Living the Dream in Paris
Lauren Creecy the US Expat with the perfect beauty spot
On a wide grey street in Paris, a little less pretty than some of the other famous rues in the city, lies a flash of colour. Like a flower peeking from the grey paving beneath one’s feet, Free Persephone brings a spark of excitement to a canvas of mundane commercial establishments and offers a welcome change of pace from the mad rush of city life.
It’s impossible to ignore the presence of this new kid on the spa block in Paris. Partly because of the rocking chair perched on its imaginary veranda, coupled with a blackboard chalked in bright attractive colours extolling the inviting array of services on offer. But also because of the wide front windows, providing passers-by with a fleeting glimpse, into a fresh and beautiful interior that wreaks of indulgence, pleasure and relaxation in just a few short blinks.
I would wager that any woman would find it quite difficult to strut past 66 Boulevard du Raspail at any time on any given day, without at least stopping and peering through the glass!
Visualise if you will, a space with high ceilings, a tree growing from its centre, wood floors, low-slung tables, flowers and giant glass water cannons filled with fresh lemons and cucumbers. Now imagine a scent, that encapsulates the ambience of a Spring day, coupled with joyful smiles and a team determined to shower you with love and care. It sounds magical, right? Well, it’s most definitely real and its existence is thanks to the determination, tenacity, devotion and brilliance of its creator, American expat, Lauren Creecy.
We’re sitting in the popular brunch spot Colorova, in the 6th district of Paris just ten minutes walk from Lauren’s beauty spa. She swept in just a few minutes ago looking gorgeous, happy, breathless and full of excitement anticipating our chat. My children are with me, it’s the holidays! And she greets them warmly, unphased by their noisy presence.
She’s poised and ready, enthused and talking fast. She’s effervescent. This woman has a lot to say and when she talks her considered prose is powerfully packed with positivity and charm, whilst delivered in a strong and levitated American accent which has shown no signs of abating, despite living in France for fifteen years. Each answer she gives is with a glowing smile.
Lauren moved to France in 2003. Not long after her arrival, she started thinking about opening her own business in Paris. Her ambitions paid off and twelve years later she became the proud owner of a blooming beauty spot in the 6th arrondissement of Paris.
Free Persephone is a day spa for women, men and children. The team speak several languages so for the non-French community it’s an easy win.
MLP met Lauren and fell in love with her space and the experience she offers but was also excited about how a girl from the States had arrived in Paris and ended up owning her own successful business.
“You start at the beginning and when you get to the end stop!”
Here she tells us all about Free Persephone and the steps she went through to get it off the ground in Paris.
MLP: Hi Lauren, How are you?
LC: I‘m so good, so happy to be here
MLP: I really feel that if Mama Loves Paris was a beauty salon it would be Free Persephone. It embodies and encompasses such a great feel and from what I’ve seen it’s got a great energy. It’s very collaborative in its approach, it’s fun and it feels liberating.
LC: Thank youuuuu
MLP: Before we continue do you mind clarifying how you pronounce Free Persephone!
LC: Sure. Well there are two ways of saying it per-sef-oh-ney for the English normally and per-so-fone for Francophones
MLP: Ok, so my first two questions are why did you call it Free Persephone and how would you describe what you do and the nature and purpose of it?
LC: So first of all the name. I’ve always loved stories, I love both history and storytelling and one thing that I’ve always loved is mythology. Persephone is the goddess of spring, she’s the daughter of Zeus and her mother was Demeter, the goddess of the Earth. As the story goes, Hades, the god of the underworld and brother of Zeus, abducts Persephone. While Persephone is in the underworld Hades tricks her and encourages her to eat pomegranate seeds to quell her hunger but and unbeknown to her, each pomegranate seed she eats equates to a month of stay in the underworld. She eats six! So for six months of the year she stays and for six months she is free.
