Women of Vancouver: Vanessa Grutman

Aug 25 2016, 6:52 pm

Women of Vancouver is an editorial series featuring stylish and professional women in Vancouver. WofV producer and stylist, Jason Sarai of Style by Sarai, recently interviewed Vanessa Grutman for this exclusive in-depth photo editorial.

What do you do for work?  

I’m the Business Director of Project Skin MD, a centre for laser and aesthetic medicine in South Granville, a beautiful upscale neighbourhood of Vancouver. We’re also the host to the first North American flagship for the L’Oreal brand SkinCeuticals. Essentially, we are passionate about skin and thrive on helping as many people feel and look their best.

How did you get involved in this career? 

I launched the SkinCeuticals skincare brand in Western Canada back in 2010. Dr. McGillivray and Bev were one of my clients and the opportunity to build a flagship came on the table. Soon after, we were designing the first of its kind in North America and I eventually left L’Oreal to help them start this new and exciting venture. I love to start things from the ground up – that’s what I do best and thrive on.

What do you enjoy most about your career and company?

Project Skin MD is home to me. It’s not work (well, most of the time) – it’s a stimulating place I go to every day and where I get to collaborate with amazing people. Dr. McGillivray, Bev, and myself have worked really hard at building and maintaining a strong culture of respect and love. We’ve curated a group that truly feels like a family. We think that having a cohesive group is the key to creating a special place for ourselves and in turn for our clients. In fact, they always comment on how they feel the love when visiting us. Like they say, “your vibe attracts your tribe.”

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Why do you feel you’ve created something different at Project Skin MD?

It’s all about having the right mindset. We’re doing what we do because we want to help our clients age gracefully, to teach them that it’s possible to look natural and refreshed at any age. Everyone on our team simply loves what they’re doing, they’ve been doing it for a long time and flourish when sharing their knowledge and helping others feel good in their own skin.

Project Skin MD is like a sanctuary, a safe and warm environment where clinical excellence can always be expected and where real people (who are also aging) are devoted to making a difference in our clients’ life.

What you’re offering is often perceived as vain, how do you react to that?

I don’t blame them for thinking that. I feel that the notion of natural beauty, elegance and grace has been distorted over the years – whether it’s the Kardashian phenomenon, the abundance of products like Botox distributed in the wrong hands, or just the overwhelming amount over-promising skincare products, lots has changed. We see more and more weird frozen faces and automatically, people assume that it’s what we do. In fact, we’re paddling hard and strong in the opposite direction. Through artistry, experience, and balance, we’re trying to offer our clients a solution to help them feel better about aging while still looking like themselves.

When I see how we transform people’s life, boost their self-esteem and give them a tangible emotional lift, I say that the last thing we do is to offer vanity. A patient recently told us that coming to Project Skin MD was making her feel better than going to her psychologist and the results were lasting longer. I thought it was pretty bang on!

Where do you see Project Skin MD in five years?

I see it as the gold standard destination for healthy skin and graceful aging. We like to say “the genius bar” of skin. That place you can go to, ask any question, get educated answers and be empowered to make the right choices.

Where do you see your career and business in five and 10 years?

I hope Project Skin MD will continue to grow in an organic and authentic way like it’s been so far. Because we don’t follow trends but rather do what we feel is right, I think we’ll continue to connect and appeal to people at a deeper level – and hopefully we will do so everywhere across the country and beyond! I’m excited for what the future is holding. I can’t wait to continue to lead this beautiful brand towards our biggest dreams. I think dreams do come true!

What advice do you have for entrepreneurs?

Entrepreneurship can feel lonely – and so does leadership. You’re often forced to be in your own head thinking of big picture ideas or your next move. Surround yourself with people that are in a similar situation – it helps to make you feel more human sometimes!

What’s your typical work day like?

Each day is different and I absolutely love that, it never gets boring. I feel that a big part of my role is to keep our vision alive, to live and breathe it. I could be brainstorming with our team on our next marketing campaign, negotiating better rates with our suppliers, working on the creative direction for our social media, reviewing last month’s P&L, or organizing our next staff meeting. There’s never a dull moment. I try to lead by example and there is no job I won’t do if it’s to help us achieve our goals. Hence why you might also see me carrying boxes around, ringing a client through, or sweeping floors!

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

How do you manage your personal and professional life?

I wouldn’t say that I “manage” it, but maybe more “surf” it! My husband and I are a powerful team and we rely on that for balance. We both have important careers but ultimately, our daughter and our family is our priority. We try to work smart by being effective during the day so we can enjoy our precious time together at night. It’s not always easy but it’s what grounds us.

Outside of work, what do you do in your spare time?  

You’ll find me practicing Kundalini yoga (my newest obsession, it’s so liberating), grocery shopping with my daughter (the simple things, right? Honestly, it’s important for me to teach her the importance of healthy eating and so I make grocery time a fun educational session), cycling or jogging, planning our next trip, Skyping with the family in Montreal, making fresh-pressed juice and if we’re lucky, having a date night!   

What book are you currently reading? 

I always have about five books on my night table, and depending on what head space I’m in, I’ll read a different one. “The Desire Map” from Danielle Laporte has been captivating me lately. I just love the idea of setting your life goals based on how you want to feel as oppose to sticking to the old school theory of smart goals. Such a simple concept yet it really does change how you perceive things and how achievable goals suddenly look. You have to be in the right headspace and dedicate some time for reflection while doing it. She forces you to think, go in your darkest places, write down your emotions and sometimes cry it out. It’s amazing.

