As the Forever Boutique moves into its second month open for business in Lausanne, Switzerland, I stopped by to visit with Rachel Polla, CEO of the Polla family business, and the woman responsible for overseeing the burgeoning Forever beauty empire. So far the Polla sisters are happy with the launch of their new venture, which is primarily serving new clients who were not already familiar with their father’s well-known Geneva clinic, the Forever Institut. A launch promotion on all treatments, combined with various press efforts, have been fruitful, and the boutique is, without a doubt, the shining star of an otherwise ordinary-looking, busy downtown intersection. With an attractive storefront and a great location at street level, it showcases a modern, trendy beauty bar visible from outside, and delivers a relaxed, welcoming atmosphere as you enter. Today, people are walking in off the street.
Your father is the renowned dermatologist Dr. Luigi Polla, who has been a real pioneer in bringing the concept of aesthetic medical clinics into Europe. It seems innovation runs in the family, as this new modern adaptation of the aesthetic clinic, the Forever Boutique, has now launched, spearheaded by the next generation of the Polla family—his four daughters.
The vision was initially our father’s. About three years ago, he had the idea of “democratizing” medical aesthetics, where the next big thing would be bringing medical aesthetics to the people, rather than waiting for people to come to us.
Simultaneously, he began to hand over shares in Forever to me and my sisters. We sat down and thought about what we wanted to do with this gift … did we want to sell? Did we want to get more involved? Did we want to continue with Forever Institut as it was at that time? Or did we want to drive the business in new directions? We unanimously decided that we wanted to become more involved in the business, and to run with our father’s vision, spearheading the development of Forever Boutique.
Within two years, I left my job in the private banking sector, and came back to manage the family business, full time. That’s really when we started to work more concretely on developing the concept. How, what, when, where? My sisters and I imagined a more glamorous version of our father’s idea. We talked a lot about lips, and the idea of luscious lips became our unique selling point, along with the idea of our ephemeral lip treatment that lasts 2-3 weeks: Instalip. With that, for the first time in four years we felt we had the beginning of a tangible concept. Something really interesting and different: a boutique rather than a clinic that would be accessible to the public at street level. From there, within a period of 9 months we had pieced together the concept, established the location, identified the doctors, and built the team.
Tell me about how you and your sisters came up with the new concept behind Forever Boutique, and why now? How does it differ from more traditional medical aesthetics clinics or institutes?
We are different from a typical medical spa, definitely more boutique than clinic, and completely focused on the face … that’s it! Inspired by Skin Laundry and Heyday, as well as Drybar in the US, we spent a lot of time studying their concept of focused services, their architecture, and the way they sold themselves. We also decided against lasers. This was our core business at Forever Institut a few years ago, but today our best sellers and where we’ve really developed our reputation is more with injectables. Also, injectables do not require the same investment in, or maintenance of capital equipment.
You are clearly driving the family business in new, innovative directions. What was the creative process for building the concept and the brand?
We worked with a strategic communications agency in Zurich three years ago to develop the concept. They helped us put words to what we already knew and felt in our hearts. They also guided our creation of the Forever family of brands to limit the cannibalization of Forever Institut. It’s an ongoing process, so we will have to remain flexible and plan to adapt the concept as we move forward. Within 3-5 years we see ourselves as the Swiss leader in medical aesthetics, with the expansion of the Forever Boutique chain being our main driver for growth.
Focused service concepts like Heyday and Skin Laundry, which are similar to the Forever Boutique, have already become popular in the US. How confident are you about the appetite for this type of offering within the European marketplace? Are there any particularities about the customer base here that you have had to consider?
We believe the US concept will translate to Switzerland and the rest of Europe. You definitely see the conviviality trend coming to Europe, so sitting around a bar or sharing space at the table with others to chat about your beauty issues and needs. Everything comes to us here a year or two later, and we imagine this trend will be the same.
Navigating a family business can be complex at the best of times. How have you set up your management team? Who does what, and how do you and your sisters make it work?
My sisters and I went to the experts at INSEAD for guidance on setting up a sustainable family business and to clarify how we would make decisions. Family unity was our number-one priority in all of this, and there is a lot of love, and acceptance between everyone. We are very lucky to have our father as both our founder and our parent. While he is still practicing at the Institute and part of the Board, he is very respectful of our roles, who does what, and gives us space to make our own decisions. He is always there to advise or support whenever we need him, though, so it makes for a nice balance.
It was quickly determined that I would take the lead as the others were either not interested or unable to at the time. My sister Ada is leading our skincare brand Alchimie Forever, while Cyrile is looking after all of the Marketing and Communications for the Forever family of brands. Our youngest sister, Roxanne, is an intern in vascular surgery at the University Hospital here in Lausanne. She will eventually become the scientific anchor for the business, taking over from our father.
