Jill Bryan wasn’t sure exactly where she wanted to take her career when she graduated from Canada’s #1 Makeup School. After weighing her many options she started working as a Makeup Artist at the Absolute Spa in Downtown Vancouver’s Century Plaza Hotel.
A decade later she’s back there at least once a week, having risen to the lofty position of Regional Manager for Absolute Spa’s Downtown and West Vancouver locations, a role that’s seen her build personal and professional connections with Blanche Macdonald’s incredible Esthetics Department.
“We host an open house for Blanche Macdonald Esthetics students about four times a year,” explains Jill. “Simona Gozner, the Esthetics Program Director, will let me know the class size and I’ll do a presentation about what we have to offer and what’s happening in the industry. Then we’ll do a spa tour and a mini-trade show for Soluzione Spa Products, which is the manufacturing and distribution wing of Absolute Spa’s business.
“I coordinate the spray tan training for the instructors at Blanche Macdonald too. We have so much respect for Simona and Blanche Macdonald students. We guarantee grads an interview at Absolute. They come out of school ready for the industry with an incredible knowledge of skincare and anatomy. They’re always eager and on board with what we’re trying to do. We’re looking for estheticians that are warm and friendly. Obviously they need skill and passion for the industry, and flexibility with scheduling is a big one too!”
Jill’s connection with Blanche Macdonald goes back to her time as a young makeup fanatic from Delta looking to takes her first steps into the beauty industry.
“I’ve been a product junkie my whole life,” she laughs. “I was a dancer and figure skater, and I loved trying on new products. My Mom recommended Blanche Macdonald to me. She knew its reputation as a Vancouver institution. I went in for an interview with Jill Wyness and she told me about the different avenues I could take.
“Once I started it was fabulous. I loved my teachers and my fellow students. I still have a relationship with some of the Makeup Artists who were in my class and have gone on to be really successful. I’ve worked with Nicole Harvie and she’s also one of our spa guests here. The instructors gave us a good indication of the career options out there. I knew I didn’t want to go into the film route. The early mornings and long days weren’t for me. I felt that a spa would be a good fit.”
Jill faxed her résumé to Absolute Spa after graduation, and received confirmation of her interview that same day.
“They were hiring in the run-up to Christmas. I became a full-time Makeup Artist on the floor at the Century Plaza, providing complementary Makeup touch-ups for all our guests and doing a lot of bridal Makeups. I knew what I was doing. My techniques were good. I understood what colours would work with certain people. It was fun to create the art, but I loved the reaction from clients. They’d love the way they looked and feel good about themselves.”
After a few successful months of Makeup Artistry, when the opportunity arose to advance within the company, Jill was happy to take the chance.
“The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver spa was opening up and they wanted a front desk concierge. I did that, along with a bit of Makeup on guests. From there I was promoted to Spa Supervisor at the Century Plaza and my first Spa Manager role was at the Airport. That only lasted about three months, because they missed me Downtown!”
Soon Jill was back in the heart of Absolute’s Vancouver business, managing at Soluzione in a role that was eventually taken over by colleague and fellow Blanche Macdonald graduate Sally Sue. That job ended two years ago, when Jill was promoted to her current position of Regional Manager, in charge of the Absolute Spas at the Century Plaza, the Hotel Vancouver and the Park Royal location in West Vancouver.
“I make sure the spas runs smoothly, watching costs and payroll and inventory. It’s a bit of everything. Working hands-on with the owners, Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia and Sergio Cocchia, has taught me so much. I’ve learned every step of the way, knowing what their expectations are and fulfilling them with the managers. You need to be a sponge and absorb everything. Absolute Spa has always been very keen on promoting from within the company and grooming the right candidates for management positions. I’m proof of what’s possible.
“I’m always concerned about the guest experience. Guests come first for me. We create the standards to ensure our service levels are met and our guests feel warm and welcome. I’m working hands-on with the front desk team and our estheticians. We have a lot of mini-meetings to make sure the standards are always met and obviously who we hire is incredibly important. I’m setting those standards with Wendy and Sergio. We have to make sure everyone is on board with what we’re about.”
Unsurprisingly, Regional Manager comes with multiple and highly varied responsibilities.
“A lot of my role is selecting the right products, developing training, protocols and the steps for treatment for our new menu. I have key responsibilities that I’m always focussed on, but I always have special projects on the go too. I’ve been doing some product production with Soluzione recently. I always have new projects on the go for guest initiatives. I like that no week is ever the same. I enjoy the variety of projects I do. We do a lot of work with the Pacific Autism Family Centre, so I assist there where I can too. I try to be in every location at least once a week. And if someone needs makeup I still love to get my brushes out. To see guests so happy about their treatments; it’s so gratifying that our team members can achieve that level of services.”
Although professional etiquette means that Jill can’t reveal the details of many of the celebrities who have walked through Absolute Spa’s doors, a wall of star photos, the majority of which are signed with messages of gratitude, tells its own story.
“No, I’m not Beyonce’s personal Makeup Artist when she’s in Vancouver,” laughs Jill. “But I do get to meet a lot of celebrities, and often will do some Makeup for VIPs. I went to West Vancouver to spray tan an A-list actor who was filming a big movie here. We did it as a trial for the movie and he liked it so much I had to go back to give him personal tans several times.”
Even though esthetics has become the focus of Jill’s professional life, that doesn’t mean she’s left Makeup behind.
“Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia has been featured in a lot of publications, and I’ve done her Makeup for photo shoots with The Province and BC Golf Magazine. I’ve been to more than a few Black Tie Galas with her. Outside my work with Absolute Spa, I did more than a dozen weddings this year for family and friends.”
With a foot in both the spa and beauty industries, Jill has proved how far a career can grow when an individual is open to opportunities.
“Make sure this is something you’re passionate about,” she insists. “It can be long hours and hard on your feet, but the rewards are there as well. The Industry has changed. People understand how important it is to take care of their stress levels and have some ‘me time’. So many of our guests are buying gift cards for their friends and family to come in and enjoy the treatments. It’s not a luxury to have your nails done any more.”