May 14th, 2018
One of our favourite British brands is a gem of a company nestled in a pretty Chelsea street beside Peter Jones in the heart of Sloane Ranger territory, though that’s far from the whole story. Celebrating its 45th birthday this year, Cosmetics à la Carte was the first luxury British make-up company to make all its own products, with a personal, bespoke service and make-up lessons to help women ‘Find Your Look and Be Fabulous’. It ushered in the touchy-feely style of beauty retail which we now recognise as an intrinsic part the retail experience.
Founded by cosmetic chemists, Lynne Saunders and Christina Stewart, the brand’s wide range and personal approach has always been an integral part of its ethos – it’s been creating the exact shade for any skin since the outset – and its customer list is pays testament to this. From the late Diana, Princess of Wales, whose bespoke nude lipstick was called Toast; Hollywood royalty Elizabeth Taylor; singers Debbie Harry, Grace Jones, and Lady Gaga whose Bubblegum cream lip lacquer (£25) is still on counter; and Kate Moss, who begged to keep the Candy lip lacquer she wore when shot by Nick Knight for the cover of Vogue in May 2000 – and they’re all produced in the brand’s lab in Battersea. We headed over to SW1 for a chat.
WP: What brought you into colour cosmetics?
LS: My school put me on the science track, but I also had strong opinions on how I wanted to look and loved fashion. Cosmetic Science was the perfect combination: I liked creating things, wearing what I made, looking and feeling better as a result. I started to realise that skincare, though interesting, did not deliver enough transformation on its own. We need colour make-up to really enhance us. From then on, I was hooked!
WP: How has the brand evolved?
LS: Over the last 45 years we have stayed true to our founding philosophy of naturally enhancing beauty. But with that as a constant, the available range has evolved to encompass almost 1,000 products, each of which I am constantly refining and improving with new technology to be even more invisibly effective. I developed a skincare range, which I would not have predicted, but it became inevitable as I learned how makeup looks far better if skin is happy, healthy and renewed. Interestingly, I feel that the cosmetic market has evolved to understand the Cosmetics à la Carte bespoke concept. As a culture we support individual taste and beauty so much more now than could have been imagined when we started. I think this is great.
WP: What’s the process for creating a bespoke product and how long does it take?
LS: We have two tiers of bespoke: bespoke blending and bespoke development. Bespoke blending mixes shades and formulas across our existing colour range. After an in-person session with artists in-store to decide the mix, the bespoke blend of foundation, lipstick or other colour product can be made in our London laboratory and sent out in 48 hours.
Bespoke development is the route we take when a customer wants to match to something very specific or create something entirely new. We discuss their needs, make up samples and get feedback. The process can take anything from two weeks; it’s a very personal, context-specific process.
WP: What have been your biggest challenges when creating products for makeup artists?
LS: I can honestly say I’ve never had any problems creating products for professional make-up artists like Jan Sewell on The Danish Girl or Sarah Piper at Glyndebourne Festival Opera. They are very expert and discerning and can communicate precisely what they want to achieve. It’s a lot of fun working with them with a specific look and effect in mind.
WP: How has makeup retail changed since 1973?
LS: There are so many more brands than ever before and of course the online revolution is massive. The experience of shopping in person is more immersive and helpful, with samples, services and advice. We were pioneering these concepts back in the ‘70s and it’s encouraging to see them more widely available to consumers.
But conversations with customers tell me there’s still room for positive change. The industry still does not reflect global beauty realities, and many women still are made to feel intimidated or in some way less than ok when they shop for make-up, with the implication they should buy in order to compensate for something wrong in themselves. Instead, I’ve always passionately believed make-up is about being ok in your own skin, but wanting to play and enhance, and I hope this is the feeling people get when they shop with us in Chelsea.
WP: What are your plans for the future?
LS: I would be delighted to see Cosmetics à la Carte bespoke in cities around the world, harnessing even more the power of new technology, and to see our hero must-have products more available as ready-to-wear. Above all I would like to see our ethos continue beyond me as an individual, and we’re well on the way to that.