A Legend: Catherine Atzen
Catherine Atzen was born in France and grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. Her father, a creative, risk-taker, built several enterprises in France and Australia and her mother, a bookkeeper by training, supervised the business’ finances. At the same time, Atzen’s grandparents educated her about the traits that prepared her for the life she chose; they taught her discipline, organizational skills, the value of continuous education, respect, compassion, and, above all, how to live a healthy, balanced life. Furthermore, Atzen’s great-grandmother nurtured her social skills, giving her the joy of meeting people and being at ease in any environment. In turn, Atzen shares this knowledge with other professionals in order to elevate them.
A PASSION FOR THE INDUSTRY
Atzen was exposed to the spa industry when her parents bought a farm with a historical mill that dated back to Roman times and housed natural springs. They converted the farm into a hotel and restaurant and served spa clients with outdoor activities, like horseback riding. This experience facilitated her discovery that price is not a barrier if the quality exceeds the client’s expectations, a philosophy that served her well when she developed a high-end skin care line.
Atzen starting suffering from skin problems in middle school and found inspired to treat the skin at the age of 13 when an aesthetician transformed her acne-prone, dehydrated skin with regular facials. Since then, skin care has been her passion.
Although her parents wanted her to get a degree in hospitality and join the family business, Atzen decided to go into the skin care industry, supporting her studies by selling retail, modeling, and hostessing at trade events.
“I am passionate about skin care; it is not just something I do – it is a way of life.”
THE DNA BREAKTHROUGH
Atzen soon began working with surgeons and doctors in aesthetic medicine. One of these doctors had acquired a laser, which was new at the time, and researched improvements in the appearance of scars. His protocol of care was to combine the laser with skin care products to maximize results. Atzen massaged various skin care extracts obtained from pharmaceutical laboratories on the patients’ skin, prior to the doctor using the laser. The results were disappointing until they received a frozen product in individual-use vials that contained DNA. Within a few weeks of use on several patients, Atzen and the doctors noticed significant softening of the scar tissue, as well as a reduction in the length and depth of the scars. The tests also reduced stretchmarks, eliminating the ripple appearance on the skin.
As a result, Atzen met the research scientists from the laboratories that had developed this DNA, which had an unbroken structure and was used in the medical field to repair skin tissue. This ingredient, however, was used as a last resort when nothing else worked, due to its high cost and lengthy extraction time – up to a full 24 hours – which did not use heat or chemicals.
Published research on the ingredient supported a significant increase in fibroblast production, strong antioxidant capabilities, an ability to hydrate the skin at the cellular level, and a lack of side effects. Consequently, Atzen came up with the idea to use the DNA in a serum, if the scientists could stabilize the formula; no one before had used DNA in skin care products. After much trial and error, and help from researchers from the famed Institute Pasteur in Paris, the serum was stabilized. Atzen then decided to create a full line of products and a brand, Catherine Atzen®, which became ATZEN® in the early 2000s. With a team of formulators, she developed the first 11 formulas and was one of the first to use hyaluronic acid in creams and serums.
THE MOVE TO NEW YORK AND THE SUCCESS OF ATZEN®
Atzen was fortunate to have met mentors who encouraged, supported, and nurtured her entrepreneurial spirit. One of her mentors, Jean-Claude De Givenchy, convinced her that New York was the main player in the world of beauty and luxury brands. He made phone calls on her behalf, securing meetings for her with beauty editors and potential investors for her startup. Through him, she was able to meet many influential people who shared their knowledge and experience.
Atzen eventually moved to New York to launch her line in the United States and, in 1985, she opened the Catherine Atzen Day Spa on the upper east side of Manhattan. She owned the spa for 19 years before selling it.
This spa, in many ways, set the standards in the industry. Until then, skin care products of average quality were sold in department stores and drugstores by employees that did not have any skin care training. Very few people had heard of aestheticians and facials were considered to be luxuries for the rich and famous.
“I get great satisfaction when I hear from people that my products helped to build their self-esteem or give them more confidence.”
Atzen’s menu of services was about solving skin conditions, delivering outstanding customer service, and offering expert advice; her staff of 17 were very dedicated and enjoyed the full benefits of being part of a team of pioneers that generated high volume sales and customer retention. The spa also used ATZEN LymphMed®, a revolutionary device for lymphatic drainage, to elevate each facial to a detoxifying treatment. By the early 2000s, the spa employed acupuncturists and a doctor in Chinese medicine to combine facial acupuncture with the LymphMed massage in order to achieve facial lifting without invasive surgery.
As her product line became available to skin care professionals and popular with spas, Atzen traveled the world to train distributors in overseas markets; teach classes at tradeshows and medical conferences; and give television, magazine, and radio interviews in order to educate the public on the spa industry and the benefits offered by good skin care.
