Thursday, 23 August 2012

'Looking good? It's all a game of smoke and mirrors'

Caroline Neville, the grande dame of the beauty industry, speaks to The Lady about Joan Collins, growing old gracefully... and why you should never be afraid to change your lipstick colour

Written by Fiona Hicks

In the depth of the recession a little statistical nugget shone through the gloom: sales of nail polish increased by as much as 65 per cent. Among the cutbacks, women were turning to the simple, time-honoured and inexpensive method of perking themselves up through primping. This fact did not surprise Caroline Neville at all.

‘Women are crazy about beauty,’ she says warmly. ‘There’s an insatiable thirst for it.’

As the President of Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW), she is certainly an expert on the matter. CEW, now in its 20th year, is a quiet but powerful organisation. Its 1,000 UK members comprise the who’s who of the beauty world, from brand managers to persuasive editors to marketing moguls. Caroline explains that the mission of this non-pro‹ t organisation is to ‘advance the professional growth and leadership development of women in the cosmetic industry’. They do this through mentoring programmes, black-tie events and the CEW Awards. All of this means that these ladies have a huge inŒ uence on the nail polish you’re buying.

Caroline is a walking advertisement for the power of preening. Reaching her milestone 70th birthday later this year, she glows with youthful enthusiasm when talking about the business. ‘The beauty industry brings in nearly £17bn a year and it employs a million people,’ she says. ‘It has gone through the recession fantastically.’ And one of the main reasons for this is the power of the more mature woman.

‘A lot of older women are remaining in the workplace and want to look just as good as their younger counterparts. They don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb, but they want to be presentable.’

Crucially, this demographic also has means. A recent survey revealed that women in the 50 to 80 age bracket are the biggest spenders when it comes to buying products online. ‘Today’s woman of 50, 60, even 70, is not the same at the woman of that age 50 years ago,’ declares Caroline. ‘My goodness, back then you never saw them. Now they are really out there, and they want to be part of things.’

It stands to reason that a signi‹ cant aspect of CEW’s success is that it caters to the needs of women of every age. The annual awards give an insight into which products are exciting the beauty experts, with members of CEW voting in 26 categories, from hairstyling to foot care.

‘The awards have grown beyond belief,’ Caroline beams. They are entirely independent and not inŒ uenced by advertisers, which means industry professionals and consumers alike respect them. And their inŒ uence is astounding. This year, when Liz Earle’s Cleanse & Polish Hot Cloth Cleanser won the Most Revolutionary Beauty Product Of The Last 20 Years award, sales of the cleanser rocketed by 25,000 bottles. The little CEW sticker (‹ xed to winning products) has become synonymous with quality.

But it’s not all just lotions and potions. Another arm of the organisation is their philanthropic work: they raise money for the Cancer And Careers initiative, supporting women who’d like to keep working despite their illness. CEW also donates signi‹ cant sums to The Eve Appeal. ‘Breast cancer has a huge amount of publicity, but no one talks about gynaecological cancers, of which there are six,’ says Caroline. They are helping to fund research into a new blood test that could detect these cancers much earlier.

Caroline-Aug24-02-590Beautiful people: Kylie Minogue and Caroline

‘It won’t be available on the NHS straight away, and it will therefore have some cost to it. Our ideal would be that if you went into a department store and bought a pot of cream, instead of getting a gift with a purchase, you’d get a voucher that would go towards the cost of this test.’ It is a pioneering idea.

Beauty (and indeed, hard work) has always played a key part in Caroline’s life. She commenced her career in public relations, setting up her own agency at the age of 20. Within 10 years she was  ying back and forth to the US, working with many of the leading luxury brands, including Gucci, Cartier and Calvin Klein.

‘I also launched Ralph Lauren’s † rst two perfumes in 1978, so I had him and his wife Ricky over,’ she reminisces.

The friends Caroline made during her days in PR have served her well in her second career as CEW President. Joan Collins (with whom Caroline also worked a number of times) turned up personally to collect her Achiever award from CEW last year.

‘Her award was given because we felt she understood her contract with the public. She always comes out looking really fabulous, and she didn’t let us down that night. She was so glamorous.’

Caroline, too, gives the impression of e” ortless elegance. She has always made sure she is wellturned- out. ‘If I were to go out without any make-up on, people would think I had gone bonkers,’ she laughs. ‘I don’t think my postman has ever seen me without lipstick.’

And yet, she doesn’t wear too much. For her, make-up (and the beauty industry as a whole) is not about covering up, but about enhancing a woman’s natural features.

‘I prefer the light touch. Why shouldn’t women make the most of what they’ve got?’ She pulls out her make-up bag and with a girlish exuberance, demonstrates the merits of a range of products. From a highend Trish McEvoy concealer to Revlon’s latest cheap-andcheerful lip colour, her passion for the fun element of cosmetics shines through. ‘It’s all a game of smoke and mirrors,’ she chuckles.

Caroline has no time for those who dismiss the cosmetics industry as mere vanity. On top of the fact that it is a serious economic heavyweight and funds a plethora of charities, its fundamental role is to encourage women to feel good about themselves.

‘I’ve yet to meet a lady whose face doesn’t light up when she’s presented with some products,’ she says. ‘I have a friend who’s 85 and she always wears a bit of blusher and lip gloss whenever we go out for lunch. Of course she doesn’t feel she has to, but do you know why she spends those extra two minutes getting ready? It is simple: it makes her feel lovely.’

So what is her ultimate tip for looking good? ‘Have a good haircut,’ she says without hesitation. ‘And don’t be afraid to change your lipstick colour. It works wonders.’

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