By ALEXANDRA JACOBS
June 14, 2017
CULVER CITY, Calif. — Mocking Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company, Goop, has become a national pastime played on late-night television, the internet and, with the parody “Glop,” in bookstores.
But what about the many devotees who are keeping the Goop Ship Lollipop (and its tugboat pop-up shops) afloat? Slurping the smoothies. Smearing the unguents. Inserting the jade eggs into their nether regions.
At 8:30 a.m. last Saturday, about 50 of these true believers were sitting on round white tuffets in a darkened studio here, submitting to a so-called sound bath administered by Sara Auster, a meditation teacher and one of the many health advisers that orbit Ms. Paltrow like so many planets around a sun.
Hundreds more were lining up on Warner Drive outside, awaiting clearance from Goop’s version of Oompa Loompas, identifiable by white T-shirts printed with the logo and name of the gathering — “In Goop Health” — and black trousers. The low hum of their excited chatter mixed with the sound of tuning forks hitting metallic “singing” bowls — bong, bong — and the unrelenting click of camera shutters capturing the day for Instagram feeds.
“Adjust your outfits, your hair,” Ms. Auster warned. “You’re going to be photographed.” A few participants lay over their tuffets, eyes closed and hair splayed like modern Ophelias, the better to absorb the waves of noise passing over them.
Meet the Goopies.
In their number are Jarrad Hirschman, a catering manager, and Logan Brent, executive assistant for a branding agency, both of West Hollywood, found in a spacious hall next to the studio warily eyeing some gluten-free granola.
Ms. Brent, 32, had found out about the convocation on the radio while driving to work. “These people were making fun of it and I thought, ‘Well, it actually sounds pretty cool,” she said. “The things they were talking about, like aura photography and crystal healing — those are things I’ve been interested in all my life.”
Mr. Hirschman, 39, said he had long been partial to Goop staples such as bone broth, cups of which were being proffered nearby by bearded men, and intravenous drips of vitamin-fortified fluids, available beside chaise longues in a courtyard. “It just kind of appeals to my sensibilities,” he said. “It’s just totally my speed.”
An Oompa Loompa interrupted with a tray bearing probiotic drinks flavored with peach and passion fruit, made by Tropicana, which is owned by Pepsi — showing just how thoroughly the philosophy of “gut health,” championed to some derision by Ms. Paltrow and several in her medical retinue, has infiltrated the corporate mainstream. A cornucopia of fresh fruits had been laid out, but the Goopies seemed to prefer these branded potions.
Back in the studio, the tuffets had been cleared and replaced with spongy cylinders: equipment for a “foam rolling” class taught by Lauren Roxburgh, a fascia and alignment therapist. If a quarter-century ago fitness mavericks climbed onto steps and nibbled fat-free Snackwell cookies, now they are flattening their bodies like the pastry shells they eschew.
“Give yourself a little hug,” Ms. Roxburgh told everyone, and they readily complied in this synod of self-care, this vertex of vigor, this … holistic hostage situation?
“Ouch,” said Eric Hefner, 52, rising from his mat. His wife, Margaret — “she is a Goopaholic” — remained on the floor, tilting her hips skyward, stretching out her arms like Supergirl.
“She’s trying to make the world a better place,” Ms. Hefner, 47, a stubborn fan since Ms. Paltrow’s 2010 movie “Country Strong,” said later. “Why the hell are you going to hate on somebody who’s doing that?”
Is Mr. Hefner into Goop too? “My wallet is into Goop,” he said with just a soupçon of rue.
The Hefners had flown in from Macon, Ga., where he is a franchisee of Zaxby’s, a chicken fingers and Buffalo wings restaurant, and she tends to their four children. They were among those who had paid $1,500 apiece for a first-class “Clear Quartz” ticket to the event — these sold out most quickly — granting them valet parking, preferred seating at presentations and lunch in the garden with Ms. Paltrow. The other ticket tiers were “Amethyst” ($1,000, including a cocktail party featuring martinis spiked with collagen powder) and the lesser “Lapis” ($500). The latter rank were excluded from the fitness classes, leaving them with many idle moments to have their faces kneaded, their nails manicured, their nostrils tickled by herbal concoctions — and their credit cards swiped. A hair oil called Uma ($70) conjured one of the few of Ms. Paltrow’s showbiz colleagues who has not “entered the wellness space” (an example of the Goop argot whose keywords floated around the hall: “journey,” “vulnerable,” “authentic,” “layers”).
Brandi Bakewell, 43, a marriage and family therapist, was browsing a rack of Tory Burch exercise clothing, wearing a “Lapis” bracelet and a blissful expression. “I’ve just been on such a health-wellness journey — for me this hit all the buttons,” she said.
Noting the large number of pale-faced Paltrow clones present, several of whom had pulled up in Jaguars and Range Rovers, Ms. Bakewell, who is African-American, addressed the oft-made charge that Goop is homogeneous and elitist. “I guess I want to say that I don’t think that is her fault,” she said. “Other communities of color aren’t necessarily at this point of the journey where they’re like ‘Let me think about vaginal steaming.’ I feel proud to be here representing. For me coming was about learning and not about my status.”