In the 1990s, Atzen moved her distribution office to San Jose, Calif. and co-owned a school and distribution office in Florida. She kept a heavy travel schedule, traveling to New York City every month and to numerous countries where her products were sold.
Following tough times in the early 2000s, Atzen sold her distribution business to Universal Companies in 2004 and served as a consultant to Universal Companies and other businesses for seven years. During this time, her goal was to have more time to nurture her children, new husband, and step daughter and achieve a long-held dream of going back to school to earn a Master of Business Administration, which she received from the University of California, Berkeley. She also received a second Master of Business Administration from Columbia University.
“Ethical business practices and delivering quality beyond the customer’s expectations are what I stand for.”
A FRESH, NEW LOOK AND NATURAL FORMULATIONS
Atzen met her business partner, Alex Quan – currently the president of ATZEN – in graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley; they both negotiated to re-purchase Atzen’s business from Universal Companies in 2010 and have since redesigned the logo and packaging with a fresh and upscale look and feel. Furthermore, manufacturing was moved from France to California to bring jobs to the United States, reduce the company’s environmental footprint, and become a truly green company. Atzen reformulated the products using natural ingredients to achieve a line of 34 100 percent natural products that work. Her latest drive – ATZEN Superior to Organic® Skin Care – uses organic ingredients, such as plants, vitamins, and algae, and safe scientific ingredients, like INTACT DNA®, peptides, and resveratrol. The formulations are free of petrochemicals, carcinogens, and hormone disruptors, giving the consumers and professionals the ability to improve skin conditions without toxicity or sensitivity.
Atzen now lives in the mountains separating Silicon Valley from the Pacific, a peaceful, unspoiled environment that she finds energizing and therapeutic. “I love living in the Bay Area because of its cultural diversity, business innovation, and climate. For leisure, I enjoy activities that bring me closer to nature, such as hiking, biking, camping, or gardening.” She is happily married to Ken, a well-traveled and highly educated man who shares her interests and is very supportive. She is very proud of their three children, Celia, Sebastien, and Alyssa; they are well-rounded young adults that chose professions that reflect her family values and care for others, respect the environment, and engage the world at large.
“I feel very fortunate to be multicultural. It has enriched my life in more ways than I could explain. I have embraced the American culture, learned the pragmatism that fits well into the business world, and still maintained the European love for taking care of self. I bring a French sense of understated elegance into my environment at home and work, as well as an appreciation for the fine things in life”.
Atzen has earned 18 industry awards, including Aesthetician of the Year, Day Spa Person of the Year, and Medical Spa Person of the Year. She also holds a CIDESCO diploma and is recognized for having coined the term ‘day spa.’ She is also one of the most prolific educators in the industry, writing over 250 articles that have been published in trade magazines and medical journals, as well as lecturing around the world.
Judiann Monaghan, L.E., ATZEN School Partner and Educator for 20 years
“My impression of Catherine is that of someone with tremendous compassion. The first time I saw [her compassion] was when my father passed away. He had been doing the packing and shipping for our distributorship when he passed; she sent two weeks of gourmet meals so we did not have to worry about cooking. In the 20 years Catherine and I worked together, I have seen many more acts of compassion; she truly is a great friend and a wonderful person.”
Maria Arias, former manager of Catherine ATZEN Day Spa
“In 2000, I had to go through major surgery. The day I came home from the hospital, my husband passed away. Catherine rushed to New York from California to be with me on the day of the funeral, leaving behind her family after just having spent the previous week in New York! A couple of days later, she came to my house to give me a LymphMed® lymphatic drainage treatment to reduce my swelling and pain. Her generosity meant so much to me.”
Monica Watters, owner of Sacred Touch NYC
I don’t know anyone in the industry that is as forward thinking as Catherine. I feel privileged and proud to have worked in the ATZEN spa. During that time, Catherine provided her therapists with the most innovative and effective skin care products and treatments that truly worked and were results-driven – when nobody else was doing it. We were held to the highest standards and were constantly educated on new treatments, ingredients, and products. Our job was to make sure that the clients departed their facial or body treatment looking and feeling better than when they first walked in and that they continued to see results for days after they left with a custom, prescribed homecare routine. Catherine is a pioneer in setting industry standards. I am a great aesthetician today because of Catherine’s mentoring and encouragement.”
Alex Quan President, ATZEN Inc.
“Catherine is the most forward-thinking and innovative person in skin care. She is passionate about natural, high-quality products that deliver results. She knows what consumers want before they even know themselves. She is most deserving of this recognition for a lifetime of dedication and contributions to the profession. I am extremely lucky to have Catherine as my business partner and friend.”