She is the beauty visionary who has twice created successful brands from scratch and has been awarded an honour from the Queen for services to the cosmetics industry.
Yet when Millie Kendall tells men why she was given an MBE in 2007, there’s an almost unanimous reaction: ‘They nearly fall off their chair laughing,’ she says with exasperation.
‘I mean, I know I didn’t dismantle a bomb, but they simply don’t take the beauty industry seriously.’
If you’re tempted to smile and think, ‘Well, it’s only lipstick and face masks’, you might be surprised to learn that the beauty industry — from hairdressing to cosmetics, beauty salons and spas — employs an estimated one million people and contributes an estimated £18 billion to the UK economy, which puts it in the same ballpark as the motor industry, worth £20 billion. And no one seems to think cars are a joke.
Yet in a beauty industry meeting last year with the Culture Secretary’s special adviser, Millie found herself given remarkably short shrift. ‘He couldn’t have been more supportive, but he said: “Look, we don’t know who you are. The culture department deals with music and fashion. Is beauty part of the fashion business? Go away and organise yourselves!”
Glamour gurus: (from left to right) Anna-Marie Solowij, Millie Kendall and Kate Shapland
‘It was clear we needed to act,’ says Millie. So, act she did, pulling together a group of senior beauty-industry executives who feel the same frustration at the way their business is routinely dismissed as frivolous.
‘You can sit around and hope. Or you can get up and do something about it,’ she says.
The result is the newly launched British Beauty Council, a not-for-profit organisation akin to the British Fashion Council, which will cement the status of the beauty industry as the force it truly is.
‘We need to be taken seriously by the Government and by policy-makers,’ says Jane Boardman, CEO of communications agency Talk.Global, who is chairman and chief strategist for the British Beauty Council.
‘It’s a question of raising our profile, improving our reputation, lobbying government and engaging with people who make decisions about education funding, so that we can attract the best talent into our industry.’
She, Millie and the other founders of the Beauty Council — publishing dynamo Catherine Handcock, beauty entrepreneur Kate Shapland and former Vogue beauty director Anna-Marie Solowij — hope to follow in the footsteps of the fashion industry.
That was regarded as a bunch of disparate, frivolous designers and models until the leading lights of the Fashion Council turned it into the slick creative industry it is today, feted by Government for contributing £32 billion to the UK’s GDP last year and regularly invited to glamorous shindigs at Downing Street.
The Fashion Council’s chief strategy was to showcase British designers and develop London’s position as a major player on the international fashion scene, a tactic that transformed its reputation. The driving force behind it was Caroline Rush, CEO since 2009, and now, in turn, chief advisor to the Beauty Council.
The scale of Caroline’s achievement, and her importance to fashion as a result, was best illustrated this February when she found herself sitting next to the Queen at designer Richard Quinn’s Fashion Week show.
‘Yes, that moment was hard to beat,’ she laughs. But all those fashion industry Downing Street parties come a close second.
‘They’re not just fashion parties,’ she says. ‘It’s having the support and engagement of government to discuss big issues. Like Brexit, for example. I can’t imagine those conversations happening ten years ago.’
‘We hope to learn the lessons of the Fashion Council,’ says Jane Boardman, ‘and get to where it is now in a much shorter time.’
Meeting these women, I’m struck by their infectious enthusiasm and commitment, but they’re fighting a set of stereotypes even more entrenched than those faced by the fashionistas.
‘You can’t underestimate the traditional establishment view of the beauty industry and it’s not universally positive,’ says Jane. ‘I have found myself introduced in board meetings with: “She works in beauty — but don’t worry, she’s really intelligent.” ’ Jane winces visibly.
The answer, it seems, is to start talking numbers. It’s possible, for example, that the beauty industry might be worth even more than the £18 billion currently quoted.
No one is quite sure because no one has taken it seriously enough to find out. So the Beauty Council has commissioned a ‘state of the industry’ report from Oxford Economics, acknowledged experts in this area. We can expect results early next year.
One of the most powerful aspects of the beauty industry is its resilience. Unlike cars or property, beauty does well even in a recession. It’s a phenomenon labelled the Lipstick Index by Leonard Lauder, son of Estee Lauder and chairman emeritus of The Estee Lauder Companies Inc, who drew attention to the inverse correlation between lipstick sales and the health of the economy back in 2001.
In other words, when times are tough, women who can’t afford a new coat or car instead opt for a new lipstick to cheer themselves up. Make-up sales improve, while big-ticket items languish.
But it’s not only cosmetics. British beauty is a hotbed of innovation. From blow-dry bars in city centres, to the mobile beauticians and spray tanners who drive the length and breadth of the country to ply their trade, the industry is vibrant, energetic and stuffed full of entrepreneurs. The spa industry has grown tremendously in recent years, shifting from a treat the jet-set enjoyed on holiday to a staple option for hen nights and baby showers.
And it’s not only about women. Male grooming is booming, too. All these disparate strands need pulling together, which is precisely the British Beauty Council’s aim.
So to see this launch finally happening — Millie and Anna-Marie have been plotting it for years — is truly thrilling.
No one doubts that forcing those with power to take beauty seriously will be a massive task, but don’t let the glamour of these pictures distract you from the main focus — these women most definitely mean business.
THE COUNCIL’S FOUNDING FIVE
THE SHAMPOO GIRL TURNED MOGUL
Millie Kendall MBE, 51, co-founder of BeautyMART
By her 20s, Millie was in New York working for cult hair brand Bumble and bumble
With her unbrushed hair and minimal make-up, this mother of two might look an unlikely boardroom ambassador for British beauty, but her contacts book is unparalleled and her engaging manner is hugely persuasive when it comes to getting things done.
