Tuesday, 14 March 2017

My Beauty Icons

A couple of weekend's back I spent a very indulgent, very unlikely to be repeated weekend at the spa hotel Ragdale Hall. It was wonderful but not very bargainista of me - I could only really justify the expense thanks to a perfectly timed freelance project that paid for my stay and a couple of treatments. Determined to relax and pamper myself to the max, I packed a host of my special luxury toiletries and two - TWO - books. One of which was the marvellous Pretty Iconic by beauty writer Sali Hughes. It felt like the perfect reading material to take to a spa hotel and I devoured it in day.

I love Sali's writing and philosophy to beauty. At a time in my life when I need quite a bit of help in the beauty department, her unapologetic position on makeup and skincare makes me feel justified in choosing to invest in quite pricey skincare and makeup without feeling vain or superficial. It's just a sad fact that you get to an age where you choose either your face or your wardrobe; nowadays I'd rather invest in the former. 

Despite ever more wrinkles and sagging skin to contend with, I still love the rituals of beauty - as Sali explains in her book, the application of skincare and the putting on of make up isn't just about making yourself look pretty; it goes a bit deeper than that and we really shouldn't feel we're being shallow or narcissistic in taking small daily pleasures in putting on our slap. What we do with our faces is entwined with our sense of self and can provide comfort and assurance in the darkest of times. And please don't get me started on the crazy notion that being a feminist and having a cupboard full of Creme de la Mer are mutually exclusive....

Anyway, do read the book and Sali's previous beauty manual, Pretty Honest - both are must-reads for beauty nerds and offer fascinating historical context for some of the world's best-loved brands, as well as personal anecdotes and interesting insights into the psychological impact of beauty care. Pretty Iconic triggered some of my own memories of past beauty loves, too - first perfumes, old faithfuls and products I still use today. So here they are - my own personal beauty icons down the ages...

Atkinson's Baby Cologne

There aren't many things more pointless than baby cologne, which is probably why an unused bottle of Atkinson's - I think it was a christening gift from a relative in Italy - was kept in a special box at home, with our hospital wristbands and new baby cards. In the way kids are wont to do, I remember taking the box out of the cupboard every so often for no other purpose than to gaze at this sweet little bottle and have a little sniff of its scent. I can still bring the smell to mind if I really concentrate which goes to show just how powerful our olfactory sensibilities can be. 

Body Shop Body Butter
I haven't stepped foot in a Body Shop for years, but I'll always have a huge affection for this brand. It reminds me of Saturdays spent happily filling wicker baskets with smellies, fruity lip balms and cute little combs. A Body Shop basket was a gift to be truly coveted back then; I have a particular memory of making one up to take to France as a gift for my French exchange - it felt like a quintessentially British present to give to a teen from Bordeaux. There are two products that particularly remind me of those carefree years; White Musk perfume (which gets a mention below) and the gloriously fruity tubs of whipped body butter - they were literally my heart's desire at the age of 14.

Body Shop White Musk

Predated only by Anais Anais, White Musk was my scent of choice in the mid to late 80s. Reminiscent of long summers and exams, I remember wholeheartedly buying into the concept of olfactory connection to memory, thus dousing myself in the stuff when revising in the hope that by having the same smell in my nostrils on exam day I'd have no problem recalling all those verbs, facts and equations. Whether it helped or not, I'll never know.

Simple Cleansing Lotion

The first proper face cleanser I bought post Clearasil. Always attracted to things that seemed to be 'natural' (a very woolly beauty term I know now) I remember using this and realising there was actually a way to wash your face that didn't make it so tight as to be completely unmovable. I can still smell lotion on cotton wool when I think of Simple, though I didn't remain loyal to it for very long, thanks to increased earning potential and the discovery of a world beyond the Gloucester Road branch of Boots. 

Clarins Beauty Flash Balm

I used a lot of Clarins in the 90s, including one of its more famous contributions to the world of skincare - Beauty Flash Balm. It's a product I'll forever associate with big nights out and dressing up to the nines to take on the best of London's nightlife. Of course, when you're clubbing till 10 in the morning, glamour quickly goes out the window and no amount of illuminating base can stop you looking dreadful in the cold light of day after hours in a sweaty club. But when I remember Beauty Flash Balm, I get flashbacks to that very special excitement you get when a big night on the town beckons. 

Stila Make-Up

Specifically Convertible Colour and eyeshadow in Kitten, the make up I wore on my wedding day and which has not left my make-up bag since. I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous packaging of this range and would spend many happy lunch hours poring over their products in the Liberty beauty department. I loved the prettiness of Stila cosmetics, with their glossy lip colours, sugary blushers and shimmery eye shadows; they seemed like the perfect match for a bride who was harbouring vain hopes of channelling the spirit of a demure Audrey Hepburn on her special day. I still use the Kitten eyeshadow - a lovely, slightly glittery, pinky-beige colour - and the Convertible Colour in rose almost every day. 

Philosophy Amazing Grace Perfume

Another one from my wedding day. I don't wear this very distinctive scent anymore, but I still have the empty bottle from my wedding - I could never throw it away. So intrinsically linked to that special day in September some 16 years ago, it reminds me of waking up to rain which miraculously cleared by the time my car arrived, of walking down the aisle in the church I'd been going to since childhood, of a dress that didn't quite fit properly and of drinking Bellinis in the autumn sun. I chose it because it seemed a graceful but unusual choice. Despite being really quite conventional and most certainly not a rule-breaker, I like to do things differently in small, unnoticeable ways - wearing perfume that is a bit niche and a bit different is one such example. 

Nars Orgasm Blusher

The best blusher I've ever tried. With its risque name and sleek packaging, it reminds me of feeling grown up, liberated and professional. Not that I was, really speaking, any of those things at the time I discovered this amazing stuff. I did, however, have quite substantial disposable funds to play around with - this was a time before kids, crippling mortgages and non-term time holidays. So making frequent trips to Space NK - just like buying £3 smoothies each lunchtime - didn't seem extravagant. Of course, with age comes the wisdom that any loose change should probably go in the savings account, but whereas I make my own smoothies now, I'm not ready to give up the Nars habit just yet. 

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