Bliss

Bliss At-A-Glance

Strengths: Good selection of cleansers; fantastic gel blush.

Weaknesses: A preponderance of products whose claims raise hopes but that don't work even remotely as described; several sunscreens without sufficient UVA protection; no effective anti-blemish or skin-lightening products.

The way Bliss came to be one of the more successful and well-known spa locations around makes an intriguing story. Marcia Kilgore, a native of Canada, was a student at New York's Columbia University—but when her tuition plans fell through she had no choice but to fall back on her one marketable skill, personal training. Yet even though her venture was blossoming, she was routinely troubled by her complexion and ended up enrolling in a skin-care course where the seeds of a future empire were planted. Kilgore developed a knack and passion for facials, and soon she was on her way to becoming a beauty guru among Manhattan's celebrities and social elite. As Kilgore expanded from a one-room spa to a small business, word spread of her talents, and in July 1996 Bliss was established with the goal of offering "super-effective treatments in an uncontrived 'no-attitude' atmosphere."

What immediately set Bliss apart from the then relatively quiet spa business was Kilgore's sense of irreverence and openness, and her commitment to skill and jazzed-up product formulations that are seemingly right on the pulse of what consumers are looking for, namely natural botanicals, exotic scents, and anything and everything that can duplicate (as closely as possible) the spa experience at home. When products used during services started disappearing from the spa, it was a none-too-subtle clue that customers liked what they experienced—though spa techniques can go a long way toward making inadequate products seem exceptional. Kilgore noticed, and began to consider retailing them to her clients.

In 1999, Kilgore entered a partnership with luxury goods conglomerate and Sephora owner Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessey (LVMH), and sold them a 70% stake in the company. Her business skyrocketed as new spa locations opened, and dozens of new products have been created. The Bliss products are available in some department stores, Sephora, and through the Bliss catalog and Web site. Interestingly, Sephora still promotes the line even though LVMH sold it to Starwood Hotels and Resorts in 2004. Several Starwood-owned properties now sport or will soon be opening Bliss spas. Kilgore is moving away from the empire she created (though she still consults for them) and in 2007 launched a new line, Soap & Glory.

Uniquely effective or revolutionary formulas are not what sets Bliss products apart. Rather, the descriptions and claims for almost every Bliss-labeled product make "too good to be true" sound utterly ordinary by comparison. No wonder these products generate so much interest. Rather than contain everything but the kitchen sink, they claim to fix or improve everything but the kitchen sink! Kilgore admitted in the March 2007 issue of Vogue, "Legally you can't claim a product does anything; otherwise it would be a drug." That's not entirely true. For example, it is perfectly legal to claim a cleanser cleans skin and a moisturizer improves dryness and leave skin feeling soft. Those are real actions, but not ones with a druglike effect. Perhaps she made that remark after having removed herself from the Bliss spotlight, but it's telling that the woman who created so many cleverly named and fancifully articulated products goes against her own statement by attaching all manner of druglike claims to almost all of the products Bliss sells. Despite the spin and recycling of inaccurate information, there are some worthy products to take home after your visit to a Bliss spa. As a Bliss client, placing your faith in the entire product line and its false promises is the mistake to avoid—your money is better spent enjoying a massage or hydrotherapy treatment.

For more information about Bliss, call (888) 243-8825 or visit www.blissworld.com

Bliss Makeup

Without a doubt, the Bliss line is primarily about skin care. Their once comprehensive-but-still-boutique-like makeup collection has dwindled to a handful of products. Apparently, their own brand of cleverly named, cutely described cosmetics wasn’t selling as well as items from other lines sold on the company's Web site. Although there isn't much available, all but one of Blisslabs' makeup products is recommended, though in most cases you can find less-expensive versions at the drugstore.

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