Did you know the multi-story department store does hair, flowers and hen parties too?
Where in Liverpool can you get a multi-sensory massage, buy cruelty-free make-up, get your hair dyed, grab a coffee and pick up a bunch of pretty flowers all under one roof? You might be surprised to learn that the answer is LUSH.
I went for a wander around the biggest soap shop I've ever been to and left with more than just the scent of patchouli lingering in my memory.
The lighting and the movement of the massage are choreographed in time with the music.
I'd more or less stopped going to LUSH stores a few years ago. I've always loved their ethics, their products and their aesthetic but I'd kept purchases online as I couldn't face the 28 days LUSHer staff flocking around me wielding spray bottles and shower jellies. I always felt the need to steel myself as I stepped through the door. Thankfully, they seem to have dialled back on that approach these days as I find when I pop to the Liverpool branch. Instead of overfamiliar, purple-haired soap floggers floating toward me from all angles, I’m met with a huge display of fresh flowers and (mostly) left to wander freely without hassle.
If you’ve not been to Liverpool’s gargantuan LUSH store before (as I hadn’t), you might be taken aback by its sheer size. Like Harrods for hippies, it's a four-storey department store based on traditional upmarket ones like London's Liberty with more to surprise and delight than just its size.
Harrods for hippies: a department store of soap, scent and spa treatments
LUSH Liverpool's not all bath bombs and boho body sprays for your goth colleague’s secret Santa. You can buy fresh, locally grown seasonal flowers at the front of the ground floor. There is a whole library of perfumes (including the rare gold label range) at the back, with a one-to-one consultation available to help you find your perfect scent. There are make-up counters too where you can book a makeover or just splash out on some choice picks from the brand’s range - which also happens to be vegan and not tested on animals.
There is an in-house hairdressing salon where you can have your hair cut, styled and if you so wish, henna-dyed, all using LUSH products ready for your big night out. You can even have hard or soft water bespoke scented to make your hair smell exactly how you want it.
Tie it all together with the "Glowing Out" package where you can have a facial, get your hair done and treat yourself to a full makeover while you enjoy a glass of fizz before heading out on the tiles. SO Liverpool.
And if you’ve tired yourself out shopping, there’s a coffee shop at the back.
An ever changing first-floor party
Head upstairs to the first floor and you’ll find a supersized classic LUSH space full of soap, shower gels, bath bombs and more. But there is also enough space to host a party, whether that’s a hen night, a birthday or whatever else you want to celebrate. LUSH parties and workshops start at £15 per guest for 45-90 mins of “fun and games” with toiletries. If you’re the kind of person who gets a sudden urge to make a bath bomb, there are also “drop-in parties”. You can pop into the store and book onto one within 15 minutes.
On my visit, they are installing an Abbey Road-style zebra crossing ready for Beatles week, and yellow submarine-shaped bath bombs make their way around a conveyor belt like plates of sushi. As you read now, they will be prepping the third floor (an extra space used for community projects like the monthly Good Market) as a Snow Fairy floor for Christmas. There’s always something different to see here.
The store even works with schools and colleges teaching about environmentally friendly practices, as well as showcasing the various career paths that LUSH can offer from massage therapist to hairdresser to make-up artist.
Looking after staff and customers
The company has an unusual stance on social media, in that, they have now completely stopped using Instagram and Facebook. “One of the founders, Mark, who's kind of like the face of LUSH, made a stance," explains manager Matt Reynolds as he shows me around. "He said he's not happy with the way it affects young people's mental health and was not interested in being part of the Mark Zuckerberg Facebook/Instagram thing anymore. So at a moment's notice, we just pulled the plug on the whole thing.”
“Absolutely everything for 35 odd years has been ethically sourced and handmade,” says Matt, his enthusiasm for the brand sparkling in his eyes. "The ethos [of LUSH] is to leave the world lusher than we found it.”
He laughs as I tell him my phobia of LUSH staff, and is pleased my view has been changed by the Liverpool store.
