Some call Oak Street a street of dreams, Chicago's low-rise, high-fashion block of elegant boutiques at the northern tip of Michigan Avenue. The place to find Armani, Hermes, Versace, Rykiel and Pratesi among other shops and spas, it is home to the skin care star in Oaks's fashion square, Mila Bravi.
Always the stop for international fashionables, including Cindy Crawford and Goldie Hawn, Mila Bravi's Face & Facial Salon is also frequented by Chicago's own celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey. This is in addition to some 30,000 women and men who have come to her over the years with every skin type and skin problem. Leading newspapers and magazines extol her, including Harper's Bazaar (which named Mila Bravi Chicago's best skin salon), Vogue and Town & Country, among other publications. She also has appeared on local and national TV and radio. With a staff of seven, her business this year is enjoying a 35 percent growth in sales.
Using the most sophisticated state-of-the-art equipment available and techniques she has accumulated from years of worldwide study, Mila has designed a specialized method of creating a unique program for every client. Because of her work correcting teenage acne and problem skins, rejuvenating mature skin and treating post-plastic surgery patients, she has earned the respect of dermatologists, doctors, cosmetic chemist and trainees.
Learning from the Start
Mila is a consummate professional, whose daily hands-on experience and desire to learn has led to constant growth since she first came to America in 1975. That desire was born back in the former Soviet Union, when as a young girl she began to study with a legendary aesthetician in Odessa.
Excelling in her studies at the Medical Institute of Odessa for three years, she went on to the Academy of Beauty Therapy for two years. Through lengthy studies of anatomy, biology, chemistry and physics, she became more intent on discovering, developing and maintaining beauty for people she dreamed of helping.
A fellowship to the Moscow Institute of Beauty enabled her to specialize in the physiological and cosmetic rehabilitation of the skin. She worked directly with plastic surgeons at the Moscow Medical Center. But, change was in the wind and on her mind.
After more than 16 years of intensive study and practice in Russia; Mila, her husband, Mark, and their daughter, Katherine, immigrated to America. Mila quickly earned cosmetology licenses in Florida and Illinois, where she was hired by a top Chicago salon and established a strong following.
At the peak of Mila's new success, the salon owner decided to leave town. Armed with the training that few in the business ever acquire, and a growing list of clients who needed her, Mila now dared to strike out on her own.
With her husband's help and encouragement, the first Face & Facial opened. It offered European-style skin care, specializing in deep skin problem therapy and rejuvenation a mature skin. Today, the salon has grown to include body massage, corrective manicures, whirlpool pedicures, pre-surgery and post-operative skin treatment, make-up camouflage, and contouring, as well as expert techniques for everyday make-up application.
Face & Facial Comes Alive
In the multi-level salon, each room is serenely private with lighting and noise control assuring a pampered atmosphere. Contemporary and beautiful, the clinic is decorated in pink with soft, indirect lighting and accents of polished chrome. The reception room is no the second level, along with treatment rooms and the light and airy make-up section. On the third level, body massage and therapy, and manicures and pedicures are offered.
Bravi's client list reads like a celebrity Who's Who. A few include: actresses Lily Tomlin, Diane Lane, Jessica Lange, ballerina Natalia Makarova, model Iman, actors Dolph Lungren and John Herrera. Goldie Hawn flew her personal masseuse to town to watch (and learn!) facial massage techniques while Bravi gave Hawn her facial. Noted fashion photographer Victor Skrebneski regularly sends his subjects to Bravi before their photo shoots. But keeping the beautiful people looking beautiful is only half the challenge; she considers equally important her value to leading plastic surgeons. She is a partner to top dermatologists who value her professional skills.
Her hands-on experience and world travels helped her formulate the line of 45 products that carry the Milbra name. Even with her strong background in biochemistry and cosmetic chemistry, and though she had come to the United States armed with more than 500 formulas for different skin care products, she soon learned that regulations forbid hand-mixing products in her lab setting. So she enlisted the assistance of a team of international research chemists, most notably a cosmetic chemist who had worked for 30 years for a famed French cosmetic company. Voila: Milbra!
Focusing on natural plant and flower essences, her botanical skin products also contain pure plant extracts, trace minerals, essential oils, sea vegetables and other therapeutic ingredients from the earth and sea.
