus and this series, if it happens, and is being successful from the first 12 episodes, perhaps we'll continue and that’s when we’ll open a different door or a different career for me. I don't know. I will see. Another meeting, another place. I've been sent out for four months. I met amazing people. You never know what's around the corner. Just go for it with full powers and see what happens. That's the way of approaching life.

Paul Jones: Well, Bastien, in less than three months, we will be together in Mauritius, at LUX* Grand Baie, opening the most gorgeous resort. And pride of place within the spa will be the salon.

Bastien Gonzalez: The Studio Reverence. Yes, which I'm very excited to start with you. It's a new adventure and it's great to start again, this new chapter in my company with you, Paul, in Mauritius.

Paul Jones: Thank you so much. And thank you for spending this time with us. Thank you, Bastien.

Bastien Gonzalez: You’re welcome, Paul. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Paul Jones: Bonne journee

Paul Jones: Thank you for listening to the Spirit of Lux, with me, Paul Jones. If you like what you heard, don't forget to subscribe to our channel, on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen.

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A Conversation with Stephen Woodhams: Award Winning Landscape Artist and Garden Designer
Jan 14, 2022

In the eleventh episode, Paul speaks with Stephen Woodhams, one of the youngest gardeners to ever win a gold medal in the renowned RHS Chelsea Flower Show, held in the United Kingdom every spring. Stephen’s magical touch, combined with his intuitive ability to turn any space into a tropical oasis, is one of the reasons why LUX* Belle Mare, LUX* Grand Gaube and the newly opened LUX* Grand Baie have received such tremendous acclaim all over the world. In this episode, Stephen speaks about his inspiration for the group’s latest flagship in Mauritius and his plans in this Indian Ocean paradise.

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A Conversation with Jean-François Adam: Principal Architect, Partner and Founder of JFA Architects
Jan 25, 2022

The 12th episode reunites Paul with Mauritian architect Jean-François Adam, the man behind the groundbreaking design of the very complex LUX* Grand Baie. Together they discuss what inspired Jean-François, whose childhood was spent on the very beach on which the hotel is, the complexities of building such a grand structure, of turning constraint into potential, and the importance of having a strong vision and the team spirit to carry it through.

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