Shopping for beauty: could there be a third way? We’ve got the beauty counter, Mr Selfridge’s idea, unchanged 100 years after it was invented. Then there’s www., an invention of British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners Lee, and all the see-it-have-it-now wonders that this offers.
Both outlets have their place. There is nothing like the magic of a department store beauty hall – all twinkly lights, marble and glass, rows of lipstick, racks of nail polish. And the best beauty websites can hold you hostage for hours. But the drawbacks to both options are that if the buyers haven’t curated carefully the choice is overwhelming, invariably weighted towards the commercial beauty giants with deep pockets, and independent help on products is non-existent; where the internet goes, it’s also a gamble if you haven’t bought a product before. How can you see, touch, feel what you’re buying?
Curation is the buzzword in beauty retail now. Beauty buyer Gina Ritchie speaks of it when she talks about buying for Liberty. Anna-Marie Solowij, ex-Vogue beauty editor, has based her new business with former beauty PR Millie Kendal, BeautyMART, on an expert edit. And it’s the role I’ve taken on for MyShowcase, the business I co-founded with Nancy Cruickshank last year. Nancy founded Handbag.com, one of the first and most successful lifestyle/fashion/beauty portals. Her idea for MyShowcase was to curate the best independent brands, put them in the hands of a network of Stylists, who in turn get them into the hands of women at private parties (or showcases), where they can be tried without pressure. Like a very glam Ann Summers party, if you like. Only without the willy-shaped pasta. Nancy says she got this idea when she overheard me on the phone one day begging Michael Sharp, then MD of Debenhams, to buy in stock for a brand I wanted to cover on my beauty page in the Telegraph Magazine, which didn’t at the time have UK distribution.
This has happened to me on hundreds of frustrating occasions. I’ve done a lot of begging over the years, having championed small brands on my page in The Telegraph. I want these brilliant little brands to survive. Of course I love the designer mega brands as much as the next beauty junkie, but I’m also intrigued by those borne from a struggle (you have to be obsessed or mad to bring a beauty brand to market, really); so when Nancy suggested we create a platform for them with MyShowcase I was putty in her hands.
A year on, having started in June 2012 with nine brands and eight founding Stylists, we’ve recruited and trained women all over the country, supporting them in running their own flexible businesses (ie a way of working that doesn’t compromise their family life or mean they have be in an office until 8pm every night) and earn enough money to fund a shoe habit or pay a mortgage. And we now sell 22 brands, adding to the line-up regularly so Stylists, who earn commission on what they sell, always have something new and exciting to showcase to guests. Hosts, by the way, get £40 to spend at the showcase and a further 20% discount on our products as a thank you.
This is the third way to buy beauty, the obvious middle ground between high street and digital, an opportunity to stick your nose or a finger in a product, and try it without obligation over a glass of wine or a cuppa. It’s like a beauty hall on wheels, with the curated best in show as cargo.
To book a Stylist for your own showcase, or to inquire about becoming a Stylist, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the must-have products I steal from my own stock cupboard
left to right: Aurelia Probiotic Skincare Miracle Cleanser £34, James Read Gradual Tan Face £18.50, Kate Logan Sweet Fennel Foot Balm £12.99
left to right: Neom Inspiration Home Candle £39.50, Sage Moonstone Roll-On Oil £30, T. LeClerc Oxygene Nail Polish £15 (single polish, far right)