Irene Forte, Wellness Consultant & Founder of Irene Forte Skincare

Part 2: Well and Good

Irene Forte, Wellness Consultant & Founder of Irene Forte Skincare

With drive, determination and a passion for all things natural, Irene Forte sets a bar for wellness excellence. One of the key pillars of the Rocco Forte experience is a sense of place: environments and experiences that tell the story of Rome or Puglia, Berlin or Mayfair. Another intrinsic part of every stay, though, is well-being – something for which the brand is increasingly recognised around the world. That bar of excellence is the sum of many components: superlative spas and fitness centres, indulgent organic in-room amenities with serious research behind them, and therapists impeccably trained in both aesthetic and therapeutic treatments. 

But what sets the Rocco Forte Hotels wellness offering above the competition is how deftly it infuses that quality of experience with the Forte family heritage and values: substance gets equal billing with style, expertise shines through, and everything starts with superior prima materia. Wellness is Irene Forte’s domain, and it’s here that Rocco Forte Hotels’ Wellness Director is making her mark in ever better and more thoughtful ways, both in the hotels and resorts and far beyond them.

Irene grew up – and came into her own – in the family-business fold. “I was always very entrepreneurial,” she recalls; “I was always doing businesses within the business.” After a period in her 20s spent overseeing Rocco Forte Hotels’ Learning and Development department, she entered a UK government competition for ideas around addressing the lack of retention and career progression in the hospitality sector; Map My Future, the app she developed, tracked upskilling and development, with career ‘maps’, a news feed, a messaging service and more – and garnered her £250,000 in government funding. 

At the time, she recalls, wellness was still somewhat of a side thing for her professionally – “but personally I was always into it.” But soon it moved directly into her sphere; she helped develop the Rocco Forte Spa concept, as well as a healthy eating one, called Rocco Forte Nourish. In 2009, she had spent a year working at Verdura Resort, the newly-opened Rocco Forte hotel on Sicily’s southwest coast, immersing in the culture, flavours, and energy of the island.

"There’s always a focus on nature and science working in tandem”

It was there that she deepened her understanding of the power of nature on mind, body, soul – and skin. Specifically, she turned to Verdura Resort’s vast organic gardens for inspiration, studying the salutary properties of citrus and pomegranate, pistachio and olive oil, and many more native botanicals. Across the world, well-being as a commodity was gaining enormous traction; hotels with serious fitness and wellness offerings were proliferating; and Verdura Resort itself, with its 4,000 square metre, two-story spa, was already in the vanguard. A skincare line based in the natural bounty of the island – a “Mediterranean Diet for the face”, as Irene has called it – began to take shape. 

Originally called Forte Organics, and renamed Irene Forte Skincare in 2018, the product line evolved over several years, during which Irene worked with Francesca Ferri of Italy’s esteemed EffigiLab on comprehensive research into the active capabilities of organic ingredients. Too often, Irene had observed in the skincare marketplace, ‘natural’ translated to the consumer as ‘gentle’ – products that felt and smelled delicious, but often didn’t deliver in the way of quantifiable benefits. “A lot of natural brands had no clinical trial results to back up their efficacy,” she notes. In contrast, every product in the Irene Forte line undergoes extensive clinical trialling; a lab-formulated allergen screen was created, and products were tested, and clinically approved, for sensitive skin. The investment was worth it. “The hibiscus night cream performed the best of any natural product Doctor Ferri had seen tested,” at EffigiLab, Irene says. 

E-commerce sales steadily grew; after an initial exclusive launch with Net-a-Porter, the line has been picked up by some 50 retailers worldwide, from cult boutique Shen Beauty in Brooklyn to various niche profumerie across Italy. Finding the right outlets for the brand required “a lot of research, a lot of knocking on doors,” she says – but, as with the clinical tests, the efforts have paid off. 

Today, Irene oversees the whole wellness offering at Rocco Forte hotels and resorts, planning treatment menus and technology used, from thalassotherapy to radio frequency for face and body. Last year, she debuted the first Irene Forte Spa at Villa Igiea, in Palermo; set in its own building just above the sea, it features two stories of indoor-outdoor relaxation zones, treatment suites, a beauty salon, and a Technogym-equipped fitness centre overlooking the local harbour. Four more spas, at Rome’s Hotel de Russie and Hotel de la Ville, Masseria Torre Maizza in Puglia, and Verdura’s own spa – have since been rebranded Irene Forte, with the full offering of treatments and products.

The design of the spas is also her vision. The spaces lean to airy and modern, with subtle references to local artisanship (the myriad tiles at the Irene Forte Spa at Villa Igiea – all custom-created for the Spa by ceramic artisans in Bagheria – are an Instagrammer’s dream). The sense of place comes from the details she compiles for each location: volcanic stones from Mount Etna for hot-stone therapies at Verdura Resort, Puglian olive wood spatulas hand-carved by local carpenters at Masseria Torre Maizza. “There’s always a focus on nature and science working in tandem,” she says. “Excellent product, combined with manual techniques.”

Today, sustainability needs perforce to be a hallmark of any good wellness offering; and Irene is right out front here as well. She spent a year and a half doing intensive research into the lowest-impact packaging available, and eventually developed her own: “It had to be fully sustainable, but of course still look and feel luxurious,” she notes. The new look, which debuted earlier this year, 2022, features bottles made from post-industrial recycled glass with bio-based plastic refillable containers. She notes with excitement and pleasure the speed with which her e-commerce customers have picked up the refills in their purchasing: “Already the second purchases are skewing strongly to the refills,” she says. The plan, she notes, is to soon be producing more refills than original containers.

The commitment and hard work haven’t gone unnoticed in the business world: in January of this year, not only was Irene Forte Skincare awarded a coveted B Corp Certification, given to companies performing at the highest level of social sustainability and environmental performance standards, but it garnered an exceptional 99.5 point rating (the pass rate is 80). Irene’s dedication and drive continue to raise that excellence bar; the future looks promising for Rocco Forte wellness with her at the helm.