There’s def­i­nitely some­thing in the wa­ter in the United King­dom. How else can you ex­plain its beauty dom­i­nance?

ELLE (Canada) - - Contents - BY MARILISA RACCO

The Bri­tish beauty in­va­sion.

amid the din of blow-dry­ers back­stage at any Fash­ion Week, you’re likely to hear a re­cur­ring Bri­tish lilt in the chat­ter. That’s be­cause most of the big-ticket shows have a flat­iron- or kabuki-brush-wield­ing Brit dic­tat­ing the beauty di­rec­tion. Lon­doner Char­lotte Til­bury (never with­out her sig­na­ture smudged smoky eye and teased-to-per­fec­tion fiery- red mane) runs the makeup show at Donna Karan, Matthew Wil­liamson and Tom Ford. Dorset-born Guido Palau—a man who has never met a plaid shirt he didn’t like—is in charge of hair at Marc Ja­cobs, Lan­vin, Prada, Ver­sace and Cé­line. And the grande dame of them all, Northamp­ton-born Pat McGrath, who leads more beauty looks than there are lip­sticks, cre­ates makeup magic for de­sign­ers such as Gucci, Givenchy, Ralph Lau­ren, Valentino and Dolce & Gab­bana. You can also count Paul Han­lon ( Birm­ing­ham), Dick Page (Gosport), Eu­gene Souleiman (London), Sam McKnight (Ayr­shire), An­thony Turner (the Mid­lands), Diane Ken­dal (Wok­ing­ham) and Val Gar­land (Bris­tol) in the tal­ent pool re­spon­si­ble for the beauty trends mak­ing their way to the masses.

Eng­land has long been a hot­bed of cre­ativ­ity and in­no­va­tion on both the pop­cul­ture and fash­ion fronts. Trail­blaz­ers like Vi­dal Sas­soon and Mary Quant made beauty and groom­ing part of the Bri­tish ver­nac­u­lar in the 1960s—ar­guably the most rev­o­lu­tion­ary and game-chang­ing era in fash­ion. The Bea­tles’ mop tops and Twiggy’s falsies were as in­flu­en­tial on the global fash­ion stage as Queen El­iz­a­beth I’s power shoul­ders.

Un­like Italy and France, who have a rich plat­form of art, mu­sic, dance and, yes, the added bonus of mood-boost­ing sun­shine to draw from, post-In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion Eng­land has largely been poor and de­press­ingly Dick­en­sian. What, then, birthed such a pro­lific hub?

“I think it’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause Eng­land is an is­land na­tion and has lost the colonies, so it’s ba­si­cally [bar­ren],” says Dick Page, artis­tic di­rec­tor for Shi­seido, who leads makeup at shows like Marc by Marc Ja­cobs and Nar­ciso Ro­driguez. If ne­ces­sity is the mother of in­ven­tion, does this mean that bore­dom is the fa­ther of art? “When your h

na­tive land is gen­er­ally pretty pros­per­ous, noth­ing hap­pens, but when things turn to shit—that’s when great lit­er­a­ture, art and mu­sic come out,” he opines.

The preva­lence of Brits in beauty gained mo­men­tum in the 1980s, when leg­endary makeup artist Mary Green­well first gave us the no-makeup-makeup look. Bol­ster­ing this pro­lif­er­a­tion was the new breed of pho­to­genic roy­als (like Princess Diana), who made daz­zling best-dressed sub­jects as well as savoury tabloid fod­der. “In the early ’80s, there was an in­ter­est­ing in­ter­sec­tion of fash­ion and so­ci­ety in London,” says au­thor Bron­wyn Cos­grave, who is also co-cu­ra­tor of the re­cent ex­hibit De­sign­ing 007: Fifty Years of Bond Style. “Bar­bara Daly did Princess Diana’s wed­ding­day makeup, which may seem un­cool, but it’s re­ally where it all be­gan. Princess Diana was a glam­our icon that the Bri­tish roy­alty had never seen be­fore; she was the most fre­quently pho­tographed man­nequin-like princess since Grace Kelly.” Cos­grave adds that there was a flour­ish­ing of aris­to­crats and roy­als at this time that co­in­cided with a flour­ish­ing of fash­ion de­sign­ers like John Galliano and in­flu­en­tial mag­a­zine ed­i­tors like Anna Win­tour, Grace Cod­ding­ton and Lucinda Cham­bers. “They were all seek­ing out and col­lab­o­rat­ing with spe­cific makeup artists and hair­styl­ists.”