With Anna-Marie Solowij, she’s the mastermind behind the council — not bad for a girl who left state school at 15 to be a shampoo girl at Toni & Guy.
But underestimate her at your peril. By her 20s, Millie was in New York working for cult hair brand Bumble and bumble, then returned to the UK, setting up the British arm of Shu Uemura.
It was here, in 1998, that she made her real mark with the phenomenally successful make-up brand Ruby & Millie, set up with her friend, the make-up artist Ruby Hammer. Then, in 2012, she launched online beauty retailer BeautyMART with Anna-Marie.
‘Despite its contribution to the country’s economy, the beauty industry is not even officially listed by the Government as a creative industry,’ says Millie.
‘We need to engage the Government and encourage young people into the industry.
‘People know the names of the key players in fashion, but apart from the beauty superstars who have created their own brands — such as Charlotte Tilbury or Liz Earle — they rarely know the equivalent names in beauty, because we don’t promote ourselves well enough.’
THE SEASONED SUPER-STRATEGIST
Jane Boardman, 57, CEO of pr agency Talk.Global
She’s CEO of PR agency Talk.Global, where she manages communications and strategy for brands such as Hugo Boss fragrances
In person, Jane Boardman is far friendlier than she might seem from her high-level CV.
She’s CEO of PR agency Talk.Global, where she manages communications and strategy for brands such as Hugo Boss fragrances, Burberry and Red Bull, and, after 20 years of high-level dealings, she’s a natural to take the position of chairman of the British Beauty Council.
She also worked as special adviser to the British Fashion Council for ten years, so she knows the steps needed to transform the reputation of the beauty industry.
Her clothes at first seem sensible and boardroom-compatible — it’s her Proenza Schouler shoes with their pointy toes and shiny heels that give away her love of style.
‘My first beauty client was Vidal Sassoon,’ she recalls, still awestruck at the memory of meeting the legendary hairdresser 22 years ago. But what she really loves, she confesses, is perfume.
She’s on the board of the Fragrance Foundation and has masterminded their ‘scent memories’ wall of stories about the evocative power of smell. ‘The impression that an industry makes is important on the global stage,’ she says.
‘If the British beauty industry is acknowledged as a successful creative industry, this acts as a shorthand for being innovative and dynamic.
‘It leads to investment from overseas and, vitally, it makes the industry appear more attractive to young talent.’
THE FORMER VOGUE BEAUTY BOSS
Anna-Marie Solowij, 55, co-founder of BeautyMART
After a career in beauty writing, including six years as Vogue’s beauty director, her knowledge of the industry is encyclopaedic and by 2012
Eloquent, practical and diplomatic, Anna-Marie is a natural choice to act as liaison between the main board of the Beauty Council and the smaller specialised industry groups that represent fragrance and hair.
After a career in beauty writing, including six years as Vogue’s beauty director, her knowledge of the industry is encyclopaedic and by 2012, frustrated at the stagnant retail environment, she and Millie Kendall had launched online store BeautyMART.
She’s skilled at handling tricky creative types, but isn’t above the odd rant about the state of the beauty industry. ‘I’m sick of our industry being demeaned and criticised for duping “silly” women into “naively” wasting money on foolish purchases,’ she rails.
‘Because if spending money on a lipstick makes a difference to their confidence and if it is a product that contributes to the economy, then it is important. To be the only UK industry that is portrayed as dumb and irrelevant completely misses the point of our value.’
THE ENTREPRENEUR WITH A LOVE FOR LEGS
Kate Shapland, founder of specialist beauty brand Legology
Kate Shapland is keen on boosting the community aspect of the British Beauty Council.
Throughout her years as a beauty journalist — from Harper’s & Queen (now Harper’s Bazaar) in the Eighties, to 14 years as the Telegraph’s beauty columnist, Kate became fascinated by fledgling beauty brands.
She has championed them in print and joined their ranks in 2007 when, way ahead of the curve, she launched a beauty-drinks brand called Sip.
Always obsessed with products that might help with heavy legs and cellulite, she launched her latest brand, Legology, in 2012 to do just that.
Kate is keen on boosting the community aspect of the British Beauty Council.
‘When you are launching your own brand, nothing will stop you sitting up all night worrying about the business. The Council will be able to support brands that are the lifeblood of the industry by providing unbiased advice, and helping them avoid mistakes.’
THE HAIRDRESSERS’ CHIC CHAMPION
She set up her publishing and events company 20 years ago. Now, everything she does is aimed at informing and inspiring hair professionals
Catherine Handcock, 54, founder of publisher Alfol
Cambridge-educated Catherine never has a hair out of place — as you would expect from someone who has worked on hair industry magazines.
She set up her publishing and events company 20 years ago. Now, everything she does is aimed at informing and inspiring hair professionals. The annual hair industry awards parties she hosts have become legendary. Such is her influence that 1,300 hairdressers turn up to party with her.
‘The big question in hairdressing is, where have all the 16-year-olds gone? They used to be the lifeblood of the industry and they have all disappeared,’ she says.
‘Hairdressing and beauty isn’t recommended to school-leavers post-A level. It’s seen as a last resort, which is a scandal, because the opportunities within the profession are unique and fabulous.
‘Few other industries give you the opportunity to run your own business at such a young age, to travel and work at high-level fashion shows and on shoots and film sets. No single umbrella organisation exists speaking for the beauty industry as a whole.
‘The Beauty Council really can be a game-changer.’