A treat for the feet at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park

“Bastien Gonzalez? He does the best pedicure in the world!”. So exclaimed a friend of mine, when I told her I had booked a treatment at London’s Mandarin Oriental to see the renowned Prince of Podiatry.

Pedicures, for most of us, are about prettifying our feet and embellishing our toes with a pop colour –in other words, we regard salon treatments focused on this, the southernmost point of our bodies, as purely cosmetic. More often than not, we like to sit back and let the beauty therapist get on with the business of scraping, scrubbing, clipping and painting without a second thought.

But Bastien is all about caring for feet and making your nails look fabulous without the use of nail varnish – although he’s happy to apply nail lacquer as long as you promise to take it off in three days so that your nails can ‘breathe’ again. “You take your make-up off; so you should take nail varnish off too,” is one of his long-held claims.

Bastien is, by his own admission, a foot fanatic. He claims that he and his 50-strong team (he selects and trains every member) performed over 60,000 of his signature pedicures last year, which is no surprise given that he counts salons in over 50 luxury locations worldwide, from Hong Kong’s Landmark Hotel to the Mandarin Oriental in Taipei.

He leads a peripatetic lifestyle: he flies long haul to exotic locations to keep on top of his ever-burgeoning business every other month, plus he also visits regular clients in New York, London, Paris every four weeks. “If you book in advance, you can get appointment with me here [in London] but in New York, forget it!”, laughs the Frenchman, adding, “[US clients] like to have the same slots every month, so my diary is always back-to-back when I am over there.”

Bastien looks more like a well-groomed city banker than a chiropodist: today’s he’s wearing a crisp white shirt, tucked into grey trousers and Berlutti shoes. “I like very well made things,” he says. “I love beautiful shoes and I have a number of fine watches that I started collecting in my twenties. But the problem is, I also love millefeuilles!” he laughs, pointing to his pleasantly curved stomach.

Bastien’s stratospheric success – the 45-year-old has beautified the feet of countless A-listers, royals and VIPs, though he won’t disclose names– has everything to do with his charisma as well as his technique. He has an infectious laugh and an easy attitude that sets him apart from the otherwise clinical world of pedicures.

Bastien’s interest in foot care began literally by accident: he had a skiing mishap on the slopes as a young man and had to undergo rehabilitation to help him walk again. His time with a specialist podiatrist piqued his interest in the discipline and as a result, the Frenchman decided to study the subject at university. In 1997, aged 24, Bastien opened his first podiatry clinic on the prestigious Place des Vosges in Paris, where he served a well-heeled (pun intended) clientele who liked his unfussy and sympathetic approach to medical chiropody.

Bastien soon realised that while there were plenty of hair salons and beauticians specialising in body care, there was no one in the luxury sphere that was really looking after feet; no-one pivoting the area between pampering and wellbeing. He began to garner a celebrity following thanks to his friend, the hotelier Jean-Louis Costes, who set him up at his eponymous hotel in rue Saint-Honoré, where he would give pedicures to top models who were keen to know how to look after their feet themselves – this was a time before ‘wellness’ became such a buzzword.

Thanks another hotelier friend, the South African business magnate Sol Kerzner, Bastien went on to open pedi-spas in a number of his One&Only luxury hotels including one on Hayman, a private island located at the heart of the Great Barrier Reef and another in Cape Town. The Bastien Gonzalez Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio at the Mandarin Oriental is the first of its kind in the UK.

The pedicure itself

Unlike most pedis, this begins with the absence of water. According to Bastien, water softens the skin too much which can result in removing excess skin. He clips nails square and rounds the corners using a glass nail file that he has specially developed. “It is very important to have a consistent grain as you file your nails, otherwise you cannot have uniformity and this can lead to problems.”

Next he ‘exfoliates’ the tops of nails with a specially-developed dentist’s drill. Squeamish readers rest assured, this is a very light and delicate procedure; there is nothing invasive or painful about this stage of the pedi. At worst, you may become ticklish.

Bastien then fastidiously buffers each nail using a hard grain buffer and then a soft one; this is followed by his signature ‘high shine’ treatment inspired by a technique learned from his grandmother: he applies his own mother-of-pearl cream to the toes and polishes the nails using a Chamois leather nail buffer. At this point your nails look brand new or to quote the man himself: “This is when you look down and you see the perfect feet you had as a child.”

The pièce de résistance is the deep tissue massage which he performs from foot to just behind the knee. “The massage is to restore mobility, improve skin elasticity and increase blood circulation. I also ‘refluff’ the fatty cushions of the feet. I know every single bone and ligament in the foot and pay special attention to these, which is why you feel so light footed after the massage.”

And how much does this restorative pedicure cost? £140 or £210 for a combined mani-pedi treatment. “My pedicures are about sharing my ‘savoir faire’ and if you look after your feet and follow my advice, you don’t need to come and see me very often, if at all!”, he says. “My work is about understanding how to prolong the wellness of your feet, that’s always been my main objective.”

Given the end results (shiny new feet indeed) along with his unerring hard work and palpable passion for foot care, Bastien well deserves his title of Best Pedicurist in the World. Let him eat (millefeuille) cake!

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