Hard to imagine, but beauty was once fashion’s poor relation. Department stores stuck counters in the basement, magazines put products on their back pages and designers produced perfumes as a sideline for loyal customers.
But in 2012, nobody doubts the beauty industry’s heft. Couturiers' outré creations are funded by bottles of scent, department stores rely heavily on sales of face masks and foundation and most women with a pulse know the thrill of a new product purchase, a mood-boosting blow dry or a perfectly painted nail. In fact, now we want more: better service, more quality control, more choice, but also more editing.
So retailers have answered our prayers, building shrines to our beauty addiction; glossy spaces that include niche products, hair salons, tanning booths, luxurious treatment rooms, even champagne bars. While the likes of Burberry are issuing profit warnings, Joseph Wan, Chief Executive at Harvey Nichols, says that "Beauty is resilient, the last area in which people rein in their spending during difficult times".
There is some concession to tough times, though. Anna-Marie Solowij, ex Beauty Director of Vogue and co-creator of BeautyMART, a carefully edited beauty store within Harvey Nichols in London, says: "The behaviour of women trading down (in terms of price) has certainly played a part in our decision to offer mass-priced products as well as premium." Jayne Demuro, Selfridges' Head of Beauty, concurs that their new Beauty Workshop space includes "a real cross-section of beauty brands - high, low, fast, slow, parallelling how women shop for fashion, ie, teaming a Chanel jacket with Topshop jeans".
As well as offering the convenience, these new boutiques offer quality assurance (carefully considered concessions mean that you are not going to end up with Pierrot clown brows if you ask for a simple reshape). Here is a shortlist of my favourites...
Beauty Workshop, Selfridges, Oxford St, London, W1
What? Expert edit and fast grooming
Top line? A new beauty playground, where unbiased experts lead you through a tightly edited selection of the hippest of brands, plus a one-stop grooming shop of tanning, nail services, blow dries, brows and extensions.
Who? St Tropez, Blink, Nails Inc, Hersheson, Weave Got Style, Eve Lom, Topshop make-up, Ren, Astalift.
Buzz about… Hershesons' £15, 15-minute blow dry.
Topshop’s revamped Beauty Department, Oxford Circus, W1
What? Trend-led, affordable make-up and services.
Top line? Just like the clothes, the department centres on being affordable, credible, zeitgeist-y. "The ultimate beauty destination, where customers can shop, eat and experience the best in beauty treatments," says Anna Svard, Topshop Buying Manager.
Who? Bleach, Wah Nails and Hershesons' Blow Dry Bar, Topshop make-up
Buzz about… The addition of Metal Morphosis tattoos and Strip waxing.
M&S Beauty Department, High St Kensington, London
What? Interesting products and approachable assistants in serene surroundings.
Opens? Now at High St Kensington, then rolling out nationwide next year
Top line? M&S has repackaged and reformulated much of its own-brand beauty, but more excitingly has included a clever edit of leading niche beauty brands. You can browse, sniff and dabble without interruption from pushy sales assistants
Who? Skyn Iceland, Apivita, Filorga, Nuxe, Dr Murad
The buzz... Exclusive new Cowley Manor spa products, Lyn Harris perfumes and the new natural M&S brand Pure.
Other beauty destinations to check out...
Liberty have collaborated with charismatic celebrity colourist Josh Wood to create a beautiful space that will no down attract his A-list clientele as well as hoards of highlight-hungry shoppers. Sourcing a dream team from across the globe, the salon will also boast iPods, impeccable service and a concierge who knows how you like your latte. Experiment at the Wella Illumina Light Bar, where natural daylight is controlled so you can check out colour in lots of light scenarios. Opens mid-October. www.joshwoodcolour.com
Harvey Nichols Beauty Bazaar, Liverpool’s ONE Shopping Centre
What? Hot hangout with decadent treatments and luxe products
Open? Late Autumn Top line? 22,000 square foot and three floors incorporating chic skincare, make up and scents, grooming to go services plus a lavish champagne bar and ultra luxe treatment rooms. Who? Chanel, Tom Ford Beauty, Crème de la Mer, Jo Malone, Nars. Services from Blink, Carita, ESPA Buzz about... The discreet express lift to Beyond Medispa for Botox, fillers and body-contouring treatments. www.harveynichols.com
Housed within London’s Harvey Nichols (soon in HN Beauty Bazaar Liverpool, too) this store-within-a-store is the brainchild of ex Vogue Beauty Director Anna-Marie Solowij and make-up maestro Millie Kendal. It’s about cherry-picking the best products from more than 100 brands, mixing up high end and mass products. Including pharmacy essentials like cleanser Bioderma Crealine H2O, Becca and Jurlique. Open now.