Audrey Hepburn once said “I believe happy girls are the prettiest girls.” I’m inclined to agree – beauty is so much less about decreasing wrinkles and plumping lips than some cosmetics firms would like us to believe. By the same token, I am also perturbed by the whole ‘anti-ageing’ brigade and the attitude of doing, or injecting, anything in an attempt to reverse the effects of the inexorable hands of time.
I was therefore delighted to attend a very balanced talk about beauty and ageing hosted by Sisley at Selfridges as part of their Beauty Project. The panel represented a broad spectrum of women with a few common factors – each of the five panellists were fiery, fiercely intelligent and enjoyed using a good dollop of moisturiser. Here are the highlights:
– Alessandra Steinherr – AS – (beauty editor of Glamour)
– Christine d’Ornano – CD – (Sisley’s International Vice President and daughter of the founders of the brand)
– Bay Garnett – BG – (Stylist)
– Emilia Wickstead – EW – (Fashion Designer)
– Hikari Yokoyama – HY – (Curator)
AS: What beauty means to you is such a huge subject that I’d like to start from the beginning: how were you taught about beauty and how did that influence your beauty habits today?
CD: First of all, I look up to my mother; she has always tried to make me and my sisters see beauty as a whole and as a way of life, as something that is not the most important thing on the agenda but something that you do every day. You look after yourself through what you eat and how much you move and you look after your skin from an early age (which makes a difference), but not obsessively – the idea is to find the right balance and also to find the right products. She always looked like someone to whom it seemed effortless.
BG: I don’t remember my mum really wearing makeup at all actually. It being the 70s there was the odd red lip. I used to love playing with makeup in the way you do when you’re a child and then lost interest in make-up and skin. I’ve always been quite relaxed – maybe a little too relaxed – about the routine of caring for skin. To answer your question, it’s now that I look after my skin much more.
AS: I’d argue as a beauty editor that I don’t think it’s ever too late, but it is interesting how different women approach their beauty. In my case, it was my grandmother when I was 13, she took me aside and said ‘here’s a pot of cream’ and she said ‘you wash your face and put this on’, and I’ve done that ever since. It wasn’t a vanity thing, it was like brushing your teeth.
AW: I grew up with a mother who wore ‘natural’ make-up, and that definitely influenced me to this day – I’m very natural when I apply make-up – I put a little mascara, bronzer, lip gloss and tinted moisturiser on, but that’s pretty much as far as it goes. You touched on the red lipstick, Bay – my mother always looked perfectly groomed with beautiful moisturised skin and a red lip. So it’s very interesting how you mirror the same look, and I still do that to this day. An aunt came to me one day with all her leftovers facial masks, exfoliators and all sorts and I then started to put myself in a little routine. As a teenager I’d spend hours in the bathroom trying these things. She also said to me ‘moisturise your face and your body daily’. I’m now 30 and I would say that only in the past three years have I started used eye creams and getting really into it. Up until then I used a very good face moisturiser and moisturised my body from head to toe.
AS: Yes, I think the routine aspect is key as well – doing something every day to look after yourself makes a huge difference.
HY: I’m the same as you two – my mum was a total hippy and she was always discouraging me from wearing make-up and shaving my legs. That’s still a great baseline: that you can be beautiful without anything is a great baseline to work from. I cemented my make-up routine when I was 16 and am only now experimenting with more products and makeup and having more fun with it.
AS: We all have busy careers now and some of us have children – how much time do you allow yourself for your routine?
BG: Personally, I spend five minutes. Literally, in the morning I put on moisturiser and then I go. I do it when I’m brushing my teeth. Then at night I cleanse and tone. For me, it’s just not a priority. I don’t really care if people see me and don’t think I have enough make-up on. I don’t really consider what people are conceiving me as looking like.
AS: That’s great though – for you beauty isn’t about other people’s perceptions.
BG: Well, I say that, but obviously I always wanted guys to fancy me. But in a day-to-day way, not so much.
CD: It’s interesting, there are these two things with beauty; one is for guys to fancy you, the other thing is when you are at work, how you’re perceived and how your make-up plays a role in that. I’ve always worn no make-up and suddenly I’ve started to feel that ‘okay, I’m not wearing enough make-up in this meeting’. I’d never not cleanse and tone and moisturise before I went to bed, even if I’m coming back from a party, but I’d easily not put on any make-up in the morning.
AS: Well it’s clearly, for me, the more the better. Obviously. I’m a beauty editor and I get to try all these products. For me, wearing makeup is going to work. I’d never dream of going to work without wearing make-up. I’d feel like if people met me they be like ‘this woman writes about beauty? She doesn’t even wear anything, what does she know?’
