The Knowledge: Anna-Marie Solowij


In 2011, former Vogue beauty director Anna-Marie Solowij founded BeautyMART with friend and fellow beauty expert Millie Kendall. Launched in Harvey Nichols, BeautyMart is now in store at Topshop Oxford Circus, and online at Debra Brock met Anna-Marie and talked products, trends, and Ziploc bags. Mmmmm… Ziplock.


DB: What’s the ethos behind BeautyMART?

A-MS: We present an edited selection of products, based on Millie’s experience of owning a brand and being a ‘shop girl’, and my experience as an editor, where I was constantly bombarded with what was on the market and had to pick the best and make it look fun. Beauty always seemed to fall into either glamorous or clinical, but there’s a world in between. Most women dress up for clubs, festivals, parties, and not some glitzy lounge somewhere.  We wanted to reflect the fun of beauty by using black counters, neon colours, and make it look a bit like a nightclub. Our shelves when we launched were a mix of products like Embryolisse, Trilogy and Bioderma, exactly like our shelves at home. A friend once described our look as a ‘Roxy Music album cover from the 1970s’ and I thought that was perfect.


gallinee_0043-no-backgroundDB: How do you choose which products to stock?

A-MS: At first, we probably spent a year going out and seeing people, from the ‘big boys’ to the teeny tiny brands. We ended up with enough brands and products to fill quite a big space – I spent an entire holiday in Italy working on a giant brand plan Excel spreadsheet that was like the Enigma Code. But from the minute we opened our doors, brands started coming to us.

It’s the accumulation of nearly thirty years of seeing everything, following brands through their lives – for example, when I worked at Marie Claire there were no make-up artist brands. Shu Uemura launched after that time, there was no Bobbi Brown, no NARS, no Laura Mercier. I’ve seen the beginning of the spa brands, the dermatologist brands – I’ve absorbed a lot. I’m very visual too – I was always a stylist as well as a journalist. I can just sniff out a product a mile off. Millie’s the same. Put twenty products in a line up and let us both choose and I guarantee you we’d pick the same five things. It’s just a sixth sense.


DB: How should customers choose in a store when we’re confronted with rows and rows of product?

A-MS:  Do your homework online beforehand. Though I still think magazines are a good source of information because it’s an edited selection. If you have a relationship with a magazine and it’s your style, and your world, I think the voices of the Beauty Editors are very important because they understand that world and can offer products that will work for you. Having said that, it’s hard to establish your taste and style early on and experimentation is important. Subscribe to a box company like Birchbox just to experiment across products at a low price. Be cheeky, ask for samples – get counters to do your make-up, try products. Go home, make notes, research it further and then make a commitment.

Our guiding principle at BeautyMART is not to confront people with too much choice – its about the iconic products. Even online, if we present too much choice, our sales dip.


DB: Which products are you loving at the moment?

ln-smaller_bag_1A-MS: There’s a product from Lauren Napier (from £8) – she’s a New York based facialist – and this is slightly controversial, because they’re wipes. I feel strongly about wasted packaging, and although these come in a plastic sachet, it’s a reusable ziploc. They’re cleansing wipes with skincare ingredients. You can get them in different sizes depending on the trip you’re taking. They’re stylish and they’re great for travel and gym. And also I’m obsessed with ziploc bags. We’ve also got a coffee ground scrub (Scrub Love, £12.95) in a ziploc bag.

The product that started the whole ziploc thing for me was the Barely Cosmetics Definer Sponge (£9.99) – a design from a MAC makeup artist who decided she was sick of having to keep washing everything, so she brought out a black sponge with a defined edge so you can do eyeliner, lips and so on.22360I love DHC, a Japanese brand. They do a wonderful cleansing oil. It’s one of the least expensive on the market, and it’s lovely, it’s so nice to use. It’s £22.50 and lasts for ages, you only need one pump. And it massages in really well. It’s pure plant oils, with no mineral oils. I’m obsessed with their cotton swabs, (£6) – each end is dipped in olive oil. I open just one end and use for cleaning up eye makeup. You can leave the other end hygienically packed until you need it. I think they’re so clever. I use their foaming mesh too (£3.50) – the idea is you’re not supposed to create foam on your skin, it’s too harsh. So you put a small amount of foaming product in your hand, add water, whisk up to create a foam and then apply. It’s a Korean idea, to make sure what you apply to your skin is at the right intensity.

There’s a French brand called Gallinée created by a woman who used to work for L’Oréal. Her theory is that everybody is doing too much to their skin, and what you should do is respect its balance. The entire range is based around probiotics, there’s a very gentle mask & scrub (£18) – the idea is you leave it on then roll it off. The cleanser (£14) is very light. I’ve been using it quite a lot, and I’d recommend for someone who’s looking for something quite gentle.

