In the 1940s and ‘50s, dermatologist Erno Laszlo kept the complexions of movie stars like Ava Gardner, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe camera-ready from his exclusive clinic in midtown Manhattan. In the mid-1960s, he went public, so to speak, with a skin-care product line to be carried in tony department stores. The system featured what was, at the time, a revolutionary concept: products geared to specific skin types. Clients’ complexions would be analyzed, or “clocked” (as in 12:00,1:00, etc.) depending on whether they were dry, oily or blemish-prone—or some combination thereof—and a regimen of products would be prescribed, to be applied in a certain order, every day. Doctor’s orders.
Nowadays, this is standard operating procedure. But back then, for people used to one-miracle-cream-fits-all skin care, it was quite novel. Also time-consuming. Also expensive. But it got results. I remember my mother lining up her array of products in their snazzy-yet-serious-looking black-and-white packages, dutifully splashing her face 20 times with water to wash off the soap (doctor’s orders). And my dad, normally tight-fisted when it came to feminine fripperies, never balked at the bills. “Whatever it costs is fine, honey,” he’d say. “Your skin is stunning.” (And it was—radiant and nearly wrinkle-free, well into her 60s). The Laszlo brand still exists, with a devoted following—though perhaps it’s not as high profile as it once was. Whether sold in Saks or in drugstores, every cosmetics company has jumped on the integrated-regimen bandwagon. And a luxury skin-care line is no longer a novelty: The last decade has seen the rise of one contender du jour after another, selling products filled with caviar, gold and diamonds. But now, Laszlo’s stepping up its game—by returning to its roots, so to speak.
The company has The Institute (382 W. Broadway, 212.300.4111), a gleaming spa in SoHo, all decked out with crystal chandelier, spiral red staircase and frosted-glass Lalique antiques. One must become a member (starting at $1,000, for three months) to partake of the personalized peels, masques and other treatments in the art-adorned rooms or to relax in the Art Deco-style lounge—a facsimile of the good doctor’s original office. But anyone can come in for a consult, get clocked and purchase the condition-specific soaps, creams and tonics that will give his or her skin that unique Laszlo glow.