NEW YORK — Rescue NYC, a Big Apple version of Philly's popular Rescue Spa, was buzzing with the busy business of self-care: The meticulous painting of fingernails, the gentle buffing of heels, and the soft massaging of temples — the hallmark of the perfect facial.
Owner Danuta "Dana" Mieloch of Philadelphia guided my attention up to the cloudy-hued, 9,000-square-foot space's stunning high ceilings. Mieloch, dressed in her trademark white, greeted me warmly, as though I were an old friend.
We meandered through the retail area, which is twice as big as the one in Philly, generously stocked with the same products on which Mieloch built her cult following here: Biologique Recherche skin care, Chantecaille makeup, and Cire Trudon candles.
I started to feel relaxed.
"We've brought our own brand of Philly to New York," Mieloch told me.
Rescue opened two months ago in New York City's Flatiron district, a space Mieloch found while attending a Deepak Chopra conference in 2015. She was squirrely about how much money she needed for renovations, confirming it was a well over a million dollars — but if anybody is going to help you get over your fears, it's Deepak Chopra.
In addition to importing Rescue Philadelphia's signature high-backed Danish chairs, Mieloch discovered 14 dramatic chandeliers fashioned from Paris streetlights and — if this isn't the quintessential nod to the epitome of old-school glam — a mantle that once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
"I found it in Philadelphia," Mieloch said. "Old and new. Classic and modern. I wanted everything to have a timeless feel."
"Literally, it's like walking into the gates of heaven," model Paloma Elsesser told me as she got a blowout. Elsesser is rocketing up the fashion industry as a plus-size — or what I refer to as an everyday girl — model. "I've recommended Rescue to a lot of my friends in the industry."
Just like its Philadelphia counterpart (Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie is a regular), Rescue NYC is building up a high-profile clientele. Naomi Campbell comes twice a month for one of Mieloch's signature facials, and actress Connie Britton is a customer.
Multiple eateries — Jose Garces' Amada, Todd Carmichael's La Colombe, and University of Pennsylvania graduate Seth Berkowitz's Insomnia Cookies — have helped Philadelphia build up its New York fabulousness in recent years. Philly Pretzel Co. announced Tuesday that it has plans to open 25 stores in Manhattan.
Yet when it comes to fashion and beauty, there are fewer companies in New York with Philadelphia roots. Sure, Urban Outfitters, Warby Parker, and Tory Burch boast about their ties to the City of Brotherly Love. But those are the exceptions.
"[Rescue New York] is a wonderful thing for Philly," said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of Visit Philadelphia and all-around spokeswoman for Philadelphia's cool-kid cred outside the region. "When our people take their brand outside of Philadelphia, especially to New York, it proves they can take it anywhere. And it helps us build a real sense of pride."
Mieloch moved to New York from Poland with her nephew in 1991. She was 26 and had $20, a suitcase full of skin-care products and serums, and a dream of being an aesthetician. She went to school for the trade in Poland, and before that spent her young years boiling nettle to give her older sisters' hair gloss and mixing potions of Brewer's yeast and egg whites to treat their acne.
"When the girls were playing with dolls and other things, I had my apothecary of creams, potions, and lotions," said Mieloch, now 51. "Skin care is my calling. It comes naturally to me. I can just look at someone's skin and I know what it needs."
She took a job at a Polish-owned coffee shop in New York's East Village. In between serving coffee and buttered rolls and her 45-minute subway ride downtown each day from her home in Elmhurst, Queens, she became fluent in English. Within three years, she'd landed a gig giving facials; within the next few years, she was working at Paul LaBrecque, whose name is on the marquee of the Rittenhouse Spa and Club.
It was then that she discovered the Biologique Recherche line and began building her own signature facials around the luxe product. She has about seven now.
Twelve years later, Mieloch was ready to open a day spa of her own, but the only thing she could afford in New York was a tiny room. She turned instead to Philadelphia, where she found her first space, 4,000 square feet on South 17th Street, in 2004. She built a following and was named best spa in Philadelphia by several local publications — including the Inquirer, which crowned Rescue with the best pedicure honor.
"I felt like Philadelphians really needed to be rescued," Mieloch said, explaining why she named the day spa Rescue Rittenhouse. (She has since dropped the "Rittenhouse".) "In the beginning, I wanted to bring a little bit of Europe and a little bit of New York to Philly."
In 2014, Mieloch expanded to 7,000 square feet in her current location in the Medical Arts Building at 1601 Walnut St. There are the high-backed Danish chairs and communal table that defines the manicure stations at Rescue in both Philadelphia and New York.
In addition to the mani/pedi station Rescue New York boasts are nine facial rooms — complete with rooms equipped with LED light to fight wrinkles — a room set aside for Vichy treatments, and, although the service is not quite yet available, several massage rooms for both singles and couples.
"Whenever I get stressed out or when I feel tense, I look around and practice gratefulness," Mieloch says. "Each day, I try to take a minute and pause and really appreciate being here. "
And with that, Mieloch was off. A client was waiting for a facial.