4711 (£8) is my all time favourite fragrance and a real classic. When I was about thirteen we were staying with some family friends and the husband smelt amazing. I snuck into his bathroom and he’d got various Spanish colognes and 4711, which I identified as the scent I loved. And if you like that kind of scent, then you’ll love the three new green fragrances that Tom Ford is releasing. You’d also love CoLab Active Sheer Invisible (£4) a dry shampoo for the gym with a fresh lemony smell.

audrey_grandeMake-up wise, I love Daniel Sandler, including his lipsticks, and Etude House brow gel (£12.50) – like a lot of women my age I’ve probably over plucked my eyebrows and this is a paint on tint which you apply thickly and leave for two hours. You peel it off and it’s like a temporary tattoo – it’s amazing for holidays and if you can’t be bothered to keep penciling your brows in. I adore Glo and Ray  – the quality’s really good and it’s based around the science and technology of colour. I love their Marigold orangey-red lipstick. There’s a trend for wearing very little make up and just a slash of colour, and I think that older women are fearful of it. I actually think it really helps, because it brightens up your complexion and brings your mouth into focus. Nudes are great, but I think if you can go for that real crack of colour it’s such a positive thing to do. I’ve embraced letting my hair go grey and that’s let me take risks in other ways, like a strong lip. I don’t want to conform and disappear into the background.

stiks-red-web-res_1I also love the Mai Couture powder impregnated papers (£16.50) – there’s foundation, blusher and bronzer papers which will absorb oil and deposit colour so you can do your face on the go.  I love the packaging on Stiks lipsticks (£15) – designed to look like a skyscraper and that you can use with one hand, while you’re holding a baby or glass of wine in the other. The colour range is nice and they’re really good quality. Lipstick doesn’t have to be in a black case.

If your hair’s been through the mill – it’s dry, it’s post holiday – Isle of Roses rose hair oil (£42) is great, and by Michael Gordon who used to own Bumble and Bumble. It’s a combination of different roses, smells amazing, and is designed to be a perfumed refresher in between washes. You only need a tiny amount, every couple of days.




For tanning I love James Read – I’m using the Tantour Sculpting Duo bronzer, £35 , which in combination with the H2O Rosewater tan mist (£20) means that I’m not doing the normal self tan on my face that I would normally do at this time of year. You just mist it all over, you don’t have to be accurate or cover your hair line. It’s not strong but it builds up over a few days. I think James Read is one of the more sophisticated tanning brands. I use Legology (£36) in the Summer too, to just add a bit of colour to my legs.


DB: What are the biggest trends in beauty at the moment?

face_mask_soothing_for_webA-MS: There’s a huge trend now for masks – we sell out of them all the time. We’ve just taken on a new brand called Nugg (£3.50) that I love. They’re little ‘butter pats’ of different masks that you can mix and match on different parts of your face to make a multi-mask. They also do a Lip Mask (£9.50) which really makes a difference for older, thinning lips. Sheet masks like TonyMoly and Starskin, which is Korean technology, are still very popular. The latest trend we’re seeing is for step masks – like the ones from Korean brand Holika Holika (£3.50) which have three steps for cleaning, drawing out blackheads and soothing afterwards.

facial-blend-30ml_1024x1024There’s been huge interest in Japanese and Korean products, but we’re increasingly coming across Australian brands like Subtle Energies, which are Ayurvedic aromatherapies. Everything smells amazing, and the oils are great quality. Bliss Blend and Facial Blend are just so nice. They have a water mist too, which with the Facial Blend has definitely made a difference to my face. What’s interesting about Australian brands as well is the use of indigenous plant ingredients – look out for kakadu plum which I think will be a big trend ingredient. The Australian founder of Oilixia has used plant oils from all over the world in her upcoming range. There’s other Australian brands too to look out for like Kora Organics, Miranda Kerr’s brand.


DB: Have you got any pet hates in beauty?

A-MS: I think a lot of brands purport to be something they aren’t. A company recently sent samples with a press release that said ‘without a single chemical in sight’. Fundamentally everything is a chemical! What pisses me off more than anything else though is lack of originality. There’s too much bandwagoning going on. Try to move the game on, or think of things a different way – be creative.

Oh – and those pumps that don’t work. If you’re going to produce a product in a pump, invest another 0.2 pence in getting one that doesn’t break!


DB: Who do you think has most shaken up the beauty industry of late?

A-MS: I actually think the bloggers and vloggers have been the big, big change. It’s making everyone think about how they operate and what they say, and exposed the consumer to another voice.

I also think Charlotte Tilbury has completely kicked it – she has produced the makeup looks that women want to look like. She’s got a wonderful personality and does amazing work.




Debra Brock
Debra Brock is co-founder of and a contributing writer.
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