By Suzy Kalter
February 02, 1981 12:00 PM

Take it at face value. When Peter Fonda, Nancy Reagan, Melvin Belli, Tatum O’Neal and dozens of other celebrities plunk down $35 for their monthly 90-minute facial at Aïda Grey’s Institut de Beauté in Beverly Hills, they get their money’s worth. Their pores are cleansed with peach milk and herbal lotion. Then they are massaged with fruit-of-the-sea cream (a concoction made of fish oils and sea vegetation) and masked in honey-and-almond paste. And only then comes the steaming, sterilizing and soaping. Finally they are soothed with a “mash of fruits.”

Nancy Reagan has advocated Grey’s face-saving treatment for 14 years. But the 71-year-old doyenne of Hollywood beauty consultants insists her potions are only part of the First Lady’s secret. “I’ve never seen Mrs. Reagan without a smile,” marvels Grey. “She never gets ruffled.”

In 34 years Aïda’s roster of clients has run from Dietrich to Cher. Marilyn Monroe’s first publicity photo session was shot 33 years ago at Grey’s salon. Nowadays Cheryl Tiegs has her eyelashes dyed black there to make them look longer. Says best-selling novelist Judith Krantz, a Grey devotee for nine years: “She’s a real angel of mercy. She has the best haircutter, streaker and manicurist around.” And when afflicted with dry, flaking skin, Krantz confesses, she is absolutely dependent on Miss Grey’s ginseng moisturizer and night cream.

“We’re the last couture cosmetic firm in the country,” says Grey. Her products are custom-blended. For example, Nancy Reagan has been supplied with a new foundation for Washington’s winter to go with her standard cream rouge, black mascara and beige eye shadow. “And she’s very fussy about her powder being the right shade of translucent pink,” Aïda notes. Not surprisingly, Grey will open a shop next spring in the nation’s capital. Her empire now includes 62 franchised outlets, but the headquarters remain in an old-fashioned salon on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.

Much of her epidermal expertise is set down in the recently published Aïda Grey Beauty Book (J.B. Lippincott, $15). Believing “You are what you eat,” she recommends eating twice as many vegetables (preferably stir-fried) as anything else and drinking a lot of distilled water. She proscribes alcohol, cigarettes and ice in drinks. By following her own advice, Grey has seemingly maintained the skin and neck of a person 30 years younger.

Born Aïda Genendier in Toulouse, France, she emigrated to New York with her family in 1927. She intended to follow her father into dermatology, but marriage and motherhood (one daughter) turned her toward business instead. Developing a line of natural cosmetics, Aïda says, “I made money without even trying.”

A divorce (her professional name is a legacy from her first union) and two more marriages followed. After hours, Miss Grey (as she is called by clients) prefers the title of Mrs. Douglas Benrend. Her third husband, of 25 years, is an attorney. To get around town, they use a Mercedes by day and a Rolls-Royce by night (“It would be poor taste to drive it in daylight,” she says).

Yet for all her emphasis on the superficial, Grey believes that beauty is more than skin-deep. “Some women are phonies—they neglect their souls and don’t develop their minds,” she sniffs. “They only want to prance like a peacock.” What is important, Grey says, is attitude. “A frown gives you blank eyes and a droopy chin. Anger is the enemy of beauty. And I think rest as a beauty prescription is ridiculous. Work keeps you young. Stay excited, stay challenged,” she advises. “It’s the greatest beauty aid I can offer.”