My first beauty idols were my paternal grandmother, never without a cigarette and a glass of gin, who smelled of Yardley’s English Lavender, had a Mason Pearson hairbrush on her dressing table and a compact of Max Factor Crème Puff in her brown handbag whose smell makes you think of Old Hollywood the moment you get a whiff of it (and despite the fact it looks dreadful on my skin, it has a permanent spot in my bathroom cabinet for this very reason), and my mother who will never leave the house without being fully made up and wearing Guerlain’s Mitsouko.
My own love of all things beauty began as a teenager wandering round a department store when I spotted a Clinique Bonus Time gift, consisting of a shiny makeup bag full of miniature products in their trademark green packaging as well as a full size lipstick in Black Honey. I simply had to have it and even though the yellow Clinique soap left my skin feeling like a wrung out dishcloth and the clarifying lotion stung like crazy, I became an addict in constant need of a fix. My parents despaired as I splurged all my money from birthdays and Christmas on trips to the magnificent beauty halls at Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges and Liberty where I could buy famous brands not available elsewhere like Bobbi Brown and Origins. I sold my CDs and anything else I possessed to buy grey eyeliner and concealer from Lancôme, Clarins skincare, Christian Dior plastic shine lipgloss as worn by Emmanuelle Béart, the dreadful YSL Touche Eclat undereye concealer pen which didn’t cover my dark circles, made me look like death warmed up and is still a best-seller today for some inexplicable reason, single gold eyeshadow and foundation from Chanel. What I couldn’t afford to buy, I enjoyed vicariously through catalogues and magazines where I skipped over all the clothes to get to the beauty section, something I still do today. As you can also see from the photo, my early fascination with Guerlain did not prevent me from becoming a lover of Chanel No. 5.
Then about ten years ago, the unthinkable happened. I gave up wearing makeup altogether because my man I wasted the best years of my life on preferred me to look natural and thought cosmetics were simply a waste of money. It was only years later when I developed a chronic skin condition and discovered Sali Hughes’ column in The Guardian that I realised how much I had missed wearing makeup and how badly I needed it to get me through the misery of acne rosacea.
Today I wear more than ever, all day and every day and have no intention of going bare-faced anytime soon. I don’t judge others for not wearing it but am aware that being a beauty addict provokes a wide range of reactions, mostly that of incomprehension or disapproval. Why do I possess 50 lipsticks, mostly red, when some shades must be similar, or why do I buy more makeup than I could possibly ever use? Beauty is frivolous, vain and expensive. But I would argue they’re missing the point. Makeup is fun and creative because you can play with different colours and looks, it’s powerful because once you wear it, you feel as if you’re ready for anything, and I find it a great comfort knowing that however bad things get, I can always reach for my makeup bag.