How Kim Kardashian's Facialist Joanna Czech Became A Celebrity In Her Own Right
"You can't imagine what I hear on a daily basis, how often my clients and I cry together and laugh together."
Joanna Czech can pinpoint the exact moment when everything changed. It was two years ago, when the facialist had just finished a home visit with a new client and was making her way through Los Angeles traffic and heading back to her hotel. She had no idea what was going on until she reached her room, where her husband and stepdaughter were waiting for her, barely able to contain themselves. The new client, Kim Kardashian, had informed her 100 million Instagram followers that a woman named Joanna Czech had just come by to give her an at-home treatment. And that’s when Czech, long known in fashion and beauty circles as an in-demand aesthetician, became a celebrity in her own right.
Though it had been growing steadily, Czech’s overall profile was suddenly experiencing the kind of growth that Wall Street analysts liken to hockey sticks. Every hour, a hundred new Instagram followers. Requests to book facial appointments coming in from beauty hounds all over the world. Television producers eager to book interviews.
Czech took it all in stride. She has an easy way about her, a mellow disposition that offsets her intimidatingly high-tech treatments and A-list clients. Even during an interview with a journalist, she speaks in the confiding, unguarded tone of somebody having coffee with an old friend. “Kim personally gets me on DM and asks, ‘Are you in New York?’ I promise her that I’ll always let her know when I’m in LA,” Czech says as casually as if describing how she uses Seamless. Of her entire clientele, which includes Bella Hadid, Christy Turlington Burns, Eva Chen and Busy Phillips, only one person has ever given her a “little tightness in my chest,” she says: It was hard not to be intimidated the first time she saw Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour. “But I make her smile and I make her laugh,” Czech says.
It’s easy to see why Wintour et al keep coming back: A facial on Czech’s table is not a woo-woo hour spent listening to Enya and unwinding while somebody works on your face with chamomile-scented steam and hot stones. My own 90-minute treatment was administered at the newest Joanna Czech location, tucked away on the penthouse floor of SoHo’s Webster boutique. Though still in its soft launch phase, it's already a bastion of new-school glamour, its reception room decorated with jungly banana-leaf wallpaper and a groovy woven chair that, unfortunately, is far more fun to take pictures of than it is to sit in.
Customized facials with Czech herself cost $850 (£698) while appointments with her aestheticians are $550 (£450). My treatment was administered by Rachel, a hyper-friendly Dallas native who trained under Czech at the Texas studio for two years. Instrumental pop music mingled with a low-level hum came out of a state-of-the art LED machine that Rachel used to promote the creation of elastin and collagen in my face. There was also a cryotherapy portion, during which she waved a wand that blasted cold air over my face; a stretch of ultrasound, complete with jelly that resembled the one my OB-GYN used to slather on my tummy during my pregnancies; diamond microdermabrasion, in which an actual diamond hacked at the dull top layer of my cheeks and forehead; rounds of LED light, both yellow and blue; and a finishing mist filled with negative ions that Rachel told me would pull out impurities (the following morning, a layer of what looked like coffee grinds had gathered on the sides of my nose).
It’s not all business and science on Czech’s 73,000-follower Instagram page, which is far more entertaining than that of your average big name skinfluencer. Yes, she discusses incorporating collagen-stimulating LED therapy into her treatments decades before the devices became a mainstay of aestheticians’ offices, and she talks about the human bloodstream and the nitty gritty of facial musculature with palpable joy, but she keeps her wonkiness in #czech. Over at @joannaczechofficial, you’re as likely to find a self-effacing post about the facialist’s “secret hoarding” problem as you are a tutorial on her favoured push-and-pull skin massage or newest LED machine. Posts that capture her passion for cutting-edge science are outnumbered by those that feature her well-honed style. “Never overdone, casual but chic,” is how Czech, who was born in Poland and has lived in the United States for the past 30 years, puts it in her pan-European accent.
Her look has an elevated shagginess, modern and sophisticated meets boho chic. On the day we FaceTime, her face is free of make-up. She is wearing dusty pink Hermes slides, wide toile pants from Dior whose pattern she says reminds her of “old wallpaper,” a stone-coloured James Perse T, and her signature tangle of gold necklaces. “I’m only wearing three today,” she says (usually there are seven), and walks me through the significant pendants that she never goes without. There’s the gold snake whose underside is embedded with gemstones that she started wearing after a bout with breast cancer three years ago (she had a successful lumpectomy and now goes in for check-ups every six months). She lost her father a year ago, and his gold wedding band shares a chain with a heart pendant.
At 5’3”, the fifty-five-year-old says her petite frame can drown in tunic-y shirts and tent dresses. Form-fitting tops and jeans suit her better, and she loves drop crotch pants “so nobody can tell how short or long my legs are” she says. Czech is a fan of layering different designers, wearing statement shoes (her favourite might be a “strangely shaped” bright orange Celine pair that friends call her “peppers”) with simple Ts and trousers or Chanel sneakers with a whimsical something from Celine (“Old Celine,” she stresses).