Mila's aim was to combine the European methods with botanical therapy, live cell therapy and detoxification through seaweed. Her research in specialty treatment products from France, Italy and Austria was further amplified by updated research on ancient beauty care in Hong Kong.
Not only was Mila interested in Eastern principles in mental relaxation and inner balance, but she incorporated aroma therapeutic use of plants with special medicinal values. Among ingredients in her line are lecithin, sea algae, squalane, geranium, sage, lime, mandarin orange, cucumber, comfrey, honey, eggs, camphor, elastin, volcanic ask, mink oil, aloe Vera, almonds, chamomile, lavender, rosemary and royal jelly. She was an early advocate of biological extracts in ampule from containing embryonic fluid, placental extract, elastin complex, bee pollen and mucoplysaccharides.
One of Mila's goals is to urn around "the fact that many dermatologists don't know what role aestheticians play; the best recognized that we can't do without them, and they cont do without us. When it is accepted procedure that dermatologist and plastic surgeons bring together their skills with those of the aestheticians, then this will be the best country in the world for skin care," she says.
She also believes that organizing the industry to raise and uphold higher standards for certification and licensing can go a long way toward gaining more acceptances from dermatologists.
She hires only experienced aestheticians for staff positions at Face & Facial, and has developed her own training manual that painstakingly details techniques and client relations.
Her sensitive personal touch has been as essential key to her success. Immaculate records are kept for every client, tracking treatments and product applications. "Each woman is different, but all have a right to be beautiful, to feel beautiful," she says. "Beauty is comprised of the physical health of the skin and hair, body fitness, a sense of style, and most important, self esteem."
In the United States, Mila says, "skin care started only twenty or so years ago, a small field. But professionals, Baby Boomers, are savvy about knowing that going to work means looking good. Not only skin care, but several industries are working for them; they know that, too. And they understand what I am doing, and how and why my business is so much a part of their time."
The point, according to Mila, is that "they learned it's not just a question of make-up, but individual skin care, what they didn't learn as teenagers, even though they may have visited a dermatologist. Now, finally, they learn that dermatology and aesthetics work together to create better skin, simple as that. What they've known about in Europe for decades."
"My focus is deep-pore cleansing for every skin, though many aestheticians reserve this only for problem skin. Another reason we should expand aesthetic education. Ideally, one should learn all the time."
Mila feels that the best aestheticians combine many talents. "You must be a good nutritionist and hygienist. Simultaneously, you should be an expert on beauty, a psychiatrist and a teacher. You should have knowledge of dermatology and plastic surgery.
"I remember attending a congress in Paris, learning while I watched plastic surgeons doing certain procedures. Studying cosmetic camouflage at the Christian Chaveau School made it possible for me to help hundreds of plastic surgery patients.
"You must be a color expert and a fashion expert, and you must be able to work with all ages, men, and people of all skin colors. In other words, you must be a sociologist.
Helping the Community
In addition to serving her avid clientele and world-wide-mail-order business, Mila enjoys traveling. In her constant quest for improving her procedures, she has collected a vast library. She makes media and public appearances, lectures at educational institutions and serves at community events. A member of the Skin Care Association in Europe and the United States, and the International Association of Aestheticians, Mila nevertheless has turned down serving on several boards because, "frankly, my clients come first."
Still there is what she calls her "invisible work: preparing and training many who now have gone on to teach my methods in other salons. That is my contribution, as well as educating my clients. They may say they have just come to relax, but I want more: they must know how to recognize results. When my clients come now, they ask questions, and that is good. I really believe it's not enough for people to buy beauty products; they have to be educated in how to use them properly."
Mila flashes her warm smile. "I long for the day when every women, man and teenager regards facials and body care as a necessary part of day-to-day maintenance, just like brushing your teeth or washing your hair. The science of aesthetics is one of our fastest growing industries; it belongs right up next to the booming hair and nail care industries. My dream is helping to put it up there."
She's making that dream come true. On Oak Street, surrounded by exclusive shops, hers is the clear voice that says, "Skin care is a necessity, not a luxury. There is no magic formula. To be beautiful and to stay beautiful takes perseverance and discipline." And more than a bit of Mila Bravi.