My Beauty World: Millie Kendall

Millie Kendall OBE is one of our most respected beauty entrepreneurs. Responsible for the success of brands like Shu Uemura and L’Occitane, she has also set up her own product line with Ruby Hammer, and co-founded BeautyMart and the British Beauty Council, where she is CEO. Here, she reveals her favourite products of all time, what’s worth investing in and why we need to adapt our skincare as we age.

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I started out in hairdressing. My father was a hairdresser, so I joined his path after deciding I wasn’t keen on school. I trained at the YTS programme along with a lot of my contemporaries, including Josh Wood and Charlotte Mensah. I soon discovered I wasn’t coordinated enough for hairdressing and was told so constantly. I was working at Bumble & Bumble when I discovered this small area where make-up was being sold. It became an immediate addiction – I just loved the textures, the colours, the packaging and the smell.

At 19, I began working with make-up. It was in Bumble & Bumble where I discovered MAC for the first time. It wasn’t in department stores back then, it was a salon-only brand. I also found William Tuttle’s foundations and Il Makiage. These were my first discoveries and brands I loved. William’s foundations were the best of the best and are still available today. He was one of the first make-up artist to create his own brand.

Shu Uemura was where it all began. After being fired for my lack of coordination at Bumble & Bumble, I went back to my father in LA, as I was in need of a job. He had a friend who was a model in Japan and had recently opened a boutique – Shu Uemura. Long story short, the company was making a loss, so I offered to run the shop. I hired all my friends, including make-up artists Jillian Dempsey and Molly Stern, and we made a profit within three months. I got sent to Europe to open all the company’s stores and it was a huge experience. Hiring those closest to me was the best decision ever – it helps you to build a solid environment as no one wants to let their friends down. There was – and still is – a lot of respect among us.

Using flannels is my one beauty ritual. Back when we were business partners at Ruby & Millie, Ruby Hammer told me to wash my face with a flannel. It has really stuck with me as a ritual to follow. I have so many lying around my bathroom. It sounds silly, but it helps to cleanse your skin thoroughly without being abrasive.

My biggest advice is to reflect. I’m a very immediate person and do things quickly, but the best advice I had was from my father. He said put off until tomorrow what you should have done today. It’s the flip of what people say, but he said it’s key for gaining perspective before you move forward. 

The 90s helped me become ahead of time. We used to sell single-dose ingredients like collagen, hyaluronic and elastin at Shu Uemura. This is now the type of thing brands like The Inkey List and The Ordinary do, but I was ahead of the time and got to experience a lot of things that have now become mainstream. It’s partly what has helped me have an eye for things and spot what could make something stand out from the crowd. 

As you age, beauty must work for you. There is no point following what’s ‘popular’ or ‘trendy’ if it doesn’t work for you personally. It’s about listening to your needs – particularly your skin’s. We all know the techniques, it’s how and when to use them that’s critical to making it work. 

There is NO POINT following what’s ‘POPULAR’ or ‘TRENDY’ if it doesn’t work for you PERSONALLY.

Understanding ingredients is key. Nowadays, you can turn bottles round and ingredients are listed in all sorts of languages which can be hard to understand. Put simply, it’s about a short ingredient deck. Also, to be clear, anything that claims it’s ‘natural’ will have a certain element of science to it – things aren’t just thrown together. The way I see it when buying skincare is the formulas are more potent if you have less inside. For instance, if you have a 100ml jar with 25 ingredients, each one will be less potent that if you had just five. You know the ingredients you want – be it hyaluronic acid or retinol – so look for that on the packaging with a minimal amount of filler.

Skincare changes daily for me. I don’t believe in using the same thing day after day. I always base what I am applying on how my skin feels at that moment. It’s true that your complexion enjoys monotony, but I believe in listening to what you need – that’s especially true as we age.

If I don’t like something, I won’t back it. I’ve always believed in carefully vetting things and taking curation seriously. Anna-Marie Solowij and I created BeautyMart – and prior to that a magazine named Beauty Quest – to have an edit of products that we knew people would love, like Sweet Georgia Brown Pomade. I’m not a good salesperson – if I don’t like something, I won’t be able to back it. You get to the point in the industry where you can have credibility, but you have to work at it. It’s a unique way to be, but the thought process of standing firm and having courage in your conviction comes with age.

There are so many amazing smaller brands out there. A fragrance I love right now is Cécile by the British perfume brand To The Fairest. Keep your eye on them, they are really going places. I also love KANKAN London for the refillable hand and body washes they do. The brand is a bit different as well as sustainable, but above that, the product itself is really good. Another brand I rate is 1999 Beauty, they have lovely eyeliners and a mascara that gives a soft, tinted effect. Finally, a product everyone should know is PROSHINE by make-up artist Ciara O Shea. It’s a big, solid body balm with an oily texture that gives skin a youthful sheen.

