Irene Forte has always been into wellness. “My father did eight London marathons in a row, Triathlons for Great Britain for his age group and an Iron man, so I must have inherited an athletic ability from him,” explains Irene. An interest in sport as a child turned into a passion for running marathons and healthy eating. “The rest came a little later,” she says— ‘the rest’ being her own skincare brand, a seat on the Global Wellness Summit committee, and her current role as Group Project & Wellness Director of Rocco Forte Hotels, the luxury hotel brand founded by Irene’s father, hotelier father Sir Rocco Forte, and her aunt, Olga Polizzi.
It was Irene’s time in Italy that proved the most influential in her wellness journey. “When I went to work in Sicily at the Rocco Forte Verdura Resort about nine years ago now, I was living in the resort so I spent evenings testing lots of different things in the spa with the Spa Manager Ana Coelho (now my area Spa Director for Italy), and from that point onwards I got into beauty.” Of the 14 hotel spas currently in the collection, Irene says Verdura is her favourite: “Verdura Spa is extremely special to me because it’s our biggest spa and my source of inspiration.” The new spas, included the upcoming De La Ville Spa in Rome (opening on 1st June), are all inspired by Sicily, making use of products and retail items 100% made in Italy, with bright and colourful palettes inspired by the island.
Beyond the spa, Irene has taken the Italian way of life to heart. “The Mediterranean diet has been long considered the healthiest diet to follow—and I strongly believe that it is also the healthiest diet for your skin.” It was in the natural produce of Verdura Resort’s organic gardens that she sought the foundations of her eponymous beauty brand, Irene Forte Skincare. “It took 3 years to really get everything right. I wanted to create a skincare line that unified all of the group’s spas. I met with a number of labs and when I finally found Dottoressa Ferri, I knew she was the perfect fit for me. She was delighted to use our farm’s ingredients and Ferri’s philosophy is the development of formulas with an organic cosmetic matrix that is skin-friendly, with no pollutants. She also has over 35 years of experience in making skincare, a team of biologists and dermatologists and a research centre.”
The skincare line was launched last year in November 2018, after extensive testing and feedback from the Rocco Forte Spa team. The Italian roots are easy to find: ingredients like Prickly Pear (“Considered a plant-origin Hyaluronic Acid and the latest superfood, which is rich in Vitamins K, E and C,” explains Irene), Hibiscus, Pomegranate and Italy’s signature Olive Oil take the limelight, while Irene’s dedication to wellness filters through even to the design to the bottles: “I wanted sustainable packaging, so I found recycled fibres in colours inspired by Sicily for the boxes, and glass bottles and jars, while all the inks used are vegetable or soy-based inks.” Now used throughout the Rocco Forte Hotel Spas, Irene Forte Skincare will be launching exclusively on Net-a-Porter in July for guests to try the natural products at home, too.
Mind Over Matter
Irene has been with Rocco Forte Hotels since 2012, first in communications and then branding, before taking up her current position overseeing the wellness offerings for the brand in 2014. Her hectic schedule often includes travelling every week, which forced her to seek out more holistic approaches to health. “I quickly learnt that I needed to find tools for me to ‘stay well’ and ‘be balanced’. As a little bit of a workaholic, ‘balance’ has always been a challenge for me. I became more interested in mindfulness and meditation, and I did a Vedic meditation course at the London School of Meditation as well as some mindfulness work with Terrence the Teacher.” Irene uses the breathwork techniques she learnt daily to set her up for the day, along with prioritising good sleep and exercise for all-around wellbeing.
Terrence the Teacher inspired Irene to round out Rocco Forte Hotels’ wellness offerings (“We’ve always had good gyms in our hotels, with Technogym equipment and personal training services,” she says), with services dedicated to mental restoration and relaxation. “We offer sleep kits, meditation, and mindfulness, including mindfulness videos that we are about to launch on the in-room televisions with Terrence the Teacher,” says Irene. With people more stressed out than ever, Irene sees this playing a greater role in wellness tourism: “As cities get bombarded by overtourism, more and more travellers will crave a healing and serene oasis. We envision the rise of the urban wellness resort.”
As wellness tourism expands—valued in 2018 as a US$639 million market—the Rocco Forte Hotel brand is reacting to the changes in the space, and Irene has altered the wellness offerings at the hotels to meet the growing demand for urban wellness retreats: “I wanted to unite fitness, culture and nature, so I created a group city or nature fitness tour (which include running, cycling and trekking) that offer a true sense of place.” Additionally, the Rocco Forte Hotels in Berlin and Rome offer rooftop yoga, while the Verdura Resort in Sicily now had two trekking routes within the resort as well as yoga, outdoor TRX and boot camp.
The urban wellness retreat space isn’t the only trend Irene is keeping an eye on. “I think one of the biggest trends that we are going to see is sustainable fashion. Few people that are wellness or eco-minded have really grappled with their overconsumption of clothes and the insanely destructive environmental impact that has, but this is starting to change. Fashion’s focus is starting to shift to a circular economy, and 2019 will see it evolve from being a few fragmented initiatives to being an integral part of the entire fashion value chain.”
Sustainability has become a key part of Rocco Forte Hotels wellness initiative, too. The hotels are slowly going plastic free, while all the new spas immediately start as plastic-free spaces and use 100% recycled paper.
Aiming to deepen guests’ connection with the destination, Rocco Forte Hotels have also added group retreats, talks, workshops and local charitable projects to their roster. “Rocco Forte Wellness addresses complete enrichment and the unity of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health, fusing together proven science and technology with inherited wisdom and an affinity with nature across Rocco Forte Spas, and the Nourish, Fitness, Community and Sustainability programmes,” says Irene.
Looking to the future, Irene is looking forward to the brand’s expansion over the next few years, particularly into China. “We’ll be opening new hotels—and spas in them—like Hotel de La Ville in Rome in May 2019, The Westbund in Shanghai in November 2020, and Villa Igea, Palermo in May 2020. We’re looking forward to continuing to invest in existing properties while we grow our portfolio even further.”
As if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy in the next year, Irene will still be actively involved in the Global Wellness Summit, which is coming to Hong Kong this year. “I want to continue to grow its community, particularly among the younger generations; do important research, and launch and grow important initiatives through the Global Wellness Institute.”