Testosterone not allowed: London's first private women’s club
I’ve just entered Grace Belgravia, London’s first private members club for women only.
It’s a discreet black doorway in London’s swish Belgravia and already I'm feeling slightly self-conscious.
This was probably not the intention of club founder Kate Percival; one of Grace’s aims is to "take the stress out of daily life," and the club is dedicated to "empowering and nurturing women."
But I'm not the target clientele.
For starters, I can’t afford the $8,330 annual membership fee (plus a $3,000 one-off joining fee), nor the lifestyle or wardrobe that one might want to show off in this kind of establishment.
The club opened late last year to great fanfare -- partly, I imagine, to do with the fees, glamour-tinged services (they’ll help you arrange private appointments with top fashion designers for bespoke fittings) and chic facilities.
But mostly owing to the testosterone-free environs.
Women-only clubs are on the rise.
"There’s been a paradigm shift, which means that, increasingly, women are seeking out other women’s company," says Percival. "It’s not that they don’t love their husbands and partners, but they often have deeper conversation with women than men."
"Women spend their lives multi-tasking, always putting family and work before their own health," adds Percival. "They are bad at actually making time to take stock, usually feeling guilty about having 'me' time and giving themselves breathing space.
"Grace was created to put the best of the best under one roof. I wanted to create a place where women could come and feel cared for and be intellectually stimulated."
Members come to socialize and attend events. Sir Richard Branson’s mother, Eve, gave a talk recently, as did Naomi Wolf.
But most are drawn by the spa, gym, restaurant, lounge, food delivery service (for $60 a day you can have vegan delights on tap), the services of a celebrity hair stylist and a medical center headed by apothecary to the Queen, Dr. Tim Evans.
It's a world away from the fusty, cigar-fumed, whisky-clinking, darkened corridors that dominate the perceptions of men’s clubs.
In fact, it feels like the pages of Vogue come to life, all chic, cool grays and neutrals (except for the gym, which is nightclub dark), occasionally injected with warmth and friendliness.
I’m greeted by an "Angel" -- every client has her own, a cross between a personal assistant and a shoulder to cry on.
She's sweet, American, elegant in a white blouse and black skirt, looks fresh out of college, but later, I learn, has worked for a hedge fund and studied for a Masters in Art Business at Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
Even the help is a cut above.
She sits me down and hovers over me while I sign a confidentiality agreement, so I can’t name-drop about members.
Then I'm whisked around for a tour of the premises.
We walk through an immaculate atrium, lined with expensive art. The artist on display when I visit is Ewa Batchelier and her paintings can be bought for around $5,300 each.
There’s an atelier, posh-speak for a designer boutique, a gym that's populated by model-gorgeous male trainers (there’s an incentive to join), a dance and yoga studio and the spa.
The therapists use high-end and organic beauty brands, like ila, the holy grail of holistic treatment junkies.
On the "Massage by Our Masters" list, there's something called Integrative therapy and it costs $1,500 for 240 minutes.
I’m pointed in the direction of an anti-ageing Henri Chenot facial ($219 for an hour) and the therapist is a sweetie, no airs or graces.
I emerge an hour later, floating.
The Medical Centre, the one bit of the club open to non-members, is impressive.
Among the roster of experts on call are a cardiologist, dermatologist, nutritionist, psychotherapist, plastic surgeon, acupuncturist and women’s health therapist.
So who are the dames who grace Grace? Who gets the golden pass?
"The club is for impressive women who recognize that they’re fallible and need support; it’s not for spoilt women who are looking for a place to have lunch," says Percival. "I want these women to leave their egos at the door and be nurtured by the space and facilities that Grace offers."
Females who work in law, banking, art, media, medicine, telecommunications and fashion are among the club’s members. No footballers’ wives here.
The majority are Brits, followed by American and Italians.
Men aren’t completely verboten: on Tuesdays and Thursdays, male guests are allowed in for drinks or dinner, and on Sundays for brunch, though they’re strictly barred from using the spa and fitness facilities.
So, hard luck fellas, you’ll have to head elsewhere for your modern metrosexual needs.
Grace Belgravia, 11C W. Halkin St., London; +44 (0) 207 235 8900