Sunday, 13 April 2014

Discovering BeautyMart - and a waffle about the beauty industry


Today's post begins with a long ramble about the nature of the beauty industry and the role beauty blogging has played in shaping it. If you want to skip to the products, just scrolllllll down :)

The hidden dynamics of the beauty press
The thing about the beauty industry is that it's full of unspoken allegiances. For decades, print magazines told us about the beauty products they needed us to hear about - not necessarily because they were the best or the most inventive, but because the writers had ties to PRs and advertisers, whether financial, personal or political.

Even today, what seems to be a rave review can actually paid-for coverage, a reflection of a personal relationship, or an effort to maintain financial income or a steady stream of samples.  There is always that extra dimension, that hidden factor of allegiance and obligation that consumers never normally see or hear about.


Enter the bloggers
That's why the explosion of beauty blogs in the late 2000's was so important - it spoke the objective, unbiased truth about the consumer experience of beauty without the influence any of those dynamics behind the scenes. The original beauty bloggers were consumers with a platform, beauty enthusiasts totally detached from the machinery of PR, advertising and industry relationships.

Beauty blogging may not be as impartial as it once was. Major blogs now operate within the inner realms of the beauty industry, with close ties to PR and a dependence on paid posts, samples and advertising spend. A blogger's editorial decisions are based not just on his purchases, budget and interests, but on what samples have popped through the letterbox that week, steering the content and tone of his posts away from the man-on-the-street, citizen journalist standpoint and more towards a reflection of PR strategy.

But despite its partial assimilation, beauty blogging has brought with it a heightened awareness of the consumer perspective, and the need for frank, open exposition about which products worked, why, and whether they were worth the money.

Vanity bar at BeautyMart Shoreditch. Bourjois lipsticks on the left, Daniel Sandler Watercolours in the middle
A changing climate
That climate of thoroughness and honesty about products has bled through into the wider industry, with great positive effect. In an ever-growing sea of brands and products, bloggers, writers and brands alike have become more conscious of the need for straight talking and practical details that help us differentiate between the many options on offer. It's no longer enough for a brand to present some delicious campaign images and some abstract, aspirational copy to support a product launch - these days we demand detail, concrete claims about performance, and usable packaging that will stand up to blogger review. Otherwise we may simply refuse to part with our cash.

The blogging revolution has also helped us develop a heightened awareness of the cult product - those items that achieve sell-out status not through top-down advertising or promotion, but via a bottom-up groundswell of approval from the end user, whether through blogs, YouTube videos or the social media grapevine of tweets and forum posts. We beauty obsessives knew that DHC cleansing oil was the business, even though it's never been promoted to a mass audience. We made such a fuss about French micellar cleanser Bioderma that it's now launching in the UK's major outlets. And we made our great love for nail polish known, sparking a proliferation of products, textures and colours unprecedented in living memory.

BeautyMart at Shoreditch Box Park
Hello BeautyMart!
So in a culture of thorough product detail, honest reviewing and cutting the wheat from the chaff, the scene is set for a store that sells only the good stuff, regardless of its price, positioning or beauty industry heft. That would be BeautyMart - a project developed by Anna-Marie Solowij, one-time beauty editor of UK Vogue, and Millie Kendal, one half of Ruby and Millie. It would be naive to say that either of them is immune to the dynamics of the beauty industry, but it may well be that their experience is so vast and their connections so numerous that they've achieved a kind of objective overview.

Products from all corners of the world
BeautyMart is a highly-focused, expert edit of beauty products that are just... good. It's not high-end or drugstore; it's not indie or mainstream. They've got everything from Japanese gadgets to three-figure skincare to Models Own polish at £5 a bottle, all packed into a relatively lean catalogue of all-star, hand-picked items. The selection seems to have no conditions other than that the products really work. It's not the place to go if you want to track down every product from a brand - they stock Bourjois, for example, but only the Rouge Edition lipsticks, Little Round Pot blushes and those nail polish remover pots that were all the rage in 2013. Instead, it's a place to browse and discover new products that carry the BeautyMart seal of approval, which, so far, seems to be pretty damn reliable.

I discovered BeautyMart by accident in Oxford Circus Topshop, where they have a concession on the ground floor in the beauty department. 'How cool,' I thought, 'Topshop's carrying cult products. I wonder who their buyer is?'

Face Stockholm sits side by side with Balmain, Rimmel and Models Own on the nail polish shelf
Then I came across the stand-alone BeautyMart at Shoreditch Box Park (pictured here), and belatedly realised that it was part of the same project. The Box Park crate has more products on the shelf than the Topshop concession, although it's a little more out-of-the-way for those who don't live in East London. (BeautyMart also has a presence in Harvey Nichols, Knightsbridge and at John Wood Atelier in W11.)

'You have Ruby and Millie!' 
I said this out loud to the sales assistant, in the same tone as someone discovering a living, breathing Diplodocus grazing among the sheep and goats at a city farm. The Box Park branch has what may be the last remaining stock of Ruby and Millie products, taken from Millie Kendal's own personal stash.





They're all selling at £5 each (in store only). Unable to resist the chance to take home a bit of beauty history, I picked up one of the face powder compacts. These come in their own little plastic carry bag, and have a mirrored flying-saucer shape that's not too dissimilar to Becca's lovely compacts, although with a fingerprint-magnet shine finish and without the rubberised panels. I remember saving up to buy one of these from Boots in my teens - they were £21, which seemed impossibly high-end to me back then. I'm adding it to my collection of Ruby and Millie stacking eyeshadow singles.



And while I've got them handy, here's a swatch of the wonderful Beige 840P - a classic richly-pigmented cool taupe shimmer.



My other BeautyMart purchase was this Japanese (actually Korean) exfoliating towel (£3.50).







My friend uses these, and gets them from a relative in Tokyo. I've always been a bit fascinated by them. They're similar to the conventional shower puff, but instead of being bunched into a pom-pom shape they're a long strip of exfoliating nylon weave. The beauty of them is that you can use them to exfoliate large areas at once, and crucially, hold each end and rub across your back to get at that hard-to-reach diamond of skin between the shoulder blades.

A colourful jumble of spherical EOS lipbalms by the till
Have a browse through the edit at www.thisisbeautymart.com. I guarantee you'll find something new and amazing.

Today's blogging soundtrack is: The Good Wife (TV series)

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