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Prominent Odessans: Nadia Payot


In 2020, cosmetics brand PAYOT turned 100 years old. Its history is inseparable from the history of its creator: Nadia Payot, an Odessan, one of the first certified women doctors, intellectuals and visionaries. She was destined for a special mission: to bring the world a new look at beauty and leave her inexhaustible source as a legacy to future generations. Here is the amazing story of her life and success.


At the end of the 19th – beginning of the 20th centuries, in the Russian Empire, to which Odessa belonged at that time, it was impossible for a woman to become a doctor: there was a decree prohibiting ladies from receiving upper education. Moreover, Nadia grew up in a large and cultivated family of a respected Odessa entrepreneur.

This meant music lessons, governess – French and German, study of home economics and etiquette, everything useful for a girl to achieve a successful marriage. But, in addition to her pretty face, Nadia had strength of character and courage. And she begged her parents to let her, already twenty years old, go to study in Switzerland.

Nadia Payot (far right) with her sisters (photo from the Payot archive)

Those years in Lausanne would have been considered a heavy burden by others. But not Nadia: she enthusiastically pored over textbooks and disappeared in laboratories; everything to get the coveted document and become one of the first women with a medical diploma.

Charming, with a light character, young people liked Nadya, but she did not look for novels; she dreamed of changing medicine. And that’s true: it’s the 1910s, a decade of progress and inventions!

Love found her when Nadia was preparing to return back home. His name was Edmond Payot, he was a brilliant young engineer and handsome man. But he chose Nadia, intelligent radiant violet-coloured eyes girl. In 1913, they became a family.

Nadia with her husband Edmond (photo from the Payot archive)

Student marriage of young specialists is a similar story, no matter what time you live: vacancies in the provinces, work from dawn to dawn, not the most comfortable life. But all this is so unimportant if you devote yourself to what you love.

Edmond Payot was offered a place in Argentina. At that time this country was one of the ten richest in the world and was rapidly being built. They lived in Buenos Aires, and while her husband was busy in the bureau, Nadia worked in hospitals on a voluntary basis. And then they left for the outback.

The husband was in charge of the construction of the railway, and Nadia became the only hope of salvation for hundreds of residents of settlements remote from civilization. Often, at the first call, she had to jump on her horse and, taking a suitcase with tools, race for many miles across the wild steppe.

Dr. Nadia Payot

In 1917, Edmond Payot, already a renowned engineer with a good reputation, was invited on a study trip to the United States. New York impressed Nadia: noisy, cosmopolitan, speaking dozens of languages. Life itself seemed to be in it. This city gave her the main thing: a vocation.

At that time, the first beauty institutes were opening in New York, and Nadya felt with all her heart: it was her, with her experience as a doctor, who could make women truly beautiful. A meeting with the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova also helped: with a professional eye, Nadia noted the girlish fragility and flexibility of the figure of an almost forty-year-old dancer, and the traces of time on her face.

The answer was simple: relentless exercise at the bench.

But you can train your face too!

Nadia Payot

This is how the phenomenal “Gymnastics for the face and neck”, which were the source of the 42-Movement Massage was born. What was presented in the 21st century as an innovation with the name “face building”, invented a hundred years ago by Nadia Payot. The revolutionary idea captured the minds of beauties and their cosmetology doctors. And the inspired Nadia introduced innovation after innovation.

It is not enough to give women creams, you need to learn how to use them correctly.

Nadia Payot

And Madame Payot has developed a ritual – cleansing-nutrition-stimulation of the skin, so that in the morning the lady wakes up fresh and beautiful. Today it is obvious, but a hundred years ago it was a daring innovation!

Nadia began to create her own creams, studied the phenomenon of female beauty from all sides and came to the conclusion, which will become the main ideology of her future brand: beauty depends not only on external effects on the skin (massage and cosmetics), but also on the general state of the woman’s body and her soul.

Leaving the New World, Nadia and Edmond decided to settle down in Paris. A year later, in 1920, their beloved son Albert was born. An inner fire led her to Parisian herbalists for raw materials and recipes, and then to the kitchen to invent miraculous formulas.

And the proud capital of beauty, Paris, favourably accepted her work. Still, in the courtyard of the roaring twenties, after the end of the big war, women crave to be beautiful. Nadia’s assistant and friend barely has time to deliver creams to clients, and an appointment with Dr. Payot is scheduled weeks in advance.

In 1925, Nadia opened the first PAYOT Beauty Institute in Europe at 12 Rue Richepanse. The clientele flowed like a river, and after a couple of years they had to change the location to a more spacious, luxurious and conveniently located on the rue Castillon. Payot did more than just massage the face and sell skin care products. Here one could learn the basics of care, massage, relax, rest, go through complex technological procedures.

Training of the cosmetologists at a Beauty Institute

The clients of the Payot Institute were Ingrid Bergman, Rita Hayworth, Greta Garbo. New centres were opening in Monte Carlo and Biarritz, and Payot’s famous purple waisted jars were found in some of the most luxurious department stores. Everyone wanted them: for the first time, cosmetics were produced by a woman, a doctor, a star cosmetologist. And for the first time, it was distributed by skin type. Before Nadi Payot, no one did this.

Things were going so well that Edmond decided on an adventure. He left his studies and took over the management of his wife’s business in order to free her to serve beauty.

Then, there were the difficult war years and the post-war revival, the expansion of the company and the creation of new cosmetics, the training of young specialists – with the same burning eyes as they remained with Nadia until the very end.

Nadia Payot talks about massage, Hotel Carlton, Paris, 1962

Doctor Payot in our time would be called a celebrity and influencer: there would be films about her, people would dream of being friends with her. She is still remembered and loved.

Until 1954, Edmond Payot was listed as Managing Director of Payot. Despite the fact that their marriage with Nadia fell apart (Edmond went to the company’s commercial director, Sylvia Cassel), Payo was engaged in brand development in Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain. However, in 1954 he died and Nadia sold the company.

The new owner of Payot is American Joseph Alexander. Nadia moved to Switzerland, to her estate Ver Clos, plunged into the study of anthroposophy and took care of the garden. However, until the last days of her life, she continues to lecture about skin care.

An innovative approach, a focus on scientific discoveries and medical experience, special textures and aromas: PAYOT brand faithfully follows the principles of its founder. Today, the brand has continued to occupy the international stage, with a presence in nearly 70 countries and more than 7,500 selective points of sale, beauty institutes, spas, perfumeries, department stores and pharmacies.

Nadia Payot in her garden