In an alley off of Los Angeles’s Melrose Avenue, there is a nondescript building that you only notice because of the people walking in. Toned, wearing matching work-out sets, and sometimes famous (if she looks like Hailey Bieber, she probably is Hailey Bieber), they head behind a black gate before ducking through a frosted-glass door.
Inside? Forma Pilates.
You may have not heard the name, but you’ve probably unknowingly seen the studio: Perhaps on the Instagram Story of that It girl or influencer who posts selfies in front of a mirror that says “Body by You.” Or perhaps in a Daily Mail article that includes paparazzi photos of Bieber, Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, or Lori Harvey outside a workout class. (That class is—you guessed it—Forma.) On Instagram, Forma’s official account has over 110,000 followers. It’s an impressive number considering that it only has four studios: three in Los Angeles and one in New York, each with only a handful of reformers. And that, well, it takes a referral to get in.
Founder Liana Levi started Forma Pilates during the spring of 2020 in her mom’s Little Holmby pool house. Bored and looking for ways to workout, she ordered a reformer, set it up in the semi-outdoor space, and began posting her routine to Instagram. Her friends slid into her DMs, asking if they could try it too. Levi, a jewelry consultant who got certified as a Pilates instructor years prior on a whim, agreed. (“I never thought I would use [my certification],” Levi says. “I thought it was very long, tedious. I was like, I’d just rather be a student.”) From a CDC-approved distance, she gave her friends lessons. “I threw myself into it. I would write down the series on my phone. I’d time it. I would do all of the things that I would want to do in a class.”
She quickly realized a couple of things. The first was that, despite many of her friends practicing pilates for years, they didn’t really know what they were doing—so she explained the technique to them, in-depth and with an individualized approach.
The second realization? That she was good at this.
The texting started as soon as the pandemic began to ebb: Can I bring my sister? Can I bring my sister-in-law? Sensing that this hobby could be a side hustle, Levi started charging. She continued to keep the circle small, personally approving everyone who came in. “I didn’t want to get sick, so I made it referral-only. I wanted to make sure people weren’t partying, or seeing too many people—not really with the intention of creating this like, you’ve got to know someone, who knows someone.”