Driving to the heart of the Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, direction One & Only Spa, I knew I was in for a treat, but who knew it would mean falling in love with my own two feet?
“The word ‘pedicure’ literally means the ‘cure’/ treatment of ‘pedi podos’/ feet in Greek. Today I will do what I love to call a ‘true PEDI:CURE’. I will cure your nails, I will cure your skin and then, the most important part for me, I’ll give you a foot and leg massage, where I’ll restore the skin and entire foot from the knee to the toes. All this should take about an hour. Depending entirely on your feet.”
Oh boy, I thought. Nothing good ever comes from depending on my feet. Besides a total collapse of both my bridges at 14, literally learning walk again at 15 and hiking like a whale ever since, they’ve never been very kind to me. I’ve had to make peace with the fact that I must never ever go shopping for shoes outside Europe, get excited about anything I see before I know they stock my size. Even then I should be careful, as a size 8 might miraculously fit in length, but not in width.
“You have a lovely skin. I know this because when I pinch the skin it separates easily and it is thick, because there is almost like a baby fat that protects it …”
I burst out laughing. “Babyfat? Wha! That is a kind way of putting it …”
“No, I’m serious, you want this baby fat. It is what will keep you young forever.”
He’s actually being serious.
“Coming to me is all about education. If you want to paint your nails there are a 100 places you can go and do it. I don’t really do that. I will do it at the end if you want, but the true PEDI:CURE from Bastien … that is something different.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I just don’t like my feet. I know your pedicures are world famous …”, I say.
“I don’t talk about famous …”
“Well, I know your pedicures are famous.”
He stares at me over my feet.
“Why do you think your pedicure gets so much media attention?”
“Because it is the true PEDI:CURE.”
“What is the true PEDI:CURE?”
“I just explained to you. The curing of feet.”
He looks at my toes and I hope he can look past the blue nail varnish chipping away on the sides after nearly a month. I’m afraid, to say that ‘my feet looked pretty rough’ would be an understatement. (In my defense, when I learnt about this interview with Bastien, I didn’t think it necessary to even bother doing anything after coming back from shooting in the Timbavati’s dust a few days prior.)
“I will fix this.” Ha! He actually looked convinced. “When women paint their nails a lot they have problems: nails get dry, discoloured and what do they do to fix it? They paint them again.”
“Yes.” Like me. “I know.”
“Out of 50 pedicures I did in 2014, 92% of the women said they will stop painting their nails, if they can always have them so naturally beautiful.”
There is something about the way this man holds my feet. Am I going to sound mad if I say that he seems to be talking to them?
“We are entering an evolution in the beauty industry. In the last thirty years, we went from beauty institutes, like the local little place where you can have a facial and a wax, to spas, where you want to lie down in a nice little bath robe and relax after your treatment, and now finally started going towards wellness. We’ve visited all the spas and all the beautiful places, but want more. Yes, we want to relax, but we want to change something of our face, of our bodies, our hands, feet, hair. We want direct results. And we want it driven by natural beauty.”
They weren’t kidding when they called him a visionary.
“If you look at the female surgery of the 80’s, 90’s and now, the way we do face lifts completely changed. It is more natural.”
“I talk about ‘wellness’, because I will cure your nails to their natural state. I will restore them to beautiful, natural nails. But feet are not only nails. Nowadays you do not talk about pedicures anymore, you talk about nails. You talk about nail artists, you talk about painting the nails … I’m not going to mention brands … you talk about gels …”
“We have a lot of men coming to see us, because men love the private rooms. This is not like a beauty area with a lot of people and flowers and whatever. The way I do my job is totally different, because we use this sterilised products.”
“It reminds me of a hospital.” I quickly swallow my words.
“A hospital is a very strong word.”
“Sometimes my sense of humour is strange.”
“Sometimes I’m not funny when I think I’m funny. I’m sorry, but those instruments do make me think of a hospital … ”
He is still not laughing, lost somewhere in translation. Or my Afrikaans accent. Or both.
“Or maybe the dentist”, it slips out before I can stop myself, “because it is so clean”, I add quickly.
He laughs. I think he knows I’m nervous. Thank goodness.
