Bloomberg

(Bloomberg) -- Imagine you are working. You are stressed. You are bombarded by e-mails, phone calls, life. For many, this is everyday reality, but for the select few, an alternate universe is being constructed for your daily escape. Instead of crawling under your desk and waiting for 5 p.m. to come, imagine you walk into a members-only, 6,000-square-foot sanctuary filled with limitless yoga classes, cold-pressed juices, and the smells of sage and palo santo wood wafting through the air. You head to the locker room, placing your bare feet on the terrazzo floor and your belongings in a locker made with sustainable northeastern wood. Pad over to the yoga studio and take a child's pose on your eco-friendly byVivid yoga mat as other members—but never more than 20—trickle in. Afterward, you wrap yourself in a Turkish robe and maybe take in a lecture on crystal healing. On your way out, you can even pick up some of Gwyneth Paltrow's favorite Brain Dust at the in-house store. 

Ah. Bliss. But for a price.

This mix of wellness, luxury, and exclusivity will soon be available to New Yorkers at the inaugural location of High Court in lower Manhattan. Described by its co-founders, sisters Colleen and Hailey Brooks, as “the third personal space, after home and office,” it will be the place where “intelligent leisure” reigns. The first of what they hope will be a chain, High Court aims to be less a gym and more a haven, built with the same combination of mindful living and high-end taste that Paltrow famously used to build an audience for her website, GOOP. (Though the sisters follow some of the actor's cues, she isn't associated with the company.)

At High Court, working is relegated to specific designated areas, and the members are all “young, ambitious and curious.” Hoping to tap into several segments of the estimated $3.4 trillion wellness industry (PDF), including fitness, healthy eating, and beauty, the sisters see the $250-per-month price tag—plus food, drink, and gear from the store—not as a replacement for Equinox memberships (around $200+ in New York, depending on location) or SoulCycle classes ($34 each). Rather, they see it as an addition: part of a health-minded millennial’s “portfolio of memberships,” as Hailey describes it.

“It’s not just a yoga studio with a living room,” Hailey, who comes from retail buying, said. “You’re signing up for a new kind of social house.”

“From a trendcasting perspective, it’s a really good idea,” said Liz Dennery, founder and chief executive officer of SheBrand, a Los Angeles-based branding and marketing firm. She cited the growing group of professionals who prioritize their health and well-being over other aspects of their busy lives. While she lauds High Court for offering the human element that's largely lacking in the current Internet-based wellness community, she also advises more social media engagement: the High Court Instagram account has only 3,600 followers compared with such private clubs as Soho House and its 108,000 followers or GOOP, with 419,000. “They should absolutely reach out to high profile yoga teachers, nutritionists, and celebrity influencers in New York,” Dennery said. 

Then there's the private club allure to go along with the earthy-crunchy atmosphere. Colleen, who spent the last nine years working in finance, points out that socializing has always cost money, but comes with fewer benefits. “I would always be, ‘let’s go out to dinner, let’s catch up, and I’d walk away having spent fifty to a hundred dollars,’” she said, recalling an experience familiar to most professional urbanites. “I would feel unhealthy all the time and it would be condensed to an hour or an hour and a half at that dinner table and then you’re rushed out.” At High Court, catching up will be easier and healthier, the sisters say. Unlike a gym, its members can bring up to two friends with them every time they visit.

Like the Soho House-model (but with less alcohol and sunbathing) or venues such as NeueHouse (without the focus on work), High Court will curate everything from its towels to its members. But while a $2,800 per year Soho House membership buys global access, as does an extra $50 on top of NeueHouse's New York full access price of $1,500 per month, High Court can't offer the same until new locations are built. 

But before you start mulling your options, you have to get in. And at High Court, admission is decidedly not guaranteed. The application requires divulging your age, gender, zip code, profession, and (gasp) Instagram account. Next come meetings with one or both of the Brooks sisters. They say that members will be chosen with an eye toward maintaining gender balance and diversity. “Like seating a dinner party,” Hailey said. 

After hosting its preview pop-up experience in Tribeca earlier this month, the founders say they've already received more applications than the 200 spots allotted for first comers. Before the event, they had raised about half of their $3 million funding goal, with more potential investors lined up. They are finalizing their lease for a space at the corner of Nassau and Fulton Streets, planned as the first of five over the next five years, with two more planned for Manhattan before an expansion to Austin and Los Angeles.

“In the hustle and bustle of a crazy New York life, people do want an escape,” said Jamie Krell, a lifestyle editor and media personality. While gyms are a good place to exercise, they are not built for relaxation. “You’re signing up for SoulCycle and getting blocked out, it can add more stress.” 

Not everyone, however, is on board with this brand of self care. “I like that it’s making us think about our health and a preventative approach,” said Timothy Caulfield, a professor in the Faculty of Law and the School of Public Health at the University of Alberta (and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash). “What I don’t like,” he said, “is framing wellness as if it’s a luxury item.” This kind of model, he said, “creates this illusion that you have to do certain things to maximize your health.” Yoga is good for you, he said, but is hardly the only—or best—way to get fit. Such products as the $55 herb-based Brain Dust, are cleverly marketed, unregulated supplements, not clinically proven medicines—and are completely unnecessary for a healthy lifestyle.

The Brooks sisters recognize that some elements may raise eyebrows, and they don’t claim that the $20 Sweet Saba crystal candies available at the pop-up are actually “magical,” as their packaging says. But, asked Hailey, “Aren’t you curious?”

To contact the author of this story: Deena Shanker in New York at dshanker@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: David Rovella at drovella@bloomberg.net.

©2016 Bloomberg L.P.

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