BG: I think that’s great to make that effort – it’s also a mark of respect. Like wearing a clean shirt. So for me to think I don’t wear make-up, it’s not something I seek out. It’s not an act of rebellion (well maybe on some level it is), but I do wear make-up and like wearing make-up and feel I look better when I do – more professional and pulled together.
AS: On the weekend I don’t wear any. That’s my time off, when I slap on my mask and creams. I like the Sisley Eye Contour Mask and I put that on and then the Black Rose Cream Mask – that’s my happy time and when I let my skin show though.
CD: Skincare is also a lot about how you feel and I think that beauty is a lot about how you feel as a person and it’s to give you confidence, so whether it’s make-up or skincare, it’s about enhancing that aspect. And if it’s a red lipstick and it brings your look together, you feel empowered.
HY: I feel like skincare for me is my daily routine and what I bond with personally, it’s a continuous every day thing. Make-up is more the experimental: ‘have a bit of fun and go crazy’ – in the evening, I’ve gotten really into taking forty-five minutes, putting on my music, putting a nice lamp out so I have nice lighting on my face and playing with my make-up. It’s a meditative process – anyone else wouldn’t even notice that I’d used liquid eyeliner over a smudgy one, but it’s a nice moment.
AS: Also if I could talk to you, Amelia, about being a fashion designer – when you do your shows typically you do these beautiful dresses and gowns but the make-up is quite subdued on the models. Is that a conscious choice?
AW: I’d say I’ve been showing for three seasons and make-up has a lot to do with the trends. How do I want my clothes to look and what kind of girl do I aspire to be? Before I was doing shows for LFW I’d say I was more experimental and I’ve been though trends like the Amy Winehouse eyeliner. I think at the moment what is so beautiful and fashionable in my eyes is natural beauty; that’s the girl I want to be. I want to have that natural glow. And I love a few wrinkles. I don’t want my make-up to cover all of my wrinkles per se – I smile 24/7 and like that. I guess when I’m portraying my image on a catwalk I want that to show.
AS: We’re all different ages here. All women think about ageing. How do you feel about ageing right now? Is it something you fear?
BG: I’m not fearful of it. I look in the mirror sometimes – quite a lot – the worse is when I see myself on FaceTime on my phone and think ‘oh my god’, but I don’t think about it much. There’s nothing you can do about it really. I refuse to let it preoccupy my time – I’m happy to say without wanting to sound smug (because I don’t have anything to be smug about) because anxiety and thoughts that enter your head often are things that you can’t often control, so if people have genuinely anxious thoughts about growing old they don’t choose to. I do have anxiety, but it’s not about the way that I look and growing older. Do I look at pictures of myself when I was young and think ‘ oh my god you look so nice there’? I do, but I think that’s normal. But on the whole I think that the real mistake that people make in terms of dealing with the ageing process is that youth is youth and we were all/are all young. It’s very specific. You can’t get that back. So you can have injections and botox and facelifts but ultimately you can’t get youth back and I think that’s just something that’s part of life. I see people desperately craving youth – that magic thing – but it will forever be elusive after you’ve stopped being young.
AS: But it takes a strong personality not to feel pressure, though.
BG: I maybe think in a more bonkers way, but I think ‘I’m still alive and that’s great’ – what’s the alternative? Seriously? Really good friends of mine like Anita Pallenberg who I really admire for her approach to ageing and Jane Birkin – they might have lines, but they take no prisoners but I love that attitude and style and I’m much more on that side of the fence than someone who is not young and who has had work done and it just looks desperate. But I’d still like to look young!
AS: I think the importance of having role models of women who have aged well is interesting.
BG: Yes, people who don’t hanker after youth. I think it’s fine to want to have botox to look good, but I think the youth thing goes when it passes.
HY: To take it to a meta-level: looking in the mirror and seeing wrinkles you’re in a way confronting your own mortality and trying to come to terms with the fact that you start realising ‘whoa, my life is not all in front of me, but time is behind me’, so how you embrace that or confront it or deal with it reflects how you deal with life – I accept it.
CD: Yes, living your life at every stage. For me beauty is not just one age. Youth is youth but beauty? I find some women of fifty, sixty and seventy incredibly beautiful. What we try to do at Sisley when we look at the ageing process is to make your skin the best it can be at its age and to make you look the best you can. It’s not about absolute perfection but it’s about glow, it’s about being healthy. I think that’s important at any age. My mother is in her seventies and I have people coming to me all the time to say she’s beautiful. At every stage of your life you don’t want your skin to be dehydrated or completely grey, you want to be healthy and glowing.