What three books would you recommend everyone to read when it comes to business and lifestyle?
  1. “Playing Big” by Tara Mohr and her notion of inner mentor has been really helpful to me. There is a projection exercise in there that in itself, is worth buying the book for. It really resonated with me.
  2. Surprisingly, I found Kate Hudson’s book “Pretty Happy” quite refreshing and down to earth. It reiterated – in a meaningful way – some overlooked principles such as meditation and the power of writing.
  3. “Girlboss” by Sophia Amoruso – I know that one sounds cliché but I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read. Just shows the power of dedication, discipline and vision (and girl power of course!). It was inspiring.
What charitable organizations/programs do you work with and how did you get involved?

Charities are interesting to me. As much as they certainly help, I find inclusion is often the key. I’ve learned that first hand with my brother who has Down Syndrome. The one thing they dream of is to be included, acknowledge, and considered. They want the same life we have – and they should have it! My brother has always wanted a job, a girlfriend, a circle of friends, his social activities, his independence, and his apartment; just like his sisters – why should it be different for him? The best way we can help them is by allowing them to fulfill their dreams and help them shape and create the life that they desire. That’s how they’ll thrive in their community and be better citizens.

My parents are currently actively involved in creating one of the first buildings offering a transition to independent living for nine kids with Down Syndrome or a form of intellectual disability in a suburb of Montreal. It’s an ambitious and incredibly inspiring project. Planned to open in 2017, L’Appart à moi (http://en.lappartamoi.ca), will offer my brother and 8 of his friends the chance to have its own apartment, to live independently and safely while being financially supported.

Project Skin MD also supports Quest Food Exchange, an amazing not-for-profit organization that provides dignified access to a variety of affordable and healthy foods to individuals facing food security challenges in BC. Not only do they reduce hunger with dignity but in turn, they contribute to significantly reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfill.

What are your favourite places to go eat in Vancouver?

I find Vancouver has a lot of great restaurants and it’s been fun to discover them since we moved here from Montreal. For fine dining, we really enjoy Hawksworth, Lupo, or West. When we want a more casual yet delicious meal, we’ll go to Heirloom, Minami, or Field & Social.

Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant – 1509 West 12th Avenue

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

What do you recommend someone try when at Heirloom?

The menu is very different whether you go for lunch or dinner. They’re known for their Kale Ceasar Salad – the beet chips are their best-kept secret (I’ve tried to replicate them at home many times) – but the Kale Slaw should not be overlooked! I usually have one or the other for lunch. For dinner, their tacos and burgers are yummy.

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

What do you like most about your experience at Heirloom Vegetarian Restaurant? 

It’s a block from Project Skin MD so I’m literally there or at their Heirloom Juice location (to-go juices, smoothies, or salads) all the time. I enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and décor but most importantly their fresh and deliciously healthy food. It fuels me for the rest of my day. It’s my go-to place for lunch meetings!

West Restaurant – 2881 Granville Street

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

What do you recommend someone to try when at West Restaurant?

You can’t go wrong with anything, really. Their fresh fish or risotto are always on my radar. I enjoy their homemade gluten-free bread – they serve it warm, right out of the oven. Their wine list is remarkable and they carry one of my favourite and hard to find BC wine; the Foxtrot Pinot Noir.

What do you like most about your experience at West Restaurant?

When you are hoping for a more upscale dining experience, it never disappoints. Each meal is prepared with the outermost attention and is as delectable to eat as it is to see. The service is impeccable and their staff is pleasant and polished. I’ve never had a bad experience at West. Plus, it’s in the best neighbourhood!

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

Image: Ellen Ho / Hong Photography

What are your favourite cafes and coffee shops in Vancouver?

I don’t drink cow or soy milk so I’m always looking for the best almond or coconut milk latte (they’re not easy to find). In Montreal I always go to Pikolo Expresso Bar and I’m so excited that they’re opening a new location in Whislter this Fall! For now, I enjoy the coconut latte from Allegro while doing my groceries at Whole Foods on Cambie Street.

How do you think people would describe your style?

Classic and refined with a fun twist. I often say Audrey Hepburn meets Brigitte Bardot. Being from Montreal, I embrace looks that might be more avant-gardist and unique yet elegant. Dresses are my staple – they are easy and so beautiful. I love to be comfortable in what I wear, it helps me be more confident. Nothing worse than feeling like a sausage roll! I make it a challenge to find unique pieces in which I can move and breathe while feeling like I can take on the world. For example, A-line dresses are a God-sent (bonus points for pockets).

How does the work offered at Project Skin MD tie into style?

At Project Skin MD, we are professional, current, educated, elegant, and want to represent classic beauty – it’s therefore important to showcase it in our wardrobe choices.

What does style mean to you?

I’ve always thought that your personal style is a reflection of your state of mind. It shows off your personality while demonstrating how up-to-date you are. For me, it’s instrumental. I find it’s too often overlooked. They should give dress code classes in school – these are life skills and mastering them will help you get where you want!


Jason Sarai
Producer & Stylist
Style By Sarai
Ellen Ho
Hong Photography
Anita Lee
Hair & Makeup Stylist / Style Assistant
Lindsay Rosso
Tracy Richardson
Clothing provided by: Hudson’s Bay