A Manalapan Day spa and its 70-strong staff offer a universe of advanced beauty treatments
by Jessica Jones-Gorman Photos By Amessé Photography
As a child, Luda Conti developed a passion for beauty from her grandmother, who would pluck natural ingredients from her own backyard and mold them into holistic creams and natural beauty products. It was a simple ritual, which, for Conti, reinforced the importance of beauty and skincare at every age. And when she came to the United States from Russia at the age of 18, she brought a dream of using those skills and forging a career in the beauty industry with her.
“She followed the wishes of her parents and attended school for computer programming, taking a job with IBM for a short time, but it just wasn’t what she wanted to do with her life,” noted Tasha Masi, general manager of Avanti, the Manalapan Day Resort that Conti eventually built from scratch. “So she opened her first salon in East Brunswick when she was all of 20 years old, with the purpose of bringing skincare and spa treatments to an area where they were not yet popularized. After much success, she founded Avanti in 1997.”
The concept behind the business, located in the Design Center Plaza on Route 9, was to bring a world-class spa to a section of the state that was sorely lacking one.
“In Italian, Avanti means ‘keep going… always moving forward,’” Masi said. “And that was exactly what Luda wanted to do. She wanted to bring the best of the best— all of the new trends, technologies, and services to a corner of New Jersey that had never seen anything like this before. She basically wanted to place a city-type spa setting right here, while remaining a pioneer in the business, offering all of the industry’s top trends and innovations.”
The salon started small, occupying one storefront, then two, before branching out to encompass 13,000 square feet of retail space. And what started as a hair and nail salon slowly grew to offer massages, facials, and a full lineup of spa services.
“When she opened up here, it was basically just a salon,” Masi said. “Then she acquired another storefront and reserved that space for a few massage or facial rooms. She tore down the back of the shopping center and then had seven, eight, then nine treatment rooms to work with. The space and her business just continued to grow.”
Then in 2007 while Conti and her husband Victor were in Italy at an industry trade show, shopping for new ways to further expand their business, a fire consumed most of the business.
“It was devastating,” Masi said. “But Luda pledged to rebuild.”
After months of development and construction, Avanti was reintroduced as an updated day resort in February of 2008.
“Luda designed the space as a very loungey, relaxing atmosphere,” Masi explained. “Her main concept was texture: she wanted people to look at the walls and want to touch them, which is exactly what happens whenever someone walks in and sees the stone wall at our entrance.”
There’s a waterfall too, as well as glass flooring, glistening chandeliers in the pedicure room, and skylights over the color bar to allow for optimal natural lighting for the colorists’ work. A tranquility lounge features a wide screen television and fireplace.
“The salon is very bright and white with dark wood flooring and handmade chandelier coverings that Luda designed herself, creating the perfect, naturally lit atmosphere for stylists and clients to view hair color and cuts,” Masi said. “And the spa is very subdued, drenched in shades of dark gold and rich red, which makes for a tranquil and relaxing setting for guests.”
There’s a Nail Emporium, an Executive Retreat for Men, complimentary café, concierge services, and boutique. And all of the art and architecture featured in the Day Resort was specifically commissioned for the space. Conti has built an impressive lineup of services too: her spa menu features rare treatments and technologies, some of which are the very first of its kind in the nation.
“Our Rasul Chamber, for example, is certainly the first on the East Coast,” Masi said, describing a treatment room inspired by the cleansing rituals of the ancient harems. “It is treatment for one to four people, mainly frequented by couples, which takes place in our private mud room made from European blue and green tile. The ceiling of the Rasul is a dome shaped starry sky which releases soft rain. Upon entering, couples apply different colored wet earths to specific parts of the body, then the lights dim and the starry sky of our dome creates a planetarium of relaxation. A multi-jet standing Vichy shower comes next, and the experience ends with a butter crème massage or butter crème flotation ritual.”
There’s also Ear Candling, Thermo fango, Slimming Algae treatments, and an Ionithermie Series, which involves the use of a hand-held device which transmits two gentle forms of low-level stimuli through a body mask of conductive clay. The treatments have proven to provide immediate inch loss, circulation boost, and lymph drainage, plus it can cleanse at a cellular level and tone and firm underlying muscles.
“These services de-stress and detoxify,” Masi explained. “Many are only offered in Europe, but Luda brought them here.”
Conti has also filled her spa with special technologies: each massage room is equipped with water tables direct from Italy (which soak clients in warm heated waters) and chromotherapy treatments are also available. It’s services like these that have earned Avanti an array of impressive awards, including placement in Elle magazine’s top 100 Salons in America.
“The awards are wonderful, but the family atmosphere that Luda has created here is really what shines,” said Masi. “We have a staff of about 70, but our team is made up of this very close-knit group, and that is what really makes the salon and spa a success.”
The business’s current focus includes color melting techniques like Balayage and Ombre as well as hair and lash extensions. Bridal makeup is also a priority, and extensive training and education classes are ongoing.
“The main philosophy at Avanti Day Resort, which will never get old, is taking care of your health, beauty, and wellness,” Masi concluded. “Our hair and skin are our best assets, and if you continue to take care of them, it shows. Our job is to offer services that pamper and help, while providing knowledge to clients…helping them understand how to care for their look and health—here and at home.”
Avanti Salon & Spa
345 Route 9, Manalapan / 732.780.0222 / avantidayresort.com