You have curated a beautiful collection for your Beauty and Lifestyle corner. How big of a role will retail play in the concept, and how do you view the potential in the future?
For the moment the beauty retail end is made up of our Alchimie Forever skincare line, as well as two independent makeup brands. At the Institute in Geneva, skincare makes up about 10-12% of our revenues. For the Boutique, we are aiming more towards 20%. We see skincare and makeup as homework for our clients to maintain the procedures they are doing here, so everyone is going home with a prescribed regimen.
For the Lifestyle corner, we are launching with a selection of beautiful items made by young, local designers and artisans, blurring the lines between beauty and aesthetics. We are not looking for high-end luxury items, but rather good-quality, special pieces at an accessible price, so good value for money. Soon we will bring in a jewelry line, and we even have a few ideas about art thanks to our mother’s art gallery in Geneva.
We are also fascinated by the concept of life-detox, and in particular the Japanese philosophy of eliminating the nonessential, material items in one’s life, so we may be collaborating with another team of local entrepreneurs to promote this lifestyle here in the boutique.
Concept stores are all the rage now. What beauty and aesthetic services trends do you see percolating? Where do you see yourselves going with the Forever Boutique concept in the future?
Developing the beauty and aesthetics services trend at street level, and the further democratization of the industry, is number one. Second would be the trend in ephemeral treatments, and the development of more products and procedures for this. What has been such a breakthough with Instalip is the possibility for clients to try out a lip-plumping procedure without making a major commitment. If they are happy with the result, they can always upgrade to the longer-lasting treatment.
Long-term, we are also looking at trends in auto-regenerative medicine for the face which works wonderfully on skin tone and texture, any scarring or wrinkles, and is so subtle and natural looking. This technique is also effective in combatting hair loss, and in aesthetic gynocology (not so much about the appearance, but the revitalization and rehydration of this intimate zone). So we are starting to blur the lines between medical aesthetics and the functional well-being of women. We strongly believe in a holistic life philosophy—feeling good in yourself, and finding that harmony between how you feel and how you look. It is more about achieving an overall sense of well-being rather than altering your appearance.
Understanding that you are targeting a much younger clientele with this new concept, at what age do you feel one should start thinking about aesthetic treatments and anti-aging? Who do you see the Forever Boutique client being?
It’s not a question of age … it’s more about being open to aesthetic procedures, eliminating that taboo, and clients having access to a comfortable environment to come in and discuss their beauty issues with other women and a team of experts.
While our treatment menu is more suited to a younger demographic, we do serve clients up to 60 years old, and we have the luxury of the Institute in Geneva where clients can still access a wide variety of lasers and other treatments more suited to our older clientele.
What is the basis for your selection of these 4 core facial treatments: Lips, Botox, Mesotherapy, and Brightening peels?
Again, we took a conscious, strategic decision to focus our services only on the face, and on achieving natural-looking results: luscious, plumped lips; an open and refreshed expression; a fresh and even complexion; and healthy, well-hydrated skin.
Mesotherapy is a great way to drive nutrients deep into the skin and can be done either by using needles or electric pulses. Which option are you proposing and why? What are the benefits of using one vs. the other?
Mesotherapy is excellent for prevention. If you start at 30, your skin at 50 will be markedly better quality and save for many years, the need for laser therapy, or a facelift. We use the Dermapen microneedling pen combined with a cocktail of 125 vitamins, amino acids, antioxidants, and hydrating hyaluronic acid. This can have a huge impact on the firmness, tone, and texture of your skin, as well as the prevention of wrinkles.
What is the cocktail of acids and/or other active ingredients you are using in your brightening peel? Who and for which skin types is it most suitable for?
The Alchimie Forever peel is based on AHA fruit acids, and is highly effective at warming and brightening a dull complexion, while purifying and tightening pores.
Our TCA intensive peel is more effective at smoothing and firming the skin. We use a lower dose of TCAs to eliminate downtime, and recommend a series of 5 treatments for optimal results.
Beauty is the family business. What is your favorite part of the industry, and what would you like to see change ?
Beauty is part of the Polla family’s DNA. It is everywhere in our lives, from our mother’s art gallery to aesthetics. We believe that beauty is a lifestyle choice, and that looking good means feeling good, means doing good.
We hope to change the perception of aesthetics as something purely superficial to something far more profound than just taking care of your wrinkles. Taking care of your body, your appearance, the way you handle yourself … it all has meaning, and each part has a role to play in that holistic approach to well-being—it is the icing on the cake to a certain extent, but also something that makes you feel happy and confident in yourself.