MUNICH - The shelving is pink. The armchairs are pink. The bath salts are of course pink too. The air is heavy with a strawberry scent, and in front of the mirror sits Luisa, 11, having her long blonde hair combed. It must look a little like this at Barbie’s house.
Kerstin Kobus, decked out in pink, does not like this comparison. To the 41-year-old owner of the just-opened Monaco Princesse in Munich, Barbie is kitsch, whereas her establishment – Germany’s first spa for girls aged five to 15 – is not. Kobus offers beauty, well-being and relaxation treatments for the little “princess and those who’d like to become one” as her brochure says.
On this particular afternoon, an older lady is standing outside looking in the window of Monaco Princesse, in which a pink plush bear sits on a small pink chair. She is shaking her head in a way that suggests she thinks all this is going a little too far. "You only get two reactions," says Kobus. "Either people wonder what is going on, or they think it’s awesome." She professes not to care much what the reaction is, because for her this is the realization of a dream. "It feels just right to me."
A tall blonde, the Frankfurt-born Kobus is a former model. When she was 18, she was strutting the catwalk for New York Fashion Week. But she gave modeling up after two years: she says it just wasn’t her thing. She and her partner went on to create a publishing business that has 250 employees. She had her first child at 40, when she says she also started to feel like taking on a new business challenge.
"I got interested in things for little girls because I was always on the look-out for great stuff for my daughter -- and not finding it," she says. Then on the Internet, Kobus stumbled across a New York beauty salon for little girls and decided to bring the idea to Munich. Kobus is certain she’s on to a winner: "You’ve got the clientele for something like this in Munich, people here are crazy enough to go for it."
Kobus’s daughter, now 19 months old, is still too young for Monaco Princesse. But there is a painting of her dressed as a princess hanging on the salon’s pink wall, near where the bubble bath and all manner of creams that smell like strawberries or lemons are sold. Other merchandise includes glittery pink Lego brick pendants, and Kobus’s own fashion line with dresses and blazers in pink and white. There are also matching mother and daughter (and daughter’s dolls) bathrobes.
Tips for little girls learning to be women
At the back of the salon is a gold-colored bench with footbaths lined up in front of it. This was tailor-made by the interior designer who designed the Versace children’s store, Young Versace, in Milan. In the hair-styling area, Luisa is now getting her eyelashes curled by Whitney Joesten, the salon manager and former participant on "Germany's Next Top Model," Heidi Klum’s show. Luisa says she doesn’t wear make-up at school, but she likes to play beauty salon games. When our photographer turns the camera on her, she gives a professional smile.
Anybody who thought that, for little girls, perfect nails or the right beauty care were not determining factors for a happy childhood will want to think that through again if Monaco Princesse has anything to do with it. Kobus sees her miniature beauty salon as a learning arena. "Girls are constantly confronted with the issue of being a woman," she says. "We need to give them the proper guidance." And she really seems to believe that. She adds that thanks to the special style of her salon, the girls also have fun.
Her brochure puts it this way: "Little princesses learn from a very young age how to deal with beauty products in an aware but also playful and pleasurable way." Monaco Princesse offers facials, make-up, manicures and pedicures and "glamorous and stylish Monaco Princesse haircuts." Hair coloring, however, is taboo. "Not for children," Kobus says – now that is going too far, her tone suggests.
It is important to Kobus for all products used in her salon to be organic and non-allergenic. She does some of her purchasing in Italy and France – the main thing is that items be exclusive, not the sort of thing you see everywhere.
Kobus also offers a Princess for a Day package: The Party Girl version for eight guests costs around 500 euros, or there’s the more exclusive Little Diva option -- that includes riding in a pink limo and catwalk training -- priced at nearly 3,000 euros. Launching soon is a monthly Mother-Daughter Day to foster the quality time so difficult to find in one’s hectic daily schedule, particularly for busy professional mothers such as Kobus herself.
And where do boys stand in all this? They’re not welcome, says Kobus. They wouldn’t have any fun. Also, she’s had another idea: to open a salon for the “little superhero” (and those who’d like to become one). All in pale blue.