BG: I think you’re right. I was quite judgemental when I said about youth – I think beauty at all different ages is great, but that quest for youth is something that is really prevalent.
AS: We want absolute perfection. But I do think there are different movements now. When I think of my grandma at my age – I’m thirty-nine years old – she looked a lot older than I do now. I’ve got nothing in my face – I’m natural, but you didn’t dye your hair, you didn’t eat as you do now. Culturally things change. My mum looks good, but she has looked after herself. The word anti-aging – as a beauty editor this may be controversial, but I do struggle with the term. I don’t like ‘anti-ageing’. For me it’s about ageing well, it’s not about anti. It’s not about fighting something that is natural to everybody, it’s about doing it well in the way that’s right for you. I’ll never judge someone who wants to have botox – if that’s what you want to do, fine. You need to do it cause you’re happy with yourself, not cause you need to because everyone else is doing it.
BG: I think it’s got huge amounts to do with how you feel about yourself in your life.
HY: What is ageing? It’s not isolated. You may have a really youthful face but if you’re in your house, afraid to go out and meet people or learn anything new, you still seem aged.
CD: I asked my mother and she said ‘curiosity’ keeps you young. It makes you youthful.
AS: Let’s talk about products a bit. After all, we all like using products. The most frequent question I get asked is ‘do creams really work? If i use this face cream is it really going to make a difference?’ You know it from a lab perspective, Christine…
CD: I think the first thing people don’t know is how long the testing process is. Before we launch a cream we test for results for about a year. We test on panels of about fifty to a hundred women. We test in two ways: they decide if they see a difference, so it’s objective; and we test in a scientific way – we test the length and the depth of the wrinkle to see if there’s a diminishment. You cannot say a product is anti-ageing if there is no diminishment. But that does not mean you will end up with absolutely no lines, but that they will be faded. It’s also a lot about nourishing your skin, but not just that – when you apply the Black Rose Cream Mask there’s an immediate plumping. Working on the long-term is about helping all the processes of the skin, which sadly when you age slow down. What our creams do is work in a natural way with plant extract to re-quicken those processes and make the skin work optimally. When twenty the skin repairs perfectly the damage it has from UV rays etc, when you get older it slows down and it can’t repair, so you accumulate damage. So, yes, the creams work, but it’s not an eraser.
AS: It’s also about what you expect sometimes. And as you said earlier, about using something regularly, you can’t use a product and then not use it for a week and say ‘why didn’t it work’?
CD: I asked our head scientist at lunch once ‘what’s the most important thing that I can do for ageing?’ He said: ‘well, it’s balance. It’s not too many excesses of any kind. Not excesses of lack of sleep, too much food, too much dieting – all these things. The more regular you are, the better it is for your skin.’
AS: The thing I always say is ‘you know, of course I’ve listened to all the scientists so I know what’s in the product and I’ve been a very regular user of good skincare from a very young age. I don’t know what I’d look like if I hadn’t but I think for thirty-nine, I’m okay. In my experience, it works. And, you know, I used to smoke – I don’t anymore – I’m not so good with exercising, I like my chocolate, I like my food. I try to have a balance. It’s also that thing of being aware. You look in the mirror in the morning and night and you’re faced with yourself. The rest of the time, as women we have jobs and children and it’s never about you. It’s always about someone else. But in front of the mirror it’s just about you.
HY: It’s a transition period. It’s mentally also – we live in a society now where our mind is in our brain but also in our phones, in our computers – our world is so cerebral but we actually are embodied beings and we have physical bodies we need to look after. Which everyone says is about health food and water or whatever but I don’t think it’s emphasised enough like making that time and space to execute it in a proper way.
CD: Feeling good in yourself is a big part of it. We study as much how good the cream makes you feel. It’s an important thing, even though we’re focussed on results. We ask people what kind of textures and smells they like – it’s part of the meditative process.
AS: Also, if you don’t like the smell you won’t use it.
CD: And it won’t work – as a whole, it needs to calm you down, it needs to pamper you and make you feel good.
AS: Now we’re talking about products what’s the one thing you swear by?
BG: Moisturiser. The Day Night Sisleya. I use that. I hate not having moisturiser on my skin.
AW: My favourite is the gentle buffing cream which kind of looks like clay. Actually my stepfather bought it for me on one of his trips – my mum used Sisley but I was never allowed to touch it. Every time I take it off my skin I feel I’ve been rejuvenated.
AS: You get up at five am every day because your daughter’s teething and you look amazing. I got up at five yesterday and still feel tired.
