Bethan Cole applauds the skincare, make-up and mental health pioneers kick-starting a beauty and wellness revolution.
By Bethan Cole
This is why wellness, like beauty, is changing for the better. In the realm of wellness and spa holidays, we usually think of the quest to chill out as involving soporific whale music, towelling robes and a cursory massage, but disruptor and veteran travel writer Susan d’Arcy has created something totally different. She’s collaborated with Eleven Experience, the ultra-chic boutique hotel chain, to dream up a highly original wellness programme, Eleven Life, for the sort of high-powered high achievers that frequent its luxe hostelries. “My idea was to celebrate guests’ natural competitiveness and use it as a positive to get them to compete over their ability to relax,” explains D’Arcy. This masterstroke involves fun yet calming activities such as trāṭaka meditation, where group participants are timed on who can stare into a flame for the longest without blinking. “It sounds crazy, but it really works,” she says, as guests find themselves vying to see who can unwind the most.Bethan Cole applauds the skincare, make-up and mental health pioneers kick-starting a beauty and wellness revolution.
By Bethan Cole
The beauty industry is in the throes of a revolution, and there is a long list of disruptors to thank for that. In skincare and make-up, large heritage brands and conglomerates once ruled the roost, but now Instagram, beauty blogs and young, independent labels are setting the pace. Wellbeing has seen a transformation, too – from a focus on surface primping and pampering towards achieving something far deeper and more life-affirming.
When I was beauty director on Sunday Times Style, I can vividly recall a revelatory trip to visit Horst Rechelbacher, founder of Aveda, in his art, sculpture and photography-filled eco-mansion somewhere deep in the countryside between Minneapolis and Wisconsin. Horst was an evangelist and trailblazer for sustainable living and sustainable business and his company Aveda was (perhaps with the exception of Weleda) the first luxury green beauty brand – founded in 1978. Thus, in our contemporary era, where there are many beauty disruptors, Aveda was way ahead of its time as the ultimate modern eco-beauty mould breaker. Not only did Horst create high natural content products using herbs, spices, plants and flower extracts, he took inspiration from the centuries-old Ayurvedic medicine tradition of India to create remedies for hair and body that were aromatherapeutic and homeopathic. The brand has continued to disrupt, even after being bought by Estée Lauder in 1997, using increasing quantities of organic, raw, natural ingredients post-2000 and also being one of the first luxury brands to use recycled and recyclable plastic packaging.
Similarly, I remember meeting the founders of REN Skincare – Antony Buck and Rob Calcraft – in their modern furniture-filled, mid-century office in Marylebone around 2000-2001. They were the first beauty company to ever talk to me about problematic ingredients commonly found in formulations – such as sodium lauryl sulphate – and therefore became swiftly known as the first ‘clean’ beauty brand. Now, nearly 20 years, REN is still disrupting under the aegis of CEO Arnaud Meysselle, promising to be a zero-waste company by 2021. “Building on the Clean to Planet initiative, REN Clean Skincare last year was one of the first prestige skincare brands to offer consumers a product in a 100% recycled bottle containing reclaimed ocean plastic,” explains Meysselle, whose company has also been organising voluntary beach clean exercises in recent years.
Marcia Kilgore is another visionary entrepreneur and serial beauty industry disruptor whose projects are always worth keeping an eye on. Not content with founding Bliss (the brand that made spas cool and hip) in 1996, two years ago she came up with the brainchild of Beauty Pie, a subscription club whereby if you pay a fee every month you are able to buy luxury beauty products at a wholesale factory price – rather than with the exorbitant mark-ups you generally get in the world of luxe beauty. “The easiest way to describe Beauty Pie is to say that it’s like the Netflix of beauty,” says the preternaturally charismatic and vivacious Kilgore. “Typical mark-ups on luxury make-up and skincare products can be up to five times the ex-factory cost. And we think that’s crazy. So we decided to create a sort of buyers’ club, where members could buy high-tech skincare and world-class cosmetics, before all the branding, for up to 85% less than what the same formulas typically cost at retail.
”Let’s now move from cost-effective beauty to how to be efficacious in wellness and health. There has perhaps been no more serious issue in wellness over the last five to ten years than the rocketing figures for male suicide. Although the stats have very recently improved, suicide is currently the biggest killer for men under 50 in the UK. So anyone who raises awareness and tackles this often taboo and very sensitive issue is not only a disruptor, but nothing short of a hero. Kevin Braddock had a breakdown in 2014 after a long history of depression and anxiety. He was suicidal and put a message on Facebook saying, “I need help”. He was taken to hospital and began a process of recovery, which he’s still in. Braddock has become an activist for men’s (and women’s) mental health. He’s been on the cover of the Observer magazine and also authored a book, Everything Begins with Asking for Help, in his quest to spread a destigmatising message of mental healing. “I began this project out of an urge to come clean and express what I felt by writing it down, as shamelessly as possible, and sharing it with others, offering something they might identify with,” he says, with characteristic candour. “Since then, the feedback has all been very heartening. At least one person reckoned the project saved his life.
”The wellness and beauty revolution starts here. What we can learn is this: our world is alive with original thinkers – call them disruptors if you will – and we need to celebrate them with all our might.
Bethan Cole is an award-winning journalist, specialising in beauty, fashion and music.