Space Odyssey

Nicky Kinnaird

Space NK founder Nicky Kinnaird looks back on two decades at the cutting edge of beauty retailing, and reveals exactly what makes it off the shelf and into her bathroom. By Debra Brock.

It’s been 20 years this year since you opened your first store, a curated collection of all sorts of different fashion, beauty and interiors items. What made you finally focus solely on beauty?

For three years I was dealing with 300 plus suppliers across different product areas, and fundamentally something had to give. Looking at where we could have the greatest impact on customers, and what they were coming back for week in and week out, beauty stood out and the decision was staring me in the face.

How did you persuade brands to do business with you back then?
A lot of these people we nurtured through from inception. I remember having meetings with Jeanine Lobell of Stila as she was taking delivery of the first lipsticks to her house. We launched Philosophy two weeks after they launched in Barneys New York, and I actually worked on the counter in Barneys with David Watson, one of the owners, on their very first day there.

For a lot of UK customers the Space NK concept was something entirely new, wasn’t it?

Space NK

It was eye opening for the British public because when we started you had two different ways of buying beauty. There were department store counters, which were generally a badly-lit space with someone who was well versed in the products in front of them, but not prepared to tell you that one of the other lines had a better solution for you. The other alternative was the High Street chemist, where you had some great product but no ability to test.

So honesty was your USP?

I’ve never believed that any brand offers a top to toe solution for the customer. There’s a ton of good product out there, but there are heroes within each line. To me putting that under one roof, with unbiased advice, was the obvious thing to do.

So how do you decide what makes it onto Space NK shelves and what doesn’t?

My contacts in the industry are well entrenched. I’ve got things on the drawing board now that might not see the light of day for two years. I am extremely passionate about innovation and discovery – I’m the most picky consumer on the planet, and I want the best of the best that’s out there.

So is the testing and buying of product the best bit of your job?
Yes. You never know where you are going to find the next little gem. When you travel it’s always interesting to see what other cultures are using, what’s resonating in, say, South Korea. There you have customers who may have 12 steps in their beauty regime – that’s not going to work in the UK, but it’s interesting to see what we can learn. I discovered a Japanese washcloth in a hot springs, 90 minutes outside of Tokyo, that’s the most amazing exfoliator.

Is there one product that you stock which really encapsulates what Space NK is all about?

eve lomSo many things have been groundbreaking. If you rewind to when Eve Lom developed the first balm cleanser – it suits all skin types, all ages and was forward thinking in terms of using the muslin cloth to get a mild exfoliation. Look at the host of imitators it’s spawned over the years, but still none of them have the skin brightening effect of the original.

Is it all about the unique attention to detail in a product?

That’s what I get a huge amount of satisfaction from, yes. Look at Rubis tweezers with the Swiss precision – it’s the best. Why compromise? Another example is Dr Marko Lens – he is an eminent plastic surgeon, but his areas of specialism are skin cancer prevention and eyes. He created probably the eye cream that is on more researchers’ formulation desks than anyone else’s. There are so many different labs looking at it to see what he has done with it, because it’s so effective. He wants his work to be highly regarded in medical journals, so it’s peer reviewed. He’s lecturing on melanoma and anti-aging all over the world.

What are your recommendations for fragrance?

Fragrance is very personal. I’ve seen customers in store blatantly lying about what they’re wearing to their friends because they don’t want them to smell the same as they do!

Antonia's Flowers Tiempe Passate webPersonally, I like to have a fragrance wardrobe.  For Spring / Summer I wear Space NK Laughter, because I love citrus. I’m still a huge fan of the original Aqua di Parma Colonia – it oozes everything that’s great about Italy. It’s that mix of Sicilian herbs and fruit, which is quite distinctive. Antonia’s Flowers Tiempe Passate is gorgeous for evening.  Outside of brands we stock, I adore Chanel’s Sycomore, which smells completely different on different people. Another company I think is doing interesting fragrance development is Le Labo. Their Tubereuse is another great citrus. I like things that are unusual, pushing the boundaries, a bit quirky.

Space NK was one of the pioneers in the trend for home fragrance and candles. What are your favourites?

FEU DE BOIS webWhen it comes to home fragrances I believe in different scents for different rooms and changing things up seasonally. One for cold Winter months is Diptyque Feu de Bois; for spring, Beautannia Brideshead is a gorgeous, bright floral. Or switch to Diptyque Freesia. When I travel I take the Diptyque mini candles along with Aromatherapy Associates bath oils, which fragrance the room and sometimes the hotel corridor too!

What is your skincare routine?

In the evening I always use Eve Lom cleanser, in the morning it tends to be something I’m trialling. For skin brightening and exfoliation I use the Zelens PHA peeling pads, which make a huge difference in keeping ashiness out of the skin. My serum would be Bakel P-Lipic, it really does boost hydration levels. Moisturiser at the moment is the Zelens 3t complex, which keeps hyperpigmentation at bay. Sunblock is critical. I use African Botanics Murula oil at night for hydration. By Terry Baume de Rose lip balm is an essential too.

What’s coming up that is new?

wakaya gingerWe’re excited about our new range of organic powdered ginger from Wakaya Island in the South Pacific, near Fiji. It’s an amazing multi-purpose health item – you can make ginger tea or infuse in cold water. It’s a muscle relaxant in the bath, and you can mix with cream or oil and put it as a poultice for any strain. It’s great for motion sickness or morning sickness. There’s great scientific research behind this. The island is owned by David Gilmour who created Fiji Water, and has an organic farming initiative. Everything is much more lush and nutrient filled.

Also new is the Living Proof Hair Primer –  it has a molecule in it which repels dirt, grime and oiliness and you can extend the life of a blow dry by days. We also have Algenist Pore Corrector Gel and Concentrate for skin texture and minimising pore size – they’re oil free and smooth and brighten the skin. These are products that are accessible to younger customers with a really light texture.

When someone walks into a Space NK store what’s the experience you want them to have?

I want customers to feel that that they can ask anything they want. It’s very important that they realise that there is no question too silly. We’re there to help and educate. The more that they can tell us about their concerns, their lifestyle, budget and time availability the better. I want to give people the best possible advice for their circumstances.

All our products are there to test and play with, either with a make up artist or on your own. Try things on your skin. Live with it. Take a handheld mirror and walk outside and see what it looks like. Have a makeover and ask us about techniques. If someone crosses our threshold we want to empower them to feel better about themselves.

If you could go back now, with 20 years of hindsight, is there any advice you would give yourself?

With the original store in 1993 I also launched a juice bar. Firstly it was way too early for juicing in the UK, and the second important lesson was: do not mix juicing with clothing.

Sali interviews Nicky Kinnaird at the launch of

Debra Brock

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

Related - Interviews
Related - Interviews + see all

In The Bathroom With Jamie Genevieve

Sali joins Jamie in her Glasgow bathroom to talk working on counter, dogs, the joy of baths and her new makeup collection, Vieve.

In the Kit Bag with Dick Page

Sali has a rummage in top makeup artist Dick Page's pro makeup kit in his NYC bathroom

In The Bathroom with Zanna Roberts Rassi Part Two

Zanna talks tanning, piercing parties and her favourite beauty products.

In The Bathroom with Zanna Roberts Rassi Part One

Sali talks to editor and founder of Milk Makeup Zanna Roberts Rassi in her NYC bathroom