And even the Clear Quartz buyers had to delay immediate gratification on occasion. In the courtyard, Andrew Matthews, 43, was waiting patiently for a reading with Colleen McCann, a shaman whose “Medicine Bag” is among Goop’s top-selling products (though eclipsed by the $90 vitamin supplements).
“I’m more tagging along but I’m actually getting very into it,” said Mr. Matthews, who works for Uber and had on a T-shirt that read “Comey is my Homey.”
His wife, Shayne Matthews, 44, a business operations manager in the semiconductor industry, sprung up from her holding position on a white blanket. “This is what I chose in April to celebrate my birthday,” she said. “She’s doing exactly what I would want to do. Explore. Not just base everything on assumptions or take it as science, but go re-explore for yourself.”
Much of the exploration here took place in a large auditorium filled with white chairs, under which bottles of electrolyte-infused water had been placed. Sitting there attendees heard Ms. Paltrow reassure them she still occasionally smokes a cigarette at a party. They watched a rambling if heartfelt presentation on “cosmic flow” given by Dr. Habib Sadeghi, founder of an integrative health center in Agoura Hills. (“This is not a convention,” he said. “This is a pilgrimage.”) They flinched through a demonstration of a “10-Minute Face-Lift” involving an organic sugar thread inserted through a woman’s cheek.
And they nodded in sympathy as two psychotherapists, Phil Stutz and Barry Michels, authors of a best-seller called “The Tools,” considered the relationship troubles of a redheaded lady of athleisure named Kathy.
“Come on up; we want to hear you,” Ms. Paltrow said kindly. “You can have my chair.”
Kathy complained that she and her partner lived in separate houses. “We had a disagreement about the furniture,” she said. Clad in a silk crepe toile dress by Vilshenko that soon thereafter sold out at Net-a-Porter, Ms. Paltrow sat at Dr. Michels’s feet, hugging her knees. The doctors discussed how hard it is for women to reach “a primitive level of entitlement.” Soon they had the audience screaming, in unison:
“I’m an animal!”
Yes, it was time for lunch. For the Lapis and Amethyst participants, this meant glass jars filled with something that looked like moss, or artfully composed salads in compostable bowls. Dan Stayne, a paramedic strolling the premises, said he had treated some people for allergic reactions: “There was a lot of food getting thrown out that they didn’t know had peanuts in them.”
The Clear Quartzers, meanwhile, filed into a back garden, sat at a long table and dug into grilled avocados, sliced papaya and other delicacies, as Hall and Oates’s “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” played in the background — aptly echoing the most famous Goopie credo, that of refusal.
Ms. Paltrow may be opposed to factory farming, but reporters were shunted to speak to her in short segments like cattle, though exquisitely fed. Her goal for the event, she said, had been “to create, ideally, a resonant experience for our readers to come and have a meaningful day.”
“Because of course when you read something on a website it can be impactful but to sit and listen to people answer questions,” she continued, “it’s another level of meaning.”
She had enjoyed the gasps at the face-lift demonstration. “I like the idea that wellness for us is a broader thing — it’s not just ‘oh go eat some quinoa in a corner and meditate,’” she said. “It’s like ‘no, we’re modern women and we want to feel good and optimize our lives in a lot of different ways.’”
One of these will involve an old-fashioned magazine, released by Condé Nast in September, the presumptive heiress to the now-defunct print edition of Self. “I’m a real magazine girl,” Ms. Paltrow said. “I love the idea of creating meaning for people and there’s something about a magazine, where you’re taking 15 minutes for yourself: You’re on a plane, you’re by the pool — if you’re lucky — or taking a second in bed.”
Which brings us to the 3:45 p.m. “dialogue about orgasm quality,” but — oh, never mind.
Back in the courtyard, ignoring a marketing representative pushing cannabis pens, Gina Cooper, 38, of Atlanta and Emma Barry, 47, who moved to Redondo Beach from New Zealand, were gently complaining about the long lines for some of the day’s “activations.”
“I’m a Goopie, yes,” said Ms. Barry, director of group fitness programming at Equinox gyms. “To see Gwyneth here at this event participating with us — and we’re only Lapis, we’re the plebes. She’s mixing with us, mingling with us, to me she came with all her humanness — all her umm-ing and ahh-ing and normalness. She gets a bad rap, it looks like.”
“I agree with that,” said Ms. Cooper, who owns a talent recruitment business. “A lot of people that are used to conventional things and are resistant to change call it quackery. Call it whatever you wish, but I think that her intentions are really good.”
Another Oompa Loompa came over to inform the two new friends that Tracy Anderson, Ms. Paltrow’s human Spaldeen of a personal trainer, was about to begin a question-and-answer session inside, but they seemed in no particular rush to get out of the California sun.
The boys of bone broth had conked too onto white sofas, recharging with an army of iPhones around them after a long day of service.
“We’re not tired!” one hollered. “We’re resting our musculature.”