Sali Meets Millie Kendall MBE

Millie

“I’ve always been obsessive. My hair’s always a bloody mess, I barely wear any make-up, but I’ve got a collection of products to fill a museum wing”. Business, PR, retail and beauty pioneer Millie Kendall tells Sali what makes BeautyMart the product junkie’s heaven.

SH: BeautyMart pulls just a few products from many ranges, rather than being tied to whole brands. What balmain was the thinking behind it?

 

MK: We wanted it to feel curated. Anyone can go to a department store and see everything laid out prettily. But we wanted only the hero products from great brands, so customers know that everything we stock is the best, whether that’s a packet of Johnson’s baby wipes and a can of Batiste, or the highest grade argan oil and luxury face mask.

 

SH: I love that you do cheap stuff, because no real connoisseur does top to toe designer clothes, no-one does top to toe premium beauty. It’s naff to do the whole thing in luxury. I love that you’ve got Charlie Red alongside £100 perfumes.

 

MK: Yes. We tried to be quite strategic in terms of how we buy, so if we’re doing a cleansing oil, we’ll take a slightly more expensive cleansing oil then a slightly cheaper one, just to fill both ends of the spectrum. At first it could be tricky in the industry, to pull one or two bits from huge brands. I use Anna (Millie’s business partner, former Vogue beauty director Anna Marie Solowij) as a bit of a Trojan horse because Anna goes in as the editor and obviously brands are very respectful of editors. We immediately got Revlon and other big brands. We’ve just got Coty for Kate Moss for Rimmel lipsticks, Rimmel Scandal’eyes and Sally Hansen leg make-up – the things we really wanted. So it was easier than we thought.

 

SH: How do you guide customers through so many different product types and philosophies?

 

MK: I think there’s a couple of things that we were really adamant about in the beginning. One was that we had full-length mirrors because beauty is top to toe. I don’t know where the concept of you only look at yourself from the neck up comes from, because everything is a full look. Beauty is as much a part of your style as a jacket. Also with the big movement in nails, you wear open toe shoes and you want your nails to be seen. Our girls are beauty stylists so they work in the same sense as a stylist would in a magazine, really kind of creating a look for somebody from top to toe.

 

SH: Did that make hiring quite tricky? Because that’s very different from the role of a conventional beauty consultant.

 

MK: Well everyone has a speciality. Claire is make-up, Sasha is skincare, Frances is nails, Aisha is good at hair. They all sort of have a slight speciality. When we were hiring my remit was social media – are they bloggers, are they interested in social media, have they got the gift of the gab? If blogs were around 25 years ago I would’ve been prolific because I’m the Queen of the soundbite, so that was quite important to me. I think that Twitter, for example, is a big revolution in PR. So when you have a girl at a PR agency, like BeautySeen or Purple, they have to be well versed across a lot of products and in most cases, more than one brand. I owned a PR company for many years so if I wanted to find people who could operate in that way. We have the same four girls we started with and there’s been no staff turnover in six months.

 

SH: What are your favourite recent BeautyMart finds?

 

Mary Greenwell LemonMK: We’ve just launched Mary Greenwell’s Lemon fragrance. We have amazing new hair products from Balmain. DHC, a cheap Japanese brand that has really great quality products is another favourite. We’ve only had the Astalift Aquarista jelly up till now, but we’ve just taken their plumping mask because they’re actually brilliant. We don’t have anything else like that. We have Daniel Hersheson styling tools, which is an amazing brand. And of course, we still have things like the strawberry rollers that have become quite iconic now. The crochet hook Curlformers are also brilliant – they give better curl, less body. We’ve got some funny little bits from Japan that are really good fun.

 

SH: So are you somebody who is always like a junkie in a drug store abroad?

 

astalift_1-1

NK: Yeah, I’m horrible. I’m going away with my brother on Saturday, who’s visiting from the States and I said “First thing on Saturday morning I need to go to this pharmacy on Saint Germain”. I’ve always been obsessive. My hair’s always a bloody mess, I barely wear any make-up but I’ve got a collection of stuff that’s practically a museum wing. I worked for Shu Uemura for 10 years so I’ve got everything they’ve ever produced, down to a pair of sunglasses. I collect all of these things and I have a horrible obsession. Anna and I have the cabinet of curiosities that is sitting in the back of the office right now full of stuff that we’ve collected over the years. Ruby (Hammer, Millie’s former partner in Ruby & Millie) and I were the same. We’d sit there for hours getting increasingly excited about the texture of an old lipstick.

 

SH: So when did it start for you? Were you like this as a little girl?