Soon, artists and pho­tog­ra­phers started to gather into teams, like a high-con­cept fash­ion Sur­vivor se­ries. “There is a very nur­tur­ing support sys­tem that in­spires cre­ativ­ity in Bri­tain,” says Tim Blanks, fash­ion jour­nal­ist and for­mer host of the CBC’s Fash­ion File. “There have al­ways been op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­ven­tur­ous ed­i­to­rial, and loy­alty has played a unique role. You will no­tice that peo­ple work in teams.” See: Guido Palau, cre­ative con­sul­tant for Red­ken, who fre­quently pairs up with Pat McGrath or Diane Ken­dal, or Bri­tish pho­tog­ra­pher Nick Knight, whose pre­ferred duo is Sam McKnight (hair) and Val Gar­land (makeup).

As for why the fash­ion-and-beauty com­mu­nity has em­braced the Brits glob­ally, per­haps it comes down to that too-cool-to­care at­ti­tude so of­ten seen on the streets of London. Parisian style is ef­fort­less, Mi­lan is di­rec­tional and New York is quite pol­ished, but London likes to push the en­ve­lope.

Con­sider the beauty habits of a London woman: Com­pared to her con­ti­nen­tal coun­ter­parts, she seem­ingly couldn’t give a toss about her beauty rou­tine. The Si­enna Millers, Keira Knight­leys and Cara Delev­ingnes of the world do not get a blowout to walk the dog; for th­ese women, go­ing down to the pub is not akin to walk­ing the red car­pet. There’s an art to not look­ing art­ful at all. “The key point here is the un­der­stated look,” says Fiona Mi­nors, di­rec­tor of the Fash­ion Im­age pro­gram at London Col­lege of Fash­ion. “It takes some time and ex­pe­ri­ence to know how un­done hair should look and where to add the prod­uct. The artists un­der­stand this flu­id­ity and keep up their visual knowl­edge by look­ing around them on a daily ba­sis.” In other words, the Bri­tish woman owes her blasé mien not to a global sub­cul­ture but to her h

in­nate cul­ture—that is, her very Bri­tish­ness, which stresses de­tach­ment above all else.

“Bri­tish women en­joy re­belling against aes­thetic,” says Palau, the cre­ator of the choppy matte-black wigs worn by mod­els at Marc Ja­cobs’ spring/sum­mer 2015 show. “In the ’40s and ’50s, they were re­belling against the is­land men­tal­ity [which was prim, proper and su­pe­rior] and looked slightly non­cha­lant. That feel­ing of be­ing un­kempt was not typ­i­cal for women, but Bri­tish girls al­ways re­belled against that.”

There’s def­i­nitely some­thing to this nosethumb­ing at­ti­tude, whether it’s di­rected at the monar­chy or sim­ply a des­o­late land­scape. It’s what de­fines—and in­spires—the Bri­tish beauty ap­proach and aes­thetic. “We break fash­ion rules,” says Til­bury. “New York is clas­sic and Mi­lan is glam­orous, but London is un­pre­dictable and a real melt­ing pot that trans­lates into beauty.”

Eng­land cer­tainly is known for its re­bel­lious streak, from the English Ref­or­ma­tion to the Spice Girls, so it’s not hard to con­ceive that to­day’s Bri­tish beauty tal­ents de­rive their strength from de­lib­er­ately sub­vert­ing one of the most com­monly held tenets of style: the trend. “Brits are not afraid to ex­per­i­ment,” says Sophie Beresiner, beauty di­rec­tor at ELLE U.K. “I’m almost tempted to say that we don’t be­lieve in beauty trends per se, more in a mood or cre­at­ing the feel of a woman to as­pire to. It’s not pre­scrip­tive.”

It is, in fact, the op­po­site—although the aes­thetic has nar­rowed some­what from the clown faces that pa­raded down the Alexan­der McQueen fall/win­ter 2001 cat­walk. “The overly dra­matic, scary ‘What is that?’ feel­ing is gone from the run­way in London,” says Cos­grave. “They’re out of their re­bel­lious phase, and they’ve grown up. But there’s still that stroke of some­thing elec­tri­fy­ing.”

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