Entrepreneur and spa founder
Born October 16, 1968, in Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada; daughter of Monty (a real estate agent) and Lorene Kilgore; married Thierry Boué (an executive); children: Louis. Education: Attended New York University, c. 1987-96, and the University of California at Los Angeles.
Addresses: Home —Brooklyn, NY. Office — BlissWorld, 75 Varick St., New York, NY 10013.
Worked as a waitress, aerobics instructor, and gymnastics coach in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada as a teenager, mid-1980s; personal trainer in New York City, c. 1987-92; opened Let's Face It!, a skin-care treatment center, New York City, 1993; opened Bliss Spa, New York City, 1996; sold stake in Bliss to LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, 1999; introduced product line and expanded to locations in California and the United Kingdom.
Marcia Kilgore is the founder of the extraordinarily successful chain of spas known as Bliss. From its modest Manhattan beginnings, Bliss expanded over the years to include locations on two continents as well as mail-order and Internet businesses that retail the Bliss product lines. Both her services and the skin-care items have lured a cult following, and the Canadian-born Kilgore has also been credited with bringing the spa concept into the modern era. "Until Bliss, day spas approached beauty as either quasi-medical alchemy, " wrote Time International 's Christine Shea, "or a ritual for aging matrons, with decors to match."
Born in 1968, Kilgore was the last of three daughters in her family, and started life in a small farm town called Outlook, in the Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan. The family eventually moved to Saskatchewan's largest city, Saskatoon, where Kilgore's father worked as a real estate agent, and then on to Edmonton and Calgary in the neighboring Alberta province. When their father died of cancer when Kilgore was 13, the girls moved with their mother back to Outlook before settling again in Saskatoon. Kilgore recalled this period as a time of grief and financial worries at home, as she told Jane O'Hara in an interview that appeared in Maclean' s. "It was devastating. Mom had to work and took the attitude that she was going to hold things together, but I remember saying to her, 'Don't worry, I'll get a paper route, I'll help, I'll hold it together.' I really wanted to work to make my mom feel better."
Kilgore was focused and goal-oriented even in her teens. She earned top grades at her Saskatoon high school, played in its school band, was involved in sports, and held jobs that ranged from gymnastics coach to waitress. A stint as an aerobics instructor led to an interest in bodybuilding, and she went on to win her province's middleweight women's title. When she applied for a car loan at the age of 16, the loan officer glanced over the work history she had submitted, and decided to approve her for credit without the necessary guarantee signature from her mother.
Kilgore brought that same drive to New York City, where she joined her sister, a moderately successful model, in 1987. Her intent was to enroll at Columbia University, but when her tuition aid was delayed, she decided to get a job instead and take classes on a part-time basis. She had little trouble finding work as a personal trainer, and built up a clientele that included some moderately wealthy and well-connected names, such as the singer Paul Simon. A few years later, when all her clients seemed to be out of town for the summer, Kilgore decided to take a skincare course at Christine Valmy, a Manhattan cosmetology institute. It was a personal matter: her skin had been prone to breakouts since her teen years, and she wanted to learn how to fix it herself. Her complexion "made me so self-conscious, " she told Rachel Cooke in a London Daily Telegraph interview. "It kinda haunted me through my teenage years."
At Valmy, Kilgore learned how to do facials and work with natural, plant-based remedies, and her skin improved. Others soon took notice, including her fitness clients, "so I began giving people facials at my apartment, and they just wouldn't go home, " told Cooke. "I had to get an office." In June of 1993, she went from a one-room studio to a business she called Let's Face It!. By this time she had a small staff, and the client list also grew. As a facialist, Kilgore gained a reputation for being able to heal blemished skin, and soon there was a seven-month waiting list at the front desk.
Forced to expand once again, Kilgore opened Bliss Spa in New York City's SoHo neighborhood in July of 1996. That same year, Vogue magazine mentioned her and the business, which brought even more clients. Celebrities like Madonna, Calvin Klein, Cindy Crawford, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Lopez were among the devotees of Kilgore's Triple Oxygen Facial and other Bliss-exclusive treatments. The company eventually lured a corporate suitor, too, in the form of luxury-goods conglomerate LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. In early 1999, LVMH bought a stake in Kilgore's company—an investment rumored to be around $30 million—but she remained in control as executive director. The access to capital, however, allowed her to enlarge the Bliss business with another Manhattan spa location.
Kilgore also launched a product line called Bliss-Labs, which featured her signature skin-care products as well as bath and body treatments, and this was followed by a cosmetics line. In late 2001, she opened BlissLondon, the company's first overseas venture. Bliss spas in Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles followed, and thousands of potential new spa visitors were spread out across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom thanks to the popular "Blissout" mail-order catalog, which had more than ten million subscribers.
Kilgore still wrote most of the lighthearted copy for the catalog herself, but the growing list of executive-related duties left her little time for giving facials any more. Her husband, Thierry Boué, is a former Shiseido executive who helps manage the Bliss business. They live in a renovated Brooklyn building, in a 14th-floor spread with spectacular skyline views, and have a son named Louis.
Kilgore never managed to finish her college degree, after having taken part-time courses all the way up to the point her first Bliss venture opened its doors in 1996. Back then, she was surviving on just a few hours of sleep for weeks on end, and realized she was woefully unprepared for one of her final exams. At that point, she dropped out. "If I had to decide what to do all over again, I would make the same choices, " she told Marie Claire about her stalled college degree. "I found by accident what I'm good at, and I'm glad I did."
Daily Telegraph (London, England), November 30, 2000, p. 25; July 2, 2002.
Global Cosmetic Industry , September 2003, p. 80.
Maclean's , February 14, 2000, p. 38.
Marie Claire , June 2005, p. 118.
New York Times , March 21, 1999.
Observer (London, England), November 19, 2000, p. 86.
People , September 22, 1997, p. 119.
Shop Etc. , September 2004, p. 188.
Time International , April 21, 2003, p. 49.
W , December 2001, p. 146.
"Have Taste, Will Travel—In Style, " E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/Gossip/Fashion/ TrendSpy/Archive2006/060218.html (February 22, 2006).
— Carol Brennan