What I find so fascinating about this story is that every time she is free, this rebirth happens for her, Spring arrives! And.. I love this idea of having a place that brings that rebirth to life, a place where people can go and feel like it’s spring every day…and that’s our motto! You can escape at Free Persephone. If you’re having a difficult day you can have this moment by yourself or with other people, a moment out of time, a moment to escape, to be in a bubble. A precious moment where you can take the time to feel well. It’s about the senses and how to nurture all those parts of you.
Lauren enthusiastically continues …she’s on a roll…
LC: We consider all aspects of the senses including the visual aspect. Our space is like a home and you’re invited to be treated as our very welcome guest. We aim to be the most welcoming spa and the most International Spa in Paris We have a team that speaks several languages. French, English, Japanese, Spanish, a bit of Italian and Russian! Because we really want everyone to feel welcome.
I feel at times, even though Paris is a beautiful city, it’s a wonderful place and I’ve lived here for many many years; it’s also a place that can be quite challenging when you first arrive here. You don’t know the language, you don’t know many people here and there are very different social codes to get used to and it’s not always easy to meet people. So I wanted to create a space that was really welcoming.
“I love bringing people together, it’s like an important part of the ‘sisterhood'”
I am always fascinated by these cultural differences. I love social cultural studies I am fascinated by people I love people, I love meeting people, talking to people and this factored into the creation of Free Persephone. I love bringing people together, it’s like an important part of the ‘sisterhood’
MLP: Well that certainly shows. Your place is so warm and welcoming and it really does feel like a safe haven.
LC: Yes, exactly, it’s where we take care of you!
Lauren tells MLP that she spent her early working life smelling scents and learning from some of the best people in the business. After working for a couple of Fragrance houses in New York, she was relocated to the Paris office in a marketing role. Although she had dreamed of having a business, she hadn’t decided what it would be but she had been heavily influenced by her father, who was an entrepreneur. He really inspired her and she watched avidly as he turned his hand to different business opportunities. She observed some of the highs and lows of the challenges he faced and she loved the process and the learning curve.
In an earlier job, a mentor she once worked with had mentioned the idea of setting up a business and Lauren remembers this conversation as a pivotal moment in her life. The whole idea just excited her.
“I really feel that everything that happens to me, happens for a reason, for learning or teaching or both and I feel that all the encounters that we have often have a message and that was a seed moment for me. I kept thinking about it you know, adding water and sunlight… I thought about it for years.”
“I started thinking about what’s missing here in Paris for me, what would I love to have myself and then I started thinking about customer service and the way people are treated and how arriving in a new country can be difficult and how the opportunity to make friends is often challenging. And you know….’I like nice!” It”s really important to me and I love this world of fragrance too where I have discovered so much about the senses and the influence of smells and aromas – so when I mixed these thoughts together the concept of pleasure became my focus.”
MLP: I remember when we first met you told me that you had seven clear goals, energies or feelings for how you wanted people to experience Free Persephone.
LC: Yes our values! There are 5 actually! It starts with our logo which looks like a flower but it’s actually Pomegranate seeds in a flower shape. And the idea was to have each petal as a value for us. One is smile! Which sounds obvious but it’s not as common as we might think. In the US smiling is a big part of our lives but not so much here in France.
I remember once when I was a student, I was in the South of France smiling to myself, which I do frequently, even now…and some boys stopped me and asked me why I was smiling, not in a mean or aggressive way! And I was so surprised!
We both laugh!
LC: I said to them, why shouldn’t I smile all the time but it was to them, unusual. To me, it shows your openness and it’s a signal to people that you are approachable!! So…smile is one.
The second one is ‘connect’, so we connect with people and create a shared and collaborative experience. We have ‘respect’ which is really important for our clients and in terms of the way my team interact. Linger is another. We are often so busy, rushing around and always connected in some way. We’re time poor and the idea of this space is to take your time. Sure there are places where you can get a quick manicure, a quick cup of tea but Free Persephone (FP), is about slowing down and experiencing hors du temps! It’s a pause..and you come to us for this wellbeing focused, pleasurable moment.