A brow pencil is my repeat buy. I love brow pencils for creating shape and definition, especially now I’ve got older. My favourite one is Shu Uemura’s H9 Hard Formula Pencil. I feel funny whenever I don’t have it on. Otherwise, I switch things up – like my skincare – quite a bit. That said, I love Gucci’s Lipstick in Millicent Rose and I am never without a good facial oil. Subtle Energies do some brilliant ones that are very hydrating for mature, dry skin. They are not cheap, but I can assure you they are worth every penny.

I have plenty of people I look to for inspiration, including Anna Marie and Ruby Hammer, of course. They are people I’d always go to for advice. I’ve also worked for some amazing founders, including Mr Shu Uemura and Horst Rechelbacher of Aveda. It’s not always been an easy ride for me in what used to be a very male dominated industry, but all the people I’ve worked with have given me great foundations. Add Daniela Rinaldi – CEO of Harvey Nichols – to that. What a woman. If someone could bottle the knowledge she has, all retailers would be successful. She has a real eye for things, and I learnt a lot from her, including gut instinct which is key.

If I did it all over again, I’d focus on key ingredients. I’m not overly bothered about wrinkles, but my bugbear is a loss of elasticity. Ultimately, that’s down to the three wise men: collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid. If I could go back, I’d use more of those than I do now just to see if it makes a big difference long-term. That said, I believe genetics plays a huge part. I look more like my mother every day and it’s worth accepting there are some things out of your control. 

I am a FIRM BELIEVER that NO ONE ever gets things WRONG when it comes to BEAUTY, and I am CERTAINLY NOT in the position to say THEY DO.

However, retinol and ceramides still have their place. I just wish we would all accept ourselves more. It’s what irks me over social media – which I do love – but people want to look so different. We should embrace ourselves; it adds to diversity and the fabric of beauty. We don’t want to mould into cookie cutter versions of one another. If you’re always looking over the garden fence, being happy is untenable. 

Koreatown in New York is a must-visit for beauty lovers. There are great shops there for all ages that are a bit fun and quirky. I used to love Credo in New York too and general beauty supply stores where you can pick up all your basics. The Larchmont Beauty Centre in LA isn’t to be missed either. For London, Pak is great – there are endless rows of products stacked high which aren’t expensive, but essentials that are so addictive.

Taking 30 minutes out is essential for me. I have a dressing table where I sit for 30 minutes every day and take some time out post-shower. I sit there and zone out – it’s really important to do. I’ll use my Jillian Dempsey Sculpting Bar over my skin and oil my entire body, usually with one of Weleda’s products. They have heavenly scents that make you feel good. I start from the soles of my feet – as recommended by Ruby Hammer – upwards, massaging my entire body. It feels amazing. Hydration makes such a difference to the overall appearance of your skin. I love an oil underneath make-up, too, for glow and a better glide of make-up.

I love the tightening results of facial cupping. I use it in combination with the gold bar I mentioned and with gua sha. For me, facial cupping perks my complexion up. I love facials and if I could, I’d have one daily, but cupping gives me a temporary fix – think brighter, tauter-looking skin. 

Seeing things from a 360-degree view is important. That goes for anything in life. You should ask yourself, what’s the real reason this is happening? I believe in seeing things from all sides and perhaps it’s because I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve been on the shop floor, owned a shop, worked very badly as a hairdresser (and a make-up artist) – I’ve done it all and from that, I’ve learnt the importance of being open-minded. A good perspective is key in life.

My look has been the same for years. I often joke I look like Sean Penn as Jeff Spicoli. I’m not particularly well groomed and often go weeks without washing my hair. I like a grunge look and ironically don’t wear much make-up – instead just a hint of something somewhere which is what I find more flattering. I’d say my look is an ungroomed, skateboarder from the 70s vibe. I didn’t design it that way, there’s tonnes of other ways I’d like to look but it’s how I’ve ended up and I’m owning it.

Finally, be who you want to be – no matter your age. I am a firm believer that no one ever gets things wrong when it comes to beauty, and I am certainly not in the position to say they do. I also believe no one ever walks out the house thinking they look awful. So, don’t criticise people if you don’t think they look good – they did when they left that front door. As it is, I don’t believe in rules – in fact, I like to break them. I’d put lipstick on my brows if it looked nice. Be who you want to be and embrace it!

Follow @MillieKendall & @BritishBeautyCouncil

Visit MillieKendall.com


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