A grand golden doorway, royal blue suede chairs, polished concrete floors, stylish floral bouquets and a light airy fragrance makes for an indulgent aesthetic worthy of any luxury day spa. But this is not a day spa – it’s quite possibly Australia’s most luxe gym.
Designed for the country’s leading professionals, SOMA Collection is redefining the fitness industry, bringing together key elements of traditional gyms and blending them with an opulent sanctuary for recovery.
Whether you want to escape with a rejuvenating massage, relax in the infra-red sauna, strengthen your body during a Barre, boxing or Pilates class, or test your limits with a personal training session complete with Technogym equipment, the state-of-the-art gym has a little something for everyone.
Nestled in the heart of Sydney’s CBD at the iconic Chifley Tower, the luxe gym was Co-Founded by Simon Anderson and Franco Atashi after they recognised a lack of sanitation and wellness within the commercial gym industry.
“We really put an emphasis on being clean, being hygienic and service – as if you’re having a business-class flight.” – Simon Anderson
Combining their 30 years of personal training experience, the duo designed the boutique gym to transform the vision of loud music and weight throwing synonymous with the sector into a full-service boutique customised to every member.
Experiencing SOMA firsthand, it’s not difficult to see why it continues to soar in popularity since opening just a year ago.
The SOMA experience
Upon my arrival – after a quick COVID-19 temperature check – I was swiftly taken to the club change rooms. More luxurious than many hotel bathrooms, Dyson hairdryers and GHD hair straighteners line the vanities, leaving members no excuse not to sneak in a class before, or even during, the workday.
Phone-charging ports, Bluetooth access in the sauna (for personal music selections), a concierge and valet towel service are some of the finer attentions to detail. One of the most thoughtful additions is the convenient overnight locker service – a premium option that allows you to leave your dirty gym clothes and towels in your private locker, only for you to return for your next cardio HIIT session with freshly laundered clothing.
The pinnacle offering is the first-class package, which includes three personal training sessions, the overnight locker with washing and a massage (A$450 per week).
It’s easy to see why the wellness hub has garnered attention from Rebel Wilson along with leading companies including Deloitte.
“Our main idea was to have a place – a boutique space – for professionals and now we’re getting a lot more CEOs,” Simon shares with The CEO Magazine. “We really put an emphasis on being clean, being hygienic and service – as if you’re having a business-class flight.
“SOMA is about being in a nice, comfortable environment, not having bright lights in your face and loud guys throwing weights.”
With dark hues, brass tones, branded weights from London and a rotation of 10 experienced personal trainers on hand – all trained by the Co-Founders – the training centre oozes sophistication and practicality.
Over in the studios, floaty drapes create a soft light perfect for hosting Power Yoga, Yin Yoga, meditation, Barre, Pilates (reformer and mat), and HIIT and strength classes.
“We designed the classes so they’re accommodating for all fitness levels and all ages,” Simon explains. “We have a small number in each class, and we put a big emphasis on form, correction and time under tension, rather than going as hard as you can for 45 minutes.”
Running 10–12 classes every day means there are about 35 staff, including three in-house massage therapists, to cater for every member. Among the high-calibre team are experts who have worked with Australia’s elite sporting teams as well as the Tongan Olympic team.
“We’ve handpicked everyone. We have the best people in the industry – they’re fantastic at what they do,” Simon says. “We’re just trying to get the crème de la crème.”
But what truly sets apart SOMA, which means ‘body’ in Greek, is its strong appreciation of wellness. Members – who both Simon and Franco address throughout the morning by name – can treat themselves to a range of massages from remedial deep-tissue to lymphatic drainage.
After my 45-minute PT session with Simon, indulging in a relaxation massage with the talented Tammy was something I didn’t realise I needed. Jumping from resistance training in the gym to the soothing suite for a stress-free hour – complete with deep stretching – it was as though I’d been whisked away to a luxury retreat on an exotic island.
Emerging from the sanctuary was arduous, but the deluxe waterfall showers, complete with Leif products, and the infra-red sauna made it all the more worthwhile.
The luxe gym offers a magical balance of wellness, all geared towards helping executives unwind, get fit and find greater success within their careers.
“It’s all about having balance,” Simon says. “We wanted to have a training element, but have the infra-red sauna, massage and physio recovery.
“When you are holding a very highly stressful job, your body reflects that too. You can have a lot of inflammation, tightness and stiffness, and feel as like you have no energy.
“When you feel good in your body, it portrays confidence in your mind. It doesn’t have to be about turning into a body builder by any means, it’s just getting you to move better and feel better about yourself. That’s going to play out in your work going forward.”
Creating the luxe gym
Like most ventures, it didn’t happen overnight. This extraordinary vision took three years to bring life.
Simon and Franco spent 14 hours every weekend working on the SOMA concept while juggling their own small businesses and young families during the daily grind.
“We put our life savings into it,” Simon shares with The CEO Magazine. “I refinanced my apartment, put everything on the line into this space. It was all or nothing.
“Franco’s mentality is ‘Why start small? Go straight to the top.’”
Early project setbacks saw the co-founders (along with their business partner, Franco’s wife Amy) lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. But after finding Giant Design – a Sydney design firm that understood the vision – the hard work was able to get under way.
“We were in here every day helping the builders,” Simon recalls. “We were on our hands and knees levelling the floor, building it with them. We were there every step of the way.”
Inspired by Soho House and private member lounges in the UK, the duo’s original vision for the 700m2 space wasn’t in line with Chifley, making for another setback.
“At the beginning our concept was too over the top so we really had to bring it down,” he says. “We did polished concrete, nice wood, exposed ceilings to bring it down a little.”
Just months after opening its doors, Simon and Franco struggled to get people in simply because of its London-esque boutique-style facade.
“Having gold and bronze was nearly the worst thing we could do,” Simon explains. “People would look at it and they wouldn’t come near. They’d just walk away because it looked too expensive.
“No-one knows it’s a gym. It took us a long time to get people to come in and feel comfortable.”
As its reputation grew, SOMA’s membership soared to 330 – a staggering half of its total capacity.
And yet, the personal trainers were faced with yet another hefty blow: COVID-19.
The luxe gym lost more than three-quarters of its memberships at the start of the pandemic.
“We’d just started establishing ourselves and then we lost everything,” Simon recalls.
Giving them the opportunity to pivot by hiring out equipment, creating an online platform and training sessions in the gardens, it also proved to be an optimal time for improving the business.
“We did have some teething issues and thought about how we could make it better,” Simon says. “We just went to work – we were on the tools everyday ourselves, we were painting, doing lights, we hung all the boxing bags.
“It was tough losing a big bit of business, but I think in a way it did make us stronger. We’re just now starting to pick back up.
“Giving up my young kids and wife for a couple of years, giving up my life and putting that much work into it – we’re not going to give up now. If we can make it through this, we can make it through everything.”
A year on from first opening and SOMA has already been approached by property groups, proving the future for the luxe gym may just be as golden as its doors.
After overcoming so many extraordinary setbacks, Simon’s words of wisdom are simple.
“Believe in everything you do and give 100%. Never give up. It’s a mental game. A lot of the time you feel like throwing in the towel because it’s way too hard. If it was easy, everyone would do it.”