 

MK: No, I wasn’t allowed to wear make up and my Mum never wore any. She was a punk and she had green and orange hair and my Dad was a hairdresser. So I always understood the service end of it because I grew up in a hair salon and I was quite fascinated by the whole industry. Then I had to go through my training and I was absolutely terrible. It was Michael Gordon from Bumble & Bumble who sat me down and said “I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. You’re a fantastic assistant but you’re probably the world’s worst hairdresser and you should try something else”. It was on 56th street in New York and they had this little concession in the middle of the salon, selling Il Maquillage, William Tuttle and MAC, which had only just launched. It was 1986/7 and I started working on the make-up section. I wasn’t really very good at that either but I had a way with the service side of it because I was used to dealing with people from a tiny age. When you’re sitting in a salon, you really are stripped down bare. Your hair’s wet, it’s flat on your head. People are really sensitive and that’s why they say that women tell their hairdressers everything. I loved that part of it. I think it’s a really important job.

 

SH: Do you think that beauty is life enhancing for most women, that it’s important to your customers?

 

MK: If you look at any woman whose husband has walked out on her, post the age of 40 and what does she do? She goes to get her hair cut and comes in and says “I’ve been wearing the same make up for 20 years, I need something different”.  It’s confidence building, it’s liberating to change how you look. I think it should be fun and I think that its relevance is sometimes underestimated and overlooked. It’s a form of self- expression. It’s completely how you choose to show yourself to the world and if feminism isn’t that then I don’t know what is.

 

SH: You’ve obviously really tried to inject that sense of fun into the brand. There are some things here, like the strawberry rollers, that are just funny and daft.

 

strawberry-foam-hair-curler-rollerMK: Anna and I just have a laugh. We met in 1990 when I launched Shu Uemura and she was on a shoot with Ruby for Elle magazine and they used my shop. The three of us were together downstairs at 7am and we’ve known each other ever since then. Then Anna interviewed Daniela Rinaldi, who’s the concessions director here at Harvey Nichols and the whole thing just kind of came together. I think we’ve always had a similar aesthetic and we’ve got the same level of passion. When you’re working with someone in a field, you have to have that in common. I think I look for that in people, professionally and socially. That level of passion in anything they do is important.

 

SH: It’s so true. My business manager is a numbers and IT person, who is totally brilliant at that, but she would crawl on her face for a new lipstick on the other side of town and unless you have that it’s just not going to work. Are your customers all beauty junkies?

 

embryollise

MK: We’ve got three typical customers. One that’s a beauty sophisticate – probably a higher end customer, the Deborah Mitchell skincare kind of customer. Then we have the fashionista, the Topshop girl who likes fashion and works on a magazine fashion department who comes in because she wants a Bourjois 1-Second polish remover. Then the bloggers are a big customer base for us. You’ve got a community of complete and utter beauty junkies and they like anything that’s hard to find – they’re coming in to buy DHC or Embryolisse. I think we’re catering quite well to all three. I like things a little bit chaotic, as you can probably tell. I like a bit of chaos because if it’s too orderly people don’t want to touch it.

 

SH: Are you going to expand to bigger spaces at some point?

 

MK: The whole concept of Beauty Mart should never be big. So our roll out method will be small, 600 sq ft shops and we’re looking to go high street. Beauty Mart should be like small kiosks and obviously, the concept is high to low end. Everything from Batiste to Balmain. We’re currently scouting everywhere from Covent Garden to Crouch End. We’re hoping to do three by the end of this financial year. We’ll continue to do vending machines selling a smaller product edit too.

 

SH: So what would you grab from your own shelves? Are you constantly having to test things?

 

MK: Yeah, I’ve been using the Deborah Mitchell Bee Venom Mask as soon as I wake up, then I go downstairs and get the kids’ breakfast ready while it works. Then when I’ve put Cbeebies on I run upstairs and take it off. I like a heavy make-up so I want something that removes it well. I’ve got the Astalift gel cleanser that I use with cotton. I’m a bit obsessed with cotton. I’ve also been trying RMK stuff because we’ve been talking to them about bringing some of their products in.

 

SH: Do you ever get bored of testing or do you just love it?

 

MK: Never. We’ve got quite a few brands coming in in the next six months. We have Rodin, we’ve got RGB Hipp and I want to launch those probably the beginning of May. I think we cut through the shit and give you the best.

 

BeautyMart is on the 3rd floor of Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge.

 

Their online store is at http://thisisbeautymart.com. Readers of salihughesbeauty.com can get a 10% discount by entering SALIHUGHES10 at checkout.

 

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