Inside Paltrow's $690 'wellness summit'

Actress Gwyneth Paltrow attends amfAR’s fifth annual Inspiration Gala in Los Angeles, on October 29, 2014.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow attends amfAR’s fifth annual Inspiration Gala in Los Angeles, on October 29, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • No one can accuse Gwyneth Paltrow of running short of business ideas.

So, on an overcast Saturday in Los Angeles, more than 600 people, mostly well-dressed white women, crowded into a spacious hanger for a lesson in how to be - well, Paltrow.

She has won an Academy Award (for Shakespeare In Love, 1998), dated Brad Pitt, married and "consciously uncoupled" from rock star Chris Martin of Coldplay and raised two children.

That was all done by age 40.

For her next act, Paltrow, 44, has attacked a professional challenge that flummoxes even the savviest mogul: building a sustainable, profitable, online media business.

She is the founder and public face of Goop, a female lifestyle company that began as a newsletter and has since expanded into a diversified media concern. Goop publishes recipes and articles, sells fragrance and skin creams and, as of last weekend, hosted a conference.

"Today comes out of my deep curiosity," Paltrow said in her introductory remarks to a rapt crowd at the first Goop Health Summit.

She grew interested in health after her father was diagnosed with throat cancer. She still enjoys the occasional cigarette at parties but, following a macrobiotic phase and experiments with cupping, is eager to share her realisation that women "do have autonomy over our health".

Goop's first "wellness summit" is, in Paltrow's words, "focused towards being and achieving an optimal version of ourselves".

About 600 people paid US$500 (S$690), US$1,000 or US$1,500 to attend a single day of New Age self-improvement, replete with panels, food, a high-end shopping boutique and activities such as therapy with crystals.

With its advocacy for "vaginal eggs" and US$956 toilet paper, Goop is an easy company to ridicule and its wellness summit resembled a Saturday Night Live parody of a fancy conference. 

Visitors entered a 30,000 sq ft facility with all-white decor, including a hemispheric dome in which they could get their aura photographed.

Panellists were a Who's Who of Goop VIPs, including Dr Habib Sadeghi, architect of Paltrow's conscious uncoupling.

In the food stalls, an outpost for poke, the uber-trendy seafood snack, abutted a butcher serving bone broth (just as trendy, but without the seaweed).

During a panel about gut health, Dr Steven Gundry told the audience he skips breakfast and dinner.

His latest book, The Plant Paradox, is a New York Times bestseller.

Notwithstanding how many on the Internet are eager to besmirch Paltrow, Goop's bourgeois message of self-improvement inspires avid loyalty that is the bedrock of most successful media businesses.

Even the men get what it promotes. Mr Mark Agnew, for example, ventured to Los Angeles from Dallas, where he is a compliance officer at Goldman Sachs. He loves Goop's recommendations for travel, food and lifestyle.

While Dallas only just got its first poke stand, he could sample all the trappings of the rich and fabulous in the Goop event.

Paltrow declined to be interviewed, but all the attendees and panellists praised her generosity and bravery. 

In the face of frequent criticism, she is unabashed about her curiosity and ambition. She is also selfdeprecating.

She spoke alongside pals such as model Miranda Kerr and actress Cameron Diaz - all successful, ambitious and beautiful. 

"This is just who she is," said Diaz. "If there was no Goop, people would be calling her for the same information."

Or, in the words of a woman clutching a matcha drink outside the main hall, "doesn't everyone want to be like Gwyneth?".

Not everyone, but enough people.

At the end of the day, Paltrow announced that Goop would host a second summit in New York later this year and would return to Los Angeles next year.

"I learnt so much," she said. "I hope you all learnt something valuable." 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Inside Paltrow's $690 'wellness summit''. Print Edition | Subscribe