Bruno’s shine

The Brooklyn Paper
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I have to make a confession: I’m in love with Bruno.

Well, to be honest, although Bruno Grillo is perfectly charming, gracious and handsome, it’s really the memories of visiting his namesake salon and spa that cause me to drift off into blissful daydreams in the days since I’ve been away.

Since opening in November 2004, Bruno’s hair colorists and stylists, nail technicians, massage therapists and aestheticians have melded into a team of pros. On my recent day o’ narcissism, they catered to my every need - even anticipating some before I did.

When I arrived in their inviting reception area, replete with hardwood floors, lots of natural light and gilded mirrors, I was exhausted and I looked it. Was it possible that this Bay Ridge salon and spa, off the beaten path on Shore Road near the 69th Street Pier, could make me feel better AND look better? Maybe, but it was going to take a lot of treatments to do the trick.

After I was warmly greeted and my coat was whisked away, I was led downstairs to Bruno’s spa level. Here there’s a bustling open kitchen where the staff does everything from greet clients with hugs to froth milk for the complimentary cappuccinos. This level also has a small seating area, brightened by a vase-full of daisies, and manicure and pedicure stations.

Almost immediately, my aesthetician, Anna, came out to say "hello" and led me into the spacious treatment room. Thanks to dim lighting and a soothing soundtrack, my transition from stressed to soothed had begun.

With my shoes and top off, I snuggled under the blankets on the bed, closed my eyes and attempted to acquire an attitude of calm. Anna’s deep-pore-cleansing spa facial is largely relaxing - with just the tiniest bit of discomfort during extractions (the dreaded squeezing out of the blackheads).

Anna has a light touch, which left me with barely a hint of post-facial redness. And Anna says that if I schedule less time between facials, there will be fewer blackheads in my future.

As part of the facial, she cleansed my skin, expertly massaged my face and neck, and rather than using a grainy cream exfoliation, she employed a soft, motorized brush. A free hand-treatment - moisturizer and heated mitts - was another unexpected bonus.

Because each client’s skin is different, Anna customizes each treatment. For me, winter had made my face dry and sensitive, while an oily T-zone remained. Anna’s response was to treat each area with its own mask, and to recommend a much less aggressive cleanser at home.

I was left with clean, dewy skin with a healthy pink glow to my cheeks. And the complimentary cool compresses Anna applied during my custom-made mask, deflated my under-eye balloons.

The steamroller

Next up: a 55-minute therapeutic massage with Olga. I shuffled down the short hallway in my robe and slippers to her treatment room. I looked around long enough to notice it was lovely before I jumped on the table and stuffed my face in the donut hole. Before getting to work, she asked me about any conditions or concerns I might have so she could execute a massage with maximum results, targeting those tough, recurring nests of muscle tension.

There was no doubt that I was still far from achieving total relaxation when a few minutes into the treatment Olga scolded, "Don’t help me," while bending and unbending my legs and arms. In this room, it was my job to relax and let go, and Olga’s job to find every knot and ache, and massage it into submission with her expert, firm strokes.

At one point, she climbed onto the massage table, too, smooshing, rolling and pulling those aching back muscles. And that was AFTER she had applied a weighted, heat pack to warm up the worst culprit - my lower back. It was clear that she was on a mission to wring out every drop of stress. I was hoarding so much tension that Olga said I might benefit from regular visits to a chiropractor. But I did finally manage to zone out and relax.

Indeed, that massage was one of the happiest spa-spent hours of my life.

Icing on the cake

I floated out of Olga’s treatment room, and someone caught me and handed me off to nail technician Sima, who brought a coffee to help me come to my senses before giving me a French manicure, which she says gives the illusion of elongating short nails. With 25 years of experience, it was clear that she enjoyed her job as much as she enjoyed her customers.

"Even as a child, in the museum - after noticing a face in a portrait - I admired the hands," said Sima, who said she had to keep her nails short when she played the violin in her native Russia. Now, she says she enjoys keeping them long and keeping others’ polished.

Although I didn’t think I was hungry, the staff ordered me lunch anyway, and I was relieved that they had. By the time I surfaced in the hair salon, I was ravenous.

The salon is Grillo’s domain. He focuses solely on hair color since training with gurus in Manhattan and earning his stripes in salons and on movie sets ("The Perfect Murder").

"I was groomed to focus on one thing," Grillo explained. "That’s how you become a pro. I was fortunate to work with the legends in the business."

During my consultation with Grillo, he was forced to examine my hair’s dark-colored roots, light colored ends and the bold stripes of highlights in between. Diagnosis: Total overhaul. He decided to lighten the roots for 10 minutes, wash and dry my hair, and return to his chair for a much more flattering, subtle mix of honey-colored shades. While giving his clients a compassionate ear - his grade-school teacher sat nearby, getting a color and eyebrow tint - Bruno called out complicated jumbles of letters and numbers to his assistants who returned with the pots of hair colors, brushes and foils.

"This time of year, it’s much more attractive to have soft, bright blonde pieces," said Grillo. "Tones of sunset and gold accents, so others will say, ’You look so well rested.’ The joy of coloring is to make it look not-so-noticeable."

Grillo’s motto is "natural but gorgeous." He transformed my strands from Carrie’s vampy, dark-rooted "Sex and the City" look, to the classic tresses of French screen siren Catherine Deneuve.

"I like sophisticated color that looks better over time," said Grillo.

Hairstylist and makeup artist Jovi gave me a haircut that added volume and body to my hair - and kept me laughing at the same time. She confessed that Grillo was the artist responsible for her own shiny, brunette mane. Jovi said she had a checkered past full of blonde highlights, but since Grillo transformed her hair with a color that was a perfect match to her skin tone, she’ll never go back to her old look.

And who could blame her? Jovi’s hair had that same healthy sheen that I began to think of as "Bruno’s shine."

While some stylists shy away from bridal make-up and updo’s for fear of the Bridezillas, Jovi confessed that she loves working on weddings and has even been hired to attend ceremonies in case the lady in white needed a touch-up post-vow. And although Jovi was at the end of a long day, she never showed it, giving me a transforming make-up application and sharing lots of tips to help me recreate my new look at home. I scribbled down every piece of advice on how to make my eyes bigger, my cheekbones more defined and my skin more youthful-looking.

The next step

While that was enough for me to feel glamorous from head to massaged toe, Grillo has leased space to a physiatrist, Dr. Louis Tranese, who heads the MedAesthetics Clinic in the spa. He can perform non-ablative and minimally invasive procedures, which Tranese told me could even help to slow the aging process. For example, a series of Botox injections help muscles - such as a furrowed brow - to temporarily relax; and if the muscles aren’t contracted, they aren’t creating wrinkles. Relaxed muscles equal slowed wrinkle formation, says Tranese.

Tranese is available by appointment for a free consultation about laser hair removal, photo facials, Botox, injectable fillers, chemical peels and microdermabrasion - all of which the doctor performs on his clients.

"Dr. Tranese’s procedures are non-invasive but have immediate gratification and results," Grillo says. "It’s terrific that he could come in and he can take what the salon staff is doing to the next level.

"I’m such a perfection­ist."

Did I mention that I love Bruno?

See the Brooklyn Spa Directory for more information.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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