Switzerland is famous for three things: chocolate, clocks and discreet bankers. Make that four things: posh plastic surgery clinics. In the 1973 film Ash Wednesday, Elizabeth Taylor plays Barbara Sawyer, a wealthy American housewife whose marriage is crumbling. Instead of seeking a marriage counsellor, she flies to Switzerland for a major surgical overhaul. Alas, the marriage is beyond repair, but Taylor looks ravishing. Switzerland is still where the affluent go to rejuvenate their bodies and faces with leading anti-aging regimens. This month, however, Swiss skin care expertise jets to Canada with the North American launch of Cellcosmet and Cellmen at Holt Renfrew.

Roland Pfister, president of Cellap Laboratories in Lausanne, is the epitome of the Swiss businessman: multilingual, urbane and low-key. “It is a known fact that, with age, skin cells lose their vitality,” he says during our interview in Gstaad. “I have developed a way to revitalize skin cells with stabilized bio-integral cells that, with regular application, will improve the health of your skin and make it look younger.” While the language seems complicated, Pfister explains that the concept itself is really quite simple: weak organs can be treated with healthy cells from similar organs. Since the 1930s, clinics in Switzerland specializing in these types of treatments have attracted the rich and famous, such as Claudette Colbert, Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Windsor and even Pope Pius Xll.

Today, the real growth is in the development of leading-edge cosmeceutical skin care products to prevent and reverse signs of aging. Because opportunities to fly to Zurich or Montreux are limited for most of us, companies such as Cellap have focused their efforts on satisfying the booming demand for high-performance cosmeceuticals. Sales estimates for cosmeceuticals in the United States alone are expected to be more than $7.2 billion by 2008.

The challenge for scientists is how to create hypoallergenic products that will deliver potent ingredients that the skin can actually use. Pfister believes he has found the answer with a method he developed in 1987 called “cell control,” which allows cells created through biotechnology to remain full of nutrients for long periods of time. According to Pfister, this means that the company’s two lines, Cellcosmet for women and Cellmen for men, contain the highest levels of active ingredients (up to 30 percent in some products) available in the cellular cosmetics market today. During a skin care consultation, a client’s physiological, not chronological, age is determined, and then she is prescribed the correct skin care product. (At Holt Renfrew, clients will also be able to book customized facials with aestheticians who will be personally trained by a Cellap physician.) With fans among the scions of industry magnates, Middle East royals and Hollywood A-listers such as Brad Pitt, Cellap’s future seems to be in the pink.