‘Magic Mirror’ that is transforming celebrities’ workouts

Brynn Putnam’s creation allows users to get instant video guidance on their routine

Kailee Combs, the vice-president of fitness at Mirror, works out with some of the demos on one of the Mirror products in their showroom in New York. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

Kailee Combs, the vice-president of fitness at Mirror, works out with some of the demos on one of the Mirror products in their showroom in New York. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

 

Last Christmas, singer Alicia Keys, wearing red bauble earrings, posted a video on Instagram, in which one of her sons instructed her not to scream when she saw her present. But Keys danced and shrieked anyway, so much was her joy upon seeing a sleek 52-inch rectangular Mirror mounted on her wall.

When turned on, the otherwise unassuming-looking bit of home decor morphs – like Through the Looking Glass gone athleisure – into a gym portal, offering screenings of some 70 live fitness classes per week, including boxing, dance cardio, high-intensity interval training and yoga.

Users are face to face with the instructor; you can see your entire body as well as a shrunken-down image of the instructor’s. The device is controlled by an app, so as to avoid fingerprints on the reflection. All the usual caveats about data collection apply.

“I love this can you tell??” Keys wrote in a caption for the post.

Keys is one of the most vocal in a wave of high-profile early adopters of the Mirror, which came on the market in September. Reese Witherspoon also recently posted a video to Instagram; she used the device, which retails for $1,495 (€1,325), to take a boxing class.

Ellen DeGeneres referred to hers as the “magic Mirror” on her television show. Allison Williams works out with hers daily, according to her publicist, and Gwyneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston ordered theirs after seeing it at friends’ houses. Kate Hudson talked about trying one in People magazine.

Almost every boutique gym has its celebrity followers, but not since SoulCycle’s heyday five to seven years ago, when Lady Gaga, Lena Dunham and Oprah Winfrey threw parties at the spinning studio and designer Betsey Johnson wore SoulCycle leggings to the opening of an exhibit, has one fitness method attracted so many famous practitioners. (Lady Gaga bought a Mirror for her parents for Christmas.)

In this case, it seems to reflect, as it were, their need for both privacy and – in the age of the selfie – carefully maintained social-media display.

Brynn Putnam, the founder of workout aid Mirror, at the company’s showroom in New York. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times
Brynn Putnam, the founder of workout aid Mirror, at the company’s showroom in New York. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

Brynn Putnam, Mirror’s inventor and a Harvard-educated former New York City Ballet dancer, said, “I think I knew we built something special, but I don’t think I expected this.” The 35-year-old does look up those who have bought the Mirror, just as she used to with first-time clients at Refine Method, the boutique gym she founded. But often she only finds out whom the purchase is for when employees arrive at the customer’s home to install it, or when her company receives questions about putting the device on a high-security wifi network.

“That’s how we found out about Leslie Mann and Judd Apatow, ” Putnam said, referring to the firewall issue. Her company, which has offices in New York and has raised €33.5 million from investors, is selling €885,000 of the 1.4-inch thick Mirrors per month, she said.

Putnam is refreshingly new to the courting of celebrity, and speaks of influencers (she gave Mirrors to Sara and Erin Foster, who have a lot of famous friends) and “public clips” (those Instagram videos) with the delight and faint ostentation of someone who has just learned a foreign language. Previously, she had little patience for workout fads. A decade ago, as an instructor at various barre method gyms, she was scolded for substituting in moves, such as lunges, that she considered more effective.

She created Refine (which has a devoted, though not boldfaced, following) after a year spent grilling sports scientists and professional athletes’ trainers. Mike Boyle, whose clients include NFL players and other elite athletes, told her she was right about the lunges.

At the time, the only studio she could afford was a 500sq ft ground-floor space on the Upper East Side of New York, that she had to give back to the church that owned it every Sunday for services. She designed a cable tower made of weighted sailing pulleys and tracks for strength exercises that could easily be taken down and remounted. (Her husband, Lowell Putnam, a founder and chief executive of Quovo, a financial technology company, had grown up sailing.)

Mirror products at the company’s showroom in New York. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times
Mirror products at the company’s showroom in New York. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

But in spring 2016, newly pregnant, Putnam found herself in the strange position of being the owner of a gym with an optimised-down-to-the-minute workout she could not face doing.

She didn’t like treadmills or exercise bikes enough to buy one, and when she tried to stream workouts, she couldn’t figure out where to set up her computer or phone so she could see it while moving.

Around that time, she also conducted a survey of Refine members about improvements she had put into effect, including new class times and custom-made equipment. Turned out, simple mirrors she’d put in at the last minute were by far Refiners’ favourite change: they liked the instant feedback. “I almost missed it,” Putnam said. “Mirrors were something I took for granted because my entire career I worked out in front of them.”

She spoke sitting on the sofa at the company’s Flatiron store, sipping a hot chocolate after six hours of interviewing potential Mirror hires. Occasionally, she stretched a leg above her in a perfect line, as if executing a tendu. On her feet were gray Allbirds, the only shoe she can tolerate after the Chanel ballet flats she bought (on a stylist’s advice) to “look like an adult” while promoting Mirror made her lose her toenails.

“It’s the greatest irony of the world,” she said. “One of the biggest things I was excited about when I stopped dancing was that I could keep my toenails going forward.”

Mirror’s required €35-per-month subscription, on top of the outlay for the equipment, offers four levels of classes, absolute beginner to expert, and all can be modified according to injury or pregnancy (each instructor films substitute moves, which pop up on screen according to user preferences). There is also a library of hundreds of on-demand classes, so in theory this cost can be amortised.

Lindsey Bradley, an actor who lives in Brooklyn, said the workouts were as good a sweat as the boutique studios she had attended as a ClassPass user. And as a bonus, she no longer has to stand on a chair to get a view of her outfit in a cabinet mirror. “I legit use it as my full-length mirror,” Bradley said. “You would never in a thousand years know it was a piece of workout equipment.” Bradley used to own an elliptical machine; it now functions as her mother-in-law’s clothing rack, she said.

The company promises that their “white glove logistics partner will mount the Mirror on the wall”, though this is currently confined to the United States – the Mirror has not yet reached Ireland.

Next up for Mirror is personal training, which will start at €35 per session; the device has a camera, and yes, a lens cap, lest you be concerned about privacy issues. Also there will be sports prep for children, because the Mirror is averaging 2.2 users per household, the company says. Later will come treadmill- and spin-workouts, like those offered by Peloton, a six-year-old company now valued at €3.5 billion.

The Mirror company has big plans for the device to be users’ third screen, after their phone and computer, with the capacity for everything from photo organising to chat. Users can already shop with the Mirror, buying fitness gear and other instructor favourites. – New York Times

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