AW: I used to spend a lot of time on this but now get up at five and give my daughter my make-up bag to play with while I have my moment. That for me is my time out (which you might argue is not time out, but it really is). Everyday I see clients and have meetings and it is important that I look okay because that is part of my brand – I am face-to-face with clients and as much as you might be tired they expect to see the face of the brand, lets say, so as much as what I wear is important, it’s important that I look fresh and appropriate for them and like I’ve made an effort. One thing my mother always said is to groom yourself and to look good even if you are tired. And it is down to good products that make you feel good because you don’t necessarily get sleep!
HY: I’m enjoying the energising cream as it’s super super light. I have oily skin, but also can’t live without moisturiser. But i’ve also become addicted to Dr Sebagh’s vitamin c powder. It’s helped me get rid of bags.
CD: I try a lot of things that haven’t launched yet. I think it’s about finding the right balance – it takes me about five minutes – I find the things that really work quickly. I love layering. I’ll put a cream, then brush my teeth, then another cream. I have very dry skin and find that really helps. Also I always, always moisturise my body. I could not come out of the bath and not.
AS: That leads onto my next question. We talk a lot about the body – in France, it’s second nature to think about moisturising your body or do something – anti-cellulite products or whatever. Personally, I forget constantly. It’s the one thing I let slide when I don’t have time. Are you concerned about your body ageing as much as your face?
BG: No. Sometimes I look at my arms and they’re dry and see they’re not what they were. My face I’m definitely more preoccupied by, if anything. And my neck.
HY: That’s very English. If you’re in New York or LA where it gets properly warm and you wear a sleeveless top or short skirt there’s a totally different culture of working out and moisturising. When I lived in NY for 10 years it was always around February and March that I’d start doing arm exercises.
AW: I’m from New Zealand originally where you’re on the beach more showing your skin. If i moisturise my skin when i get out the shower, I feel a million dollars in my pyjamas. It’s like the inside/outside thing with what goes on under your clothes – take care of yourself and have pride in yourself – though we cover up a lot here, it’s important as that shows.
CD: I started working here in the UK about 15 years go. At the time we always sold face creams. That has changed a lot. We now sell a lot of body product.
AW: I’ve started getting into really good products for my body and face but then think what about sunscreen? I use really cheap sunscreen or, I used to.
AS: That’s interesting – what do you splurge or scrimp on?
AW: Well there obviously comes a time when you have a bank balance that allows for certain products. But it’s about having the very good cream that I spend my money on. If you take care of it and use little it’s like having a good pair of shoes. The thing with sunscreen – a friend told me – cheaper sunscreens don’t take care of your skin in the same way so it’s important.
CD: It’s probably the most important. Because it’s the single factor that quickens ageing is the sun. So looking after your skin in the sun is key. I’m French and I like the sun. I like being in the sun and having a bit of a glow. But if you ask the scientist, they say this is what you need to protect your skin from. I put self tan on my face once a week and that stops me from having to put on much makeup. But now I’m in a place where I think maybe I should stop putting my face in the sun. But I still like a mixture of real and fake.
AS: I’m totally with what Bay said about the body. I look at my body and think ‘urgh’ but it doesn’t bother me as much as my face. The day I hit 30 I said I wouldn’t go in the sun again.
AW: It’s about balance. A coca-cola might not be good for my skin either, but I might have it. It’s important how I look but it’s definitely not my first priority.
AS: Don’t you feel that’s because as you get older you know what works for you? I feel so much better about myself now and happier in myself than I did. Yes, I have a few lines and can’t or don’t wear a skirt or whatever, but I don’t worry as much as I used to.
AW: I feel like it’s always been the same for me. I’ve never spent hours in front of the mirror putting on make-up, let’s put it that way. It’s always been a five minute thing.
AS: What’s the one thing you know for sure about ageing?
BG: That it’s going to happen. It’s a lot about looking after yourself. I don’t want to be obsessive or in denial, but I want to look my best.
HY: It’s inevitable but not about isolated facts or grey hair – can you move your body around, can you stretch it? Do you like going out late? Are you learning things that take you out your comfort zone or learning things just for the sake or it? It’s a holistic attitude and I know so many people of different ages who really embrace ageing- ageing is so loaded but it’s just moving through different phases of life and can get better and better the older you get.
AW: It’s all about how you embrace it and take each stage as a milestone. How exciting. That’s the next stage. Take care of yourself and you’re always going to be as young as you feel. My mum’s fifty-three and so young and vibrant. We have the same interests and she lives and has a glass of wine but feels good in her skin.
BG: I think it’s been said – looking after yourself. But don’t let it be the main focus. If you are consumed by it do something else. It’s about having other things in your life. It’s just part of life.