“Yes, it is clean. Almost like the dentist. Imagine, when you go to a normal nail boutique, how many times people have used the same nail file on others? This one is glass.” He holds out a glass file. “This is something I developed seven years ago. It can be sterilised.”
I smell antiseptic. He carefully starts cleaning my feet. Not missing an inch of skin or nail. To my surprise he starts working on dry skin.
“I won’t put your feet in water, because I want to know exactly where the problems are. If I put your feet in water I will over moisturise the skin and I will not know exactly where it is. I want to be sharp, I want to be precise.”
“So, as you can see your nails now … take a picture … the yellowness, the dryness of the nails … can you get that?”
My shutter clicks. I’m not sure if any one of the shots are in focus.
“Okay, now give me 20 minutes and I will fix it.”
Clip, clip, clip as he cuts my nails. I notice that the one big toe’s nail broke badly and I again feel even self-conscious.
“Do you have a thing with feet if you see them in public?”
“Like a foot fetish you mean?”
“No, not really. I mean if you see someone on the street with … someone whose feet look like mine do now …”
He laughs louder, as if he’s getting a joke that I’m not.
“I see much, much worse here at the end of every summer. Flip-flops are the worst things you can wear.”
I wear flip-flops all the time.
“They are not really shoes, they are soles. They are not properly built. A flip-flop is basically a sole that will slap your back heals all day long until they compact the fatty cushions into calluses to a point, where you can even crack the skin.”
Yikes. That is me. All the time.
“I love wearing flip-flops”, I decide to confess.
“Well, you are not too bad, actually.”
I’m not that bad, I’m not that bad, I’m not that bad!
“Secondly, you lock the toes to hold onto those things. Flip-flops are really not good. Sandals, like yours, with a little strap at the back, will be be fine because you have tension on all 26 bones in your feet with every step.”
I’m really not that bad, I’m really not that bad, I’m really not that bad!
“It is time for the … eh … dentist drill.” He smiles. I think he’s forgiving me for comparing his studio to the Chair of Pain. “It turns 30,000 turns in one minute. It is very fast and very powerful. It will help me to clean the top layer of the nails – the yellowness from the pigment in varnish. Even clear varnish, like beige, will have a pigment that, like an acid, will burn the nails and discolour them.”
Despite wearing blue nail varnish and arriving with dirty feet at the one of the world’s most famous pedicure studios … I’m really, really not bad!?
“So what I’m doing now is I’m cleaning the top layer – you see old the nail dust? – to restore the natural colour on your nails.”
Click, click, click. I see the dust through my 85 mm of glass. I’m starting to entertain the idea of actually not being bad at all, so I bravely set the aperture to 1.2, hoping that at least one shot will be perfectly in focus.
“I didn’t know that one can study … what did you call it?”
“Pedicure Medical. Pedicure Podologue.”
“In France specifically or is there a place in South Africa, where you can also …”
“No, it does not exist here. I bought it to South Africa. We have people flying in from all around Africa to have their feet fixed. We have a really successful spa, which nobody really understands …”
It sounds like an electric razor, it feels like a delicate sander sanding the soles of my feet …
Click, click, click.
I decide to continue braving a super shallow depth of field.
“Now, the second drill head has an even lighter grain. This is lighter than lighter, the purest definition for buffing a nail. I will use four grains on the different drill heads to get it perfectly smooth.”
Click, click, click.
Please let at least one picture be in focus …
“This amazing process was inspired by my great grandmother. She was not a pedicurist or a manicurist. She was just a charming, beautiful, elegant, 92 year old French lady. I went to see her, because I used to love speaking to her about her amazing life, and found her sitting by herself, watching TV, buffing her nails. I asked her what she was doing – she was 92 so I didn’t rule out that she might already be a little bit coo-coo – and, looking at me as if it were obvious, said she was buffing her nails to have beautiful nails.”
“What impressed me as a Podiatrist was not really the shine, but the health of her nails. The concept of buffing the nails is like the treatment of nails. Because you accelerate the blood circulation, oxygens and nutrients stream to the nail bed, literally keeping it alive.”
“Out of this and my Pedicure Medical, I started to develop my technique, but it was only when a fantastic Osteopath in Paris taught me how to understand the feet in three dimensions and massage the legs – using more than rubbing or reflexology – that I finally put together what I love to call, as I said in the beginning, ‘true PEDI:CURE’. Curing the feet.”
