With NYFW as over as pool sliders, for five (?) crazy days attention shifts to my hometown as London Fashion Week showcased the best the nation’s industry has to offer. Forget the Jubi-lympics, it’s at show-time that I feel a tiny swell of national pride in my distinctly cosmopolitan heart. But as I peruse my kit and bathroom cabinet, brimful of gorgeous products from elegant pharmacies in Paris and Milan, I can’t “help but wonder” (copyright: Sex and the NY City); where are my homegrown must-haves and cult classics? And why does a trip to an English pharmacy feel about as glamorous as a trip to Netto?
Unless you live in central London, your high street chemist is unlikely to be a John Bell & Croyden or a DR Harris and Co. Indeed it’s probably more coloured cotton wool balls, ‘medicinal ‘olive oil and Peppa Pig flannels than Penhaligon’s Bluebell Eau de Cologne and Mayfair Bath Essence. However, look beyond the corn-plasters and reading glasses and the cult classics and traditional products we covet when coupled with a French or Italian label are there, desperate to be rescued from Death by Polyamide Scarf and given the recognition, and loving home, they deserve.
Pond’s Cold Cream Cleanser has graced our pharmacy shelves for over a century, and although overlooked in this country, is a cult classic in Spain and Japan. Lanolin-free and containing 50% moisturizers, this multi-functional precursor to the omnipresent cleansing balm not only deep cleanses and removes eye make-up, it works as a nourishing skin mask and hand cream too. First developed by Boots in 1952s to treat eczema and dermatitis, E45 cream may seem like it’s been with us forever. In fact, it has only been available in stores since the 1980s. Its non-greasy but emollient-rich formula absorbs quickly into the skin forming a protective barrier and could, with a little love and encouragement, become ‘our Embryollise’. Indeed, it’s the one product a London-based, French friend religiously stocks up on before boarding Eurostar. Astral’s All Over Moisturiser, a favourite of Gurkha-saving, Patsy and Purdy-playing, national treasure, Joanna Lumley, is another multi-tasking skin-saver. Super-rich in consistency, it leaves a wonderful, glossy sheen to the skin and at £1.49, is a bargain addition to any aspiring make-up artist’s kit. It’s also great for razor burn and stubble rash but that’s another (fashion week party) story…
It’s been said that we English excel at any sporting activity than involves sitting down, and there’s surely no more traditional or English an activity than Sunday bath-time, in all its lathering and dusting glory. We’ll leave that new-fangled, daily, standing-up, showering business to those European types, thank you very much. That said, any English pharmacy worth its salt has a Majestic duty to provide its public with bathing products by at least one of the Holy Trinity of Englishness; Woods of Windsor, Bronnley and Yardley. My advice? Keep it simple and look for soaps, fragrances and body lotions in the single note scents that we do so well, such as lavender, rose and lily of the valley. And if a mention for Woods of Windsor’s heavenly True Rose Dusting Powder kick-starts a revival in this long-lost, post-bathing art form then, frankly, my work here is done. Bronnley’s Nature’s Kitchen range merges the traditional with our modern obsession for all things foodie, and features soaps enriched with Sweet Almond oil and scented with Applemint, Rosehip or the utterly glorious Thyme which rivals anything I’ve tried by Nesti Dante.
The reimagining of the types of old-fashioned, natural skincare remedies and ingredients – such as the glycerin, rosewater, chamomile, rose, rosehip and good ole Epsom Salts found at your common or garden English pharmacy – can be seen on the shelves of the swankiest modern apothecaries, department stores and specialist, organic pharmacies. Prefer to spend more than £2.32 for Boots’ Traditional Glycerin & Rosewater lotion? Then try Burt’s Bees or Jurlique’s variation on the same cooling, toning theme. The Organic Pharmacy may win plaudits for its Carrot Butter Cleanser but the Rose & Chamomile Cleansing Milk is a