TEXT / CHRISTINA KO
A REGULAR ON THE society circuit, Helen Ma was once known for her impeccable beauty choices and daring fashion sense. She still is, but last year she added a couple of new titles to the list: wife, to Yohan Simonian, whom she married early last year; mother, to daughter Shyme, who was born last October; and entrepreneur, as director of skincare brand Evidens de Beauté in Hong Kong and China, and the associated spa, Spa Evidens, which opened shortly before the birth of her baby. Ma is all grown up, but don’t expect her to be an ambassador for Mommy Chic – clad in leather skinnies from Zara, a tank from Alexander Wang and a covetable leather biker jacket from Fendi, with her hair bleached to a luminous platinum blonde, she’s still more rock chick than businesswoman or PTA mother. Prestige Hong Kong caught up with the unconventional baroness of beauty.
Spa Evidens opened just over a year ago. How’s business been?
It’s been doing well. Of course in the beginning it was quite tough for us, we started from zero and it’s not like you can get all of your friends in by giving freebies all the time. So for the first four or five months, we went through a tough time with [getting] customers, but we’re having our rainbow now, there’s the potential and we can see it.
How did you come up with the idea to start the business?
I wanted to open a spa, but I was thinking, well, what products should I use? I was giving myself a bet – [I’ll do it] if I can find a brand that I really like, and like what it means, and feels like luxury to me. So I just Googled. And luckily, I found this brand and put it in the spa.
What was your vision?
To be the most luxurious. From what I use, everything, I have no competitor. It’s all about minimalism – I don’t like in a traditional spa when you hear the waves, the birdsong, all that…not that I hate it, but I get bored.
As a veteran spa-goer and now operator, what do you look for in a spa?
Therapists are very important, the place is important, and the products as well. It comes in a package. Nowadays people are very demanding…and I’m one of those.
What are the biggest turnoffs for spa-goers?
I like deep-tissue massages, and I hate it when the therapist is just kind of touching you, it’s like I wasted my time there. The environment is important, but it also depends on what you pay for it. I’m also a very big fan of going to Thailand and getting like a 100-baht massage or something, but good service is very important.
When you first moved into Cubus building, it was mostly empty with very few tenants. Was it a gamble?
It was really a bet for us. We really liked the location and we signed in April , and after doing all the renovation – it took three months – we saw a big difference already in traffic, people were coming into the building. And we knew we made the right choice.
What are the most popular treatments at the spa?
Hong Kong people like to do brightening, because it makes you skin look brighter – not whitening, but brightening. It’s one of our signatures here. I’m very lucky, my skin always has the glow, but I do regular facials, once a week. And then I do the machine treatments. I have to do it, because I’m used to it. You have to have those because people come in and ask for it, and we want to have the complete services.
Now that you’re in the spa business, is it important for you to stay on the cutting edge with industry advancements?
You cannot keep up with everything. We are into the technological [advancements] but we cannot get the newest all the time. If you have the iPhone 5, is there really any point to get the 5s? We’re into that, but we’re not too crazy following the [new trends].
Your daughter was born shortly after the spa opened. How do you balance work and family?
Now it’s actually easier because preparation [for the opening] was the hardest thing. So last year was really very tough when the business began. Now we’re on the right track, so it’s easier. I also need to go out [to promote the brand]. Before, I would go to whatever events I want. Now I have to go. I cannot disappear. So I don’t have much time to take care of her myself, but Saturday and Sunday I try to spend time with her. The weather is cooler now, but in the summertime I swim with her – she likes water.
You’ve always been known as one of the city’s most stylish women. Has your style changed?
Before I was a mom I had more time to shop, but now I don’t. I don’t follow trends. I like leather a lot – I’m completely in love with leather, it’s my thing. Heels, shoes…you know. I’m in pants usually, that princess girly-girly thing is not me. When you get older, you get more classic. But being a mom doesn’t mean you have to be more conservative. I’m very happy with my hair now, even though it takes four hours when I need a touch-up. Every time I’m like, “Really? Do I really want to do this again?” You have the nicest colour that everyone loves, but there’s a lot of damage.
So what do you get up to in your free moments?
I tend to stay at home more, staying in with my daughter. She’s so active she wants to crawl everywhere. She’s about to walk! A few steps, she’s confident, but soon she’ll be damaging everything, I’m sure [laughs]. So what’s next for you and the brand? We’re pushing into retail more. We have one retail shop and we’ll be opening more next year. We’re talking to Lane Crawford and Sogo. We’re looking at The Pulse, in Repulse Bay. Gaia Group is opening something, Bonnae Gokson, Yo Mama…Pure will do beach yoga. It’s good for me to get into that community.