The pride in his smile is contagious. I like this man, I realized. Nothing is more likeable than passion.
“Just as makeup is not a facial, what people do around the world today is not really a pedicure. It is what we call in France “Beauté des Pieds”, foot beauty. I implemented medical knowledge into the pedicure. Science will evolve the spa of tomorrow.”
He attaches the last of the four drill heads and calls the final grain the ‘Mother of Pearls’. After applying a thin layer of cream on each nail, he begins to clean again.
“This is what I call my magic cream. You always need a little bit of magic in beauty. That is what makes people come back. But, as I am not a magician, I will tell you what it is.”
The buffing stops. It. Is. Incredible.
“I’m not painting them for as long as they stay like this,” I say.
“Guess for how long they will stay like this?”
“I don’t know. I’ll send you an email. I think a month? More?”
“If you’re a good girl …”
“ … and I buff my nails like your great grandmother?” I smile at him.
“How many times in your life have you dried your toenails after a shower?”
Who dries their toe nails?
“Well, if you do so they will stay like that forever.”
He’s not even joking.
“Ok, I believe you. I like learning new things. Life, I think, is all about learning.”
“But to learn, you need to learn to listen. People don’t know how to listen anymore.”
“What do you think our feet will say to us if we heard them?”
It is my turn to not be joking.
“The moment you take your shoes off at night, I’d like you to take care of your feet. I’d like you to focus on them in the evening, as its easier to have a little private moment. How you treat your feet tells me a lot about you and how you consider yourself from head to toe. Feet are bad only from a neglecting. And from bad pedicures, unfortunately.”
“Is it really so bad for your nails to be varnished?” As much as I like my new feet, I struggle with the idea of never painting my nails again. It’s kind of my thing.
“How long do you leave your nail varnish on for?”
“Well, when I got here my toes had the blues for over a month.”
“Most of my regular clients do not paint their nails anymore. Of course sometimes they’re going out, wearing open shoes and want their nails to match, but they keep it on for a maximum of three days. It depends on the party, I always say. If the party is good, you stay awake for days wearing the same outfit. If the party is bad, you go home and take it off. And you move on. That’s just my philosophy.”
When Bastien started stretching the muscles in my legs, straightening them joint by joint, until I became a marionette, at long last untangled, bouncing joyously out of her skin, landing on heels of cushioned air.
“Hello there feet,” I say as his hands lift from my feet and I open my eyes. “Look at you! I promise to take care of you.”
“Yes, you must. They are yours.”
PS: I thought to partly write this post in ‘ze Frènch accent’ as ‘eet iz ze languidge of ze classics, and et iz ze languidge of luv’ in any story, isn’t it?
BASTIEN’S TOP 5 FEET TIPS
- Massage your feet every evening, from below the knees to the toes, and not just from below the ankle. Take it as seriously as you would brushing your teeth. A minimum of 5 seconds for your toes, arch, heel and ankle to knee respectively. Nothing less than 20 seconds per foot in total.
- Brush the sides of the nails with a dedicated toothbrush twice a week after bathing/showering. Never push dead skins on the side of the nail into the nail bed and never force cuticles back over the nail exterior as this will inflame them and turn them into calluses.
- Apply oil to nails and cuticles daily. Bastien believes in the combination of Apricot oil, Arnika and Zinc and fused it into a great product. Remember it is Zinc, and not Calcium, that keeps the various layers of the nail together over the bed.
- Always sprinkle Talcum powder in your shoes to control moisture and inflammation.
- Buff your skin with a course scrub a minimum of 2 to 3 times a week, but no more. I also prefer scrubbing above filing as scrubbing work in three dimensions, you massage your feet at the same time and filing on one plane can be very aggressive. You also massage at the same time.
… and out of these five tips, if there is one you need to do and only one, it is the massage at night. If you are not married yet, but you are planning to – like I say to my clients – put it in the contract: foot massage every night!
WORDS AND PICTURES © DARÉLL LOURENS
a MANI:PEDI:DUO AT BASTIEN’s STUDIO ONE & ONLY CAPE TOWN.
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WINNER NOTIFIED VIA EMAIL ON 20 JULY 2016