Statement shoes and look-at-me handbags aside, she’s partial to neutral tones, favouring a circle of designers whose work shares an edgy minimalism. Her closet brims with Philip Lim (a client), The Row, and Old Celine. Central to the Joanna Czech look is a pair of glasses, always chunky, always dark frames. Her specs serve dual purposes: to push her blonde bangs out of her eyes and to accentuate her delicate features. (With her heart-shaped face and striking eyebrows, she looks like an older, blonder Cara Delevingne). “I don’t know how many pairs of glasses I have!” she says. “I packed fourteen pair for this trip, if that tells you anything.”
Her more-is-more aesthetic extends to her shoe collection — over 500 pairs and counting — as well as her wardrobe, so big it has its own bedroom and two walk-in closets in the Dallas home that serves as her main residence. “It’s very hard to detach from my pieces,” Czech says with an impish grin. She also has a special “New York closet,” home to the heavy winter coats and knee-high boots that were mainstays of her life before she and her husband decamped to Texas seven years ago.
She is speaking to me from the Sag Harbor home that she and her husband, Alec, have rented for the month of August. There are four extra bedrooms for visitors and a cottage out back that serves as the studio where she sees clients nine hours a day. It’s a clever move, installing herself in the tony town where so many of her loyal clients decamp for the last month of the summer, but you get the feeling that if Czech opened up a temporary shop in the backwoods of Nebraska instead of the Hamptons, her followers would still manage to #getczeched. After all, she is fully booked through 2020.
“I give everything I have – and my love and warmth — to my work,” she says. “I tried to get pregnant in my thirties but that never happened. But I have so many children to take care of. You can’t imagine what I hear on a daily basis, how often my clients and I cry together and laugh together.” Her ministrations do not end at the end of the 90-minute session. She stays in close touch with her clients, checking in to see how their skin reacted to a new treatment and also how they’re doing in other respects. “That’s my family,” she says of her clientele. “I don’t really have other friends.”
New York-based clients have been turning to Czech since she moved to the city 30 years ago. She found her way to the upper echelons of New York society in 1995, when she landed a job at a luxury spa within Reebok Sports Club, the Central Park West gym frequented by countless bold-face names. She started out mostly grooming brows and nails, and gained fans in supermodel Trish Goff and Sting and Trudy Styler. Word of mouth took off, and there were suddenly too many celebrities to name: Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, Kate Winslet and Uma Thurman.Travel to far-flung destinations for magazine shoots became a regular feature of Czech’s job.
She left in 2002 to open her own spa, Seva, in the Washington Heights neighbourhood of uptown Manhattan, and four years later switched to a two-day-a-week post at the spa of the Core club and focused on traveling to work with her high-octane clients. In 2012, she moved to Dallas with Alec, her then-new husband, whose private equity work focused on the oil industry. She opened the first Joanna Czech studio in her new hometown in 2015. Traveling remains a central part of her business, and to hear her tell it, her Dallas house is more of a home base than a home. She has been traveling to Los Angeles more and more frequently, and every April, in the weeks leading up to the Met Gala, she sets up a temporary shop at a hotel near the Metropolitan Museum to help celebs get red-carpet ready.
Alec has quit his job as an investor in the oil business to run the business end of Joanna Czech. “Alec takes care of all the pop-ups and all the legal agreements when we do collaborations with skincare companies,” she says. While working together put a strain on Czech’s previous marriage, it’s been different this time around. “Maybe we’re older and wiser.”
Alec is also raising capital for a line of eponymous skincare products, which Czech hopes to bring to market in 2021 (the lab work and approvals required are not inconsiderable). Currently, she and her team customise the products they employ from a wide range of high-end serums and lotions sold at Czech’s studios and online. “No two facials are ever identical,” Czech says. Her single eponymous product is a double-headed face roller engineered to lift rather than flatten the muscles that it works on; I was treated to a round of face-rolling during my facial.
Before returning to their home base, Alec and Joanna will spend two weeks in Manhattan, where Czech will be hosting a launch party at her new SoHo salon and remain on hand to personally administer facials to models and designers and editors for Fashion Week. I have no chance of booking an appointment, but Rachel assured me that the effects of my treatment would last about twenty-seven days, so I have nothing to worry about should I find myself anywhere near a runway.
Indeed, I emerged from my session with a brighter cast to my putty-soft skin and an unrecognisable dearth of shadows around my eyes. I bounded back onto the street without my usual tinted moisturiser. I met up with my husband an hour later, and asked if anything looked different. “Yes,” he said, without missing a beat. “You look younger.”