Finally ‘enjoy’, we want people to have a pleasurable time when they come, whether that’s relaxing, soaking up the environment, the aroma, everything…but there is also simplicity in the mix as well. Because often there are places that are very sophisticated and this can often be intimidating.
MLP: Yes but it’s not like that at all. FP isn’t particularly at the top end it’s accessible for all women, it mirrors all the things that a woman is looking for and I think every woman will feel as though it’s for her regardless of her background, her culture and economic status. There is still something in this experience that can benefit her and that’s affordable for her. That’s the impression that I get.
LC: Yes that is exactly it
Lauren explains her first steps following her decision to launch Free Persephone!
First, I spoke to my dad and told him that I had this project and I didn’t’ really know how to go about doing it, you know… actually making it happen, and he said to me…quoting from Alice in Wonderland “you start at the beginning and when you get to the end stop”
So taking that advice I decided to look at the marketplace first, to get a real feel for what the fragrance and spa market looked like.
I also started telling people! My favourite book is the War of Art and the author talks about resistance – this force that fights against you and tells you that’ you can’t achieve!’ What helps is putting it out there. Often when you put your good intentions out there positivity comes your way. Every time I have an issue…I put it out there, every time I wanna move forward with something I put it out there and something useful always comes back.
At the beginning, I tried to understand the different processes of the business. I did training. There is so much online information. I know you can’t be an expert in everything, but I wanted to get a base knowledge so I would be in a position to go and ask for help with regards to specific areas of business.
So with this knowledge and understanding, I was able to go and find experts whether it was at the Chambre de Commerce, or even amongst the people that I knew!
The next thing you have to do is your business plan. Mine took a while!”
MLP: How long was it?
LC: 65 pages plus another 80 for the brief to my architects and designers – admittedly I am a perfectionist.
MLP: How did you raise the money?
LC: I was a bit scared about the finance side of things because it’s not my strength but I was able to to use some of my own money and I also had some investment from friends and family. I got them together and talked about what I was doing and some offered advice, expertise, contacts or money.
After that, I was fortunate enough to be accepted into something called Reseau Entreprendre – a fantastic association here in France that supports entrepreneurs. You don’t have to be invited, you can apply to get in and they take about 35 projects per year. My Little Paris is just one example of a business they have supported. It’s a wonderful group; The entry process is a bit rigorous, you have one on one sessions where you meet all these experts and have to do a series of presentations.
MLP: Is it all in French?
LC: Yes it is! A lot of them do speak English too.
MLP: So you go through steps?
LC: So first of all, you have to present your business idea to their operational team. If they think it’s interesting they’ll bring you back in to look at your business plan to understand the numbers. If they want you to move forward you then present to 8 or so entrepreneurs to get their stamp of approval. It’s important that the person who is leading the project is believed to have the conviction to follow things through and make a project actually happen. That lead person has to be trusted.
“I started developing the idea in 2005/6…the secret to setting up a business, is that it takes a long time”
Through this group, you can get financing. You can get cash a loan, 0% interest and you get a set amount of time to pay it back. What’s fantastic is that they give you support and a network. They give you a mentor, someone who follows you for two/three years and meets with you every month and you also have access to meet with a group of successful entrepreneurs and exchange ideas and discuss challenges.
MLP: How long did it take from the idea of your business to actually getting the keys to the salon?
LC: About 8 years…it took a long time.
“We do kids massages”
MLP: It’s important that people understand what exactly you offer because there are so many manicurists and massage spaces in Paris, but you don’t call yourself either of those things, you call yourself a day spa and from what I understand you’re the only day spa in Paris! And I’m not too familiar with the ‘night spas” in Paris in order to create that differentiation!
LC: Laughs….(huge smile)…of course
LC: Before I clear that up for you, I just wanna tell you that our customers are from all walks of life and range from 5-85 years old! Mostly women for sure but I also have men who come in. We welcome girlfriends and families. I have mums who come in with their kids. Pregnant mums too and we have a space for children. We have services geared towards events, for parents, children and we really try and cater to all our clients’ needs.