“The world’s changing - and the way people like to shop,” he says. “We’re so about hospitality. It’s really similar to the service you get in an amazing restaurant. It's all about welcoming people to the space, approaching at the right time, being there if they need it, and then doing things for people that they didn't expect, like treating someone to a cup of tea, nice things like that.
"It's all about people just being able to come and enjoy the space.”
The biggest LUSH spa in the world is here in Liverpool
After my dizzying tour of the departments, I’m invited to check out the piece de resistance, the top-floor spa, the largest of all the LUSH stores worldwide and, as Matt says, the best way to experience all that LUSH has to offer.
“It’s not just about the treatment, it’s about the space,” he says, “It’s designed for total escapism. The lighting and the movement of the massage are choreographed in time with the music. Many of the treatments are based on myths or stories.
“It's a really intense training programme for a therapist. They would need a qualification in Swedish massage and then they go on a journey of the LUSH way that we do the treatments. Each treatment can take a month or more to learn.”
Matt tells me that the Hard Day's Night treatment was invented by Sandra Byrne, senior general manager at LUSH Liverpool. Sandra got in touch with the Hard Day's Night hotel and together with the LUSH founders they invented a Beatles Liverpool-themed treatment. All the music is local bands doing meditative versions of classic Beatles songs. Now that treatment is global - you can even have it in Japan.
But I’m here to try the core massage of the range, Synaesthesia, an 80-minute “full body, multi-sensory massage to transform your state of mind”. Sounds good to me.
What's a Synaesthesia treatment at LUSH like?
I’m invited into a consultation area and asked to pick a word from a selection emblazoned on a painted chalkboard. I go for “Confidence” and am instructed to write the word in chalk onto my own blank chalkboard. I then choose a turquoise green medicine bottle labelled “Determination” and “Absolutely” from a gold tray of colourful pipetted ones. “Choose the word or the colour you are drawn to,” says my softly spoken masseuse. It feels ritualistic. Solemn, almost. I try to push back the FOMO: what if I’ve picked the wrong ones?
The waiting room is all calming dark wood and forest greens, the words “slow down to speed up” are emblazoned in gold foil on one wall. My masseuse talks me through the treatments I will be having today. I pass a rack of massage bars with words embossed onto them on my way to the treatment room. “How do you want to feel?” asks the chalkboard.
In the room, a conical flask bubbles away with dry ice, the room is filled with the scent of “determination”. Turns out determination smells minty. I like it.
I’m a big fan of a massage. I find most beauty salon ones too gentle. I prefer a Thai massage, or a sports one, I like strong limbs working all the deep knots out. I like a little bit of pain, and to walk out feeling a bit bewildered.
My Synaesthesia massage is of the more gentle variety but, whether it’s because I had just come back off a tour with my band where I had spent a week in a van and sleeping on sofas, or whether there is some kind of magic that goes on in the LUSH spa, I don’t mind its softer nature. I lie back and float away on a fluffy cloud, even drifting asleep a couple of times. I’m quite amazed how easily I am able to switch off from all of the usual worries that nag away at me.
But this is not your typical beauty school massage, it really is a whole sensory experience. The scent in the air and the massage oils, the sensation of hot and ice-cold stones on your skin, all work in harmony with choreographed massage moves and music to take you right out of whatever grouchy place you are in. It’s indulgent to follow up with a Tangled hair treatment but if you’re already there, why not? This isn’t as hair tugging as I expected (and perhaps hoped for) but it’s a far better Indian head massage style treatment than many others I’ve had.
After the treatment, I’m left to chill out in another comfy relaxation space with a “Confidence” herbal tea. I’m given a fresh “Confidence” massage bar in a tin to take home and yeah, I do leave feeling a few inches taller. Maybe it’s witchcraft, maybe it’s just nice to feel pampered and gently caressed for a couple of hours. But I’d definitely return if I had a couple of hours spare in Liverpool and I’ll be buying some treatments as Xmas gifts for the special people in my life too.
If you've never been to LUSH Liverpool, you might be surprised at how much there is to love there.
LUSH Liverpool spa, 38 - 46 Church St, Liverpool L1 3AW