Founder of Spa Esprit Group and beauty maven Cynthia Chua has always been a trendsetter – by being a problem solver. Back in school, the Nanyang Girls’ High School alumni had been starkly aware of how some of her peers were not the best groomed. “Maybe grooming is a given for someone of your generation,” she says, referencing me, a millennial privy to a steady stream of instant information. “But when we started providing Brazilian waxes 20 years ago, it was such a chore to even tell anyone about it. How do you tackle a subject so taboo, or design a poster encouraging hair removal in intimate areas?”
Fast forward to 2018, and Chua fronts a successful beauty empire, dividing her time between Paris, where she now lives, and Singapore, where Spa Esprit is headquartered. What started as a modest day spa in Holland Village in 1996 has since exploded into a mega lifestyle conglomerate with 17 beauty and F&B brands across major cities around the world, including New York, London, Shanghai and Singapore.
That Chua is unstoppable is no secret, with stories of her Midas touch retold time and again. But going against the grain is simply a way of life for her. The self-professed lover of breaking taboos muses that she feels good about having contributed to changing mindsets – “Brazilian wax salons have really taken off in Singapore,” she says – but adds that “the next challenge is to educate women about looking after the vulva, which is even more difficult to talk about.”
“I encounter so many closed-door conversations where women tell their therapists about all sorts of intimate problems, such as pigmentation issues or pimples in that area, because they don’t know who to talk to,” she reveals. “It doesn’t help that Asia is particularly conservative when it comes to such things, with countless pseudo words for intimate parts.” Cue her recently launched two l(i)ps Blackout Mask, which moisturises, tackles discoloration, and soothes skin after a waxing or intense pulsed light session. A “vulva ritual” is encouraged, with a 15-minute Spotify playlist to go with the sheet mask and a little R&R.
With her headspace brimming with possible solutions to life’s niggling problems – some actualise into business ideas – and answers to the unending demands of her growing empire, Chua has to consciously carve out me time. For one, the stylish dynamo makes sure she starts her day pleasantly, with mornings that, possibly, involve breakfast with her husband, good music and often, yoga.
Still, the luxury of time is something that often escapes her. “I have a book, but not the time to read; I have floods of WhatsApp messages I don’t have the time to go through,” she says. “I feel like I’m always on call 24 hours a day. I’m still learning to detach from work. Even while I’m on holiday, it feels like every little work-related issue could affect me for hours. It gets crazy, but I make sure I do yoga at least three times a week – Ashtanga is a must. Creating a space for yourself is very important, as is being able to choose what you want to see, read or inspire you.”
Facebook is something the natural non-conformist is happy to miss out on; she prefers living in the moment. Her marketing team wouldn’t hear of it, however, and recently created an account on her behalf. But even then, Chua is wary of slipping into the social media addiction that has seemingly plagued those around her. “I think social media is important for businesses, but for myself, I don’t feel inclined to have it,” she explains. “I just don’t feel like I need to be on social media. I’m not on Instagram either. I want to connect in real time, with a phone call or a coffee date.”
Art direction: Audrey Chan
Photography: Joel Low
Hair: Benedict Choo
Makeup: Elain Lim