LC: Why is called a Day Spa? Basically, the options here are small institutes, that focus on facials and epilations with one or two people (that’s about 80% of the market) and on the other end of the spectrum, you have very very large spas. I was looking for something in the middle. So we have a very generous size for an institute, you can move around there is plenty of space which is such a luxury….
MLP: So you have created a hybrid option that encompasses all of these things.
LC: In the States and London you are more likely to find day spas that are larger spaces and provide you with the opportunity to relax. It’s not a quick fix, you can take your time. In Free Persephone, you can sit in our rocking chair or take a tea and cake in our salon….
MLP: So what services do you offer specifically, just reel them off!
LC: Spa Manicure, Spa Pedicure and the reason I say spa is because – you don’t just get your nails done, we give you a massage, we give you advice, in the luxury version you can have a head massage. When we offer pedicures you sit in a lovely relaxing chair and have a leg massage. We do facials and a broad range of types; like the Japanese garden technique where you have a lifting massage. We provide Ocular (eye) reflexology which is rare in Paris, it’s a special massage of your head and the neck and once you start to relax we start on the face and by the end you feel as though you’ve had hours of sleep, we call it the dream garden…
MLP: I call that….what every mother needs…especially during the holidays! (we laugh)
LC: We have massages for mums to be so the mums aren’t lying on their stomach and we also have special treatments for mums who have just given birth. We lay mums on their side or seated over the bed so we consider that a new mum or mum to be might feel delicate or sensitive.
LC: We also have great services for children. Mini Princess manicures, mum and daughter beauty treatments. So you come in with your daughter and mums get to spend some time with their daughters usually for the kids up to 12yr olds. I had a French mum come in with her 3yr old and I asked the mum, “do you think she’ll sit still for that long” and the mum said yes, and she did and it was great. We also have vegan nail polish as well because we want to make sure that we have products that are the safest.
MLP: Wow, anything else?
LC: We do kids massages. The kids love it. Most kids loved to be touched and cuddled and this massage is really beautiful for little people – it’s for babies girls, boys. In fact, the first client we had for this treatment was a little boy. We also do workshops!
MLP: You offer so much! It sounds like you’re pretty flexible in terms of supplying whatever your clients really need.
LC: Yeah, some clients come in with a variety of needs and we offer a variety of solutions.
MLP: On top of all of this you have your own range of fragrances too?
LC: Yes I have four very different scents, each with a special aroma.
MLP: Your story is so impressive.
LC: I really didn’t do this alone. I had so much support. So many people helped me move forward and they are still doing it. This business really is a group effort.
Lauren gives words of encouragement
MLP: What advice would you give to people trying to make a business happen in Paris?
LC: Anything is possible. If you want to find out more about organisations that can help you like the one that helped me, there are lots of salons that hold annual events. You can also go the Chambre de Commerce or the CCIP which is over by Chatelet.
Also, one of the things about being an entrepreneur is that you can feel very alone at times. A ‘moment de solitude’ – and it’s important to meet other people going through the same experience as you – it helps you feel supported and bolstered.
Remember that “you don’t know what you don’t know”, so ask people questions all the time.
The internet these days is like drinking water from a firehose, take full advantage.
Put good energy into the world and you’ll get good energy out.
And in the words of my late father, don’t get phased, “Start at the beginning and when you get to the end…stop!”
Lauren Creecy is the founder of Free Persephone, 66 Boulevard Raspail, 75006, Paris. Telephone.01 42 22 13 04. Open – 7 pm Tuesday to Friday, Late til 9 pm on Thursday and 11 am – 5 pm on Saturdays. Now also open on Sundays from noon until 5 pm.
Hope you have been inspired by this post. Make 2017 your year and turn your dreams into a reality. Follow Mama Loves Paris on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for tips about Paris and subscribe to MLP too.
For another inspiring story , read how one woman set up her own restaurant in this city!
Live the dream!