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Kathy Driscoll: A Pioneer in Esthetic Education

The Story of the Institute of Cosmetology, Esthetics & Massage and its Founder

In 1978, Kathy Dirscoll was living the typical housewife life. She spent her days playing bridge at the country club and working in the Junior League. She was itching for something more.

One day, her husband Tom was on his way back from a business trip abroad and was staying at The Plaza Hotel in New York. To refresh from the long journey, he ventured over to Vidal Sassoon in the General Motors Building on Fifth Avenue. As he was leaving the salon, he saw Christine Valmy’s facial salon and decided to check it out.

Inside, he met with Christine and asked her if there was something she could do about his oily Italian skin. He then received a traditional European facial. He was very impressed with the experience and asked Christine why there wasn’t something like this in Houston. After talking with Christine about franchising her salon, Tom called Kathy and told her to get on a flight to New York. He had an interesting opportunity for her.

Kathy then went to New York, visited the salon and had her first facial. She fell in love with the spa and thought the treatment was wonderful. She also questioned why there wasn’t anything like that in Houston. At the time, there were few people in the country performing facials and all had learned on the East coast or in Europe. Before moving forward with franchising, Kathy wanted to test out Christine’s product. She bought her whole skin care line, took it home to Houston, and began her new skin care regimen.

Wanting to bring the facial experience to Houston, Kathy began looking for real estate. The Houston Galleria just opened, and she found the perfect location in the newly bustling area on Sage Road. She recruited a friend into her new business venture and the two traveled to New York in the summer of 1978 and began esthetician training.

Back in Houston, Kathy began preparing for the new spa. She raised the money, hired an architect to design and build the spa and worked with Christine to get all of the products and equipment needed. Since there was no one in Houston trained in esthetics at the time, Kathy brought in two women to work for her – one from Connecticut and one from England. Once all four women were trained; they drove to Austin to get their state certification. The next day, Christine Valmy Skin Care opened in Houston.

Spas, facials and skin care became more popular leading to a demand for a high-end spa in Houston. The Phoenix Fitness Resort at the Houstonian opened in 1980 and Kathy was hired to run the spa and educate staff on product and equipment. Kathy ran into the same problem while working at the Houstonian – there were no trained and qualified estheticians to hire.

It was at the point that Kathy’s daughter, Lacy, began to work for her. Lacy worked in the spa after school, learning about skin care products, working the front desk, and eventually became an esthetician. With the help of Christine and Lacy, Kathy opened another a salon in Dallas at the Valley View Mall inside Bloomingdales.

In 1983, three spas in tow, Kathy needed to fix the problem she kept coming to – no source of estheticians to hire. She went to Austin and acquired a license from the state and began teaching students, graduating a few at a time. Christine Valmy International School was born, later to become the Institute of Cosmetology, Esthetics & Massage known today.

After regulation issues with the state and a threat to take all of her graduate’s licenses away, Kathy was required to teach cosmetology and manicure at the school. She partnered with a local salon owner to start the cosmetology program and began building up the school, hiring teachers and signing students up. The school became very successful, it was one of a few cosmetology schools in Houston and the only esthetic school.

By the mid 1980s Kathy turned the Phoenix Spa at the Houstonian into a full-blown salon – hair, nails, face and body. Meanwhile, she became involved with the Aestheticians International Association and befriended the founder, Ron Renee. Kathy began working with Ron Renee to further the advancement of esthetic education in American. They hosted congresses and trade shows across the country, bringing together the top names in the industry.

In the early 1990s, rent was increased at her Galleria location, so Kathy decided to close the original Christine Valmy spa and move everyone to the Houstonian. At this time, she was part of a group of about 10 leaders in the industry. One of these leaders, Erica Miller, was distributing Sothys products and turned Kathy onto the brand. Kathy began exploring other products and decided to move on from only using Christine Valmy at her spas. The Houstonian spa then became Icon Unlimited.

Kathy kept traveling the country, hosting trade shows and encouraging continued education for everyone in the beauty industry. Though the encouragement of her peers, Kathy decided to take the Comité International d’Esthétique et de Cosmétologie exam and become a CIDESCO Diplomat. The new connections through CIDESCO allowed Kathy to stay involved in the industry and travel the world.

In 1995, the Institute of Cosmetology & Esthetics began teaching CIDESCO curriculum. The first exam was held in 1997 by CIDESCO secretary Margrit Altenburg and IC&E became the first CIDESCO International accredited school in the United States. In the years following, Kathy and Margrit worked together to develop the 5-day prep course that CIDESCO schools still use today. Margrit eventually moved to Houston in 1999 to run the CIDESCO program at IC&E.

In 2003, The Houstonian was sold to a large corporation and Kathy had no interest in working for a big business, so she left the salon she created. After that, she dipped her toe in the restaurant business but figured out it was not what she was interested in. So, Kathy returned to the school and started getting more involved with educating the future generation of estheticians.

In the spring of 2018, Kathy’s daughter, Lacy Gill, joined the team as the assistant director. Over the last few years, Lacy has restructured and refreshed the Premier Esthetics program to fit the needs of the modern-day student.

Today, the Institute of Cosmetology, Esthetics & Massage teaches esthetics, cosmetology, nails, massage, eyelash extensions and advanced classes. Kathy’s mission to promote continued education in the beauty industry still rings true and is seen through ICE&M’s dedication to first-rate education.

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