Watch This Space – Part 3: The Future of the Spa
In the conclusion to our three-part dive into the spa industry, we speak with Jason Harler who is an integral part of the modern wellness revolution since it began. For instance, he developed the concept of the Standard's spa hotel with Andre Balazs and Shawn Hausman in Miami, and the Boca Chica bath house spa in Acapulco. As he’s travelled the world in search of the ideal spa, we sit with him to chat about his ideal experience and the one thing future spas need to succeed.
What do you believe is the role of spa-going in modern society? Is the experience an escape? A reboot?
The beauty of bathing is that it can be anything you want it to be. At its heart, it’ll always be about a communion with the essential elements, water and fire. Without water and fire, there’s no life. It’s important to remember every once in a while what a blessing it is that in our postmodern age we’re able to bath in hot and cold water – privately ¬¬– at the turn of a dial. To me, even the simplest of bathrooms is an opulent, magical, transformational experience waiting to unfold. I think bathing is a doorway to a better self.
How has the bathing experience evolved over time? What’s been the most significant change?
The big contrast we see in modern times versus pre-modern times, let’s say before the late-18th century and on into the 19th, would be the singular Victorian shift towards individual cleanliness and sanitation as the primary reason to bathe, as opposed to the ancient, sybaritic global rituals of communing in water, sweating, and purification, blessing, magic, cleansing of not just the body, but the mind and soul as well. In the early 19th century, bathing got linked with “using the bathroom” and slowly, surprise surprise, the romance dried up for us all. Meanwhile, an obsession with sanitation pulled the plug on all our communal bathing spots.
What are the milestones of the modern bathing experience in America?
I think it’s all the unique ways we get to authentically sample from the greatest bathing traditions of the world. From the late ’60s until now, we’ve seen sweating, communal bathing, hot-tubbing, hot springing, native sweats, saunas, banyas, and onsen – all of it – come online into mass culture in America. Each decade has seen a shift in focus for which style is most popular, but in general it’s been a continuous re-emergence of the art of bathing as an elegant and powerful way we can reconnect to ourselves, each other, and our place here in the world and in nature.
Why have spas become such a significant economy?
In the ’90s, spas were a big part of leading what has now emerged as a much larger 3.7 trillion-dollar global industry centered around wellness and holistic living. The more New Age spa/bathing, yoga, human potential, and natural beauty movements of the late ’80s and ’90s spawned the green and social-impact entrepreneur movements, which lead right into the global seed-to-plate movement. That dovetails nicely into the maker movement and all of it is nicely housed within the dynamic world of what I call “living artfully or holistically” or simply put, “consciously.” It’s a global movement toward people taking ownership of their lives back on every level, the seeds of which were planted in the early 20th century by the American Transcendentalists like Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau, which then germinated in the ’60s and is blooming beautifully now. Spa and bathing equates to holistic health and preventative self-care. It’s step one in taking better care of and knowing your own body and mind. While it can be completely magical, sensual, and opulent it’s always intrinsically practical and necessary for a long healthy and happy life.
“It’s not about finding yourself anymore. It’s about creating yourself.” — George Bernard Shaw.
What makes a spa stand out?
A bathhouse is essentially public. When people think that there’s some kind of business model for “high-end” luxury version bath houses, I have to laugh. Bathing is always about everyone getting on the same, albeit maybe elevated, level with the sensuality of the environment, outside of our daily grinds and things that separate us. I love places with fine finishes and great beauty built in, but the places that stand out for me most are always the places where everyone feels welcome. I think Liquidrom in Berlin stands out for me as an urban bath house like that, at least when I went in 2002, it was all shapes and sizes, colors and genders and sexualities getting totally naked and enjoying the very well-curated atmosphere and culture as only the Germans seem to do best. I think we captured that welcoming spirit of play beautifully with The Standard Miami.
What’s your perfect spa experience?
When you can really experience water in all its forms, from hot and steamy to cold and crisp, soaking, sweating, scented, beautifully lit, thoughtful and delicious food and drinks and of course good company. When it all comes together, it can truly transform. Many modern places forget the cold dips and quiet spaces, because of expense or what not, and cold is absolutely essential. The cold is what gives the heat its tonic effect. No cold, less physiological transformation. We are in an age where water is only going to become more and more of a resource to guard and care for. More communal bathing could be an interesting solution. A good bathhouse should reawaken the sense of sacredness, luxury, and blessing that simply taking a hot bath really is.
What do you believe is the future of the bathing experience?
For me, it’s about letting the bath become truly creative playtime. Taking the everyday utility of it and placing that need into a larger context of creating a curated temporal space for inspiration, reconnection, community, and of course play, play, play. To me, this attitude is about honoring the power of water and not taking it for granted like we tend to do most days. The revolution could be that everyone truly appreciates and preserves the powerful beauty and deeply nourishing health benefits of that simple hot and cold shower and “bathroom” space they have in every home. It’s incredible to think that we all have access to such an essential life transforming resource that we just completely take for granted.
Words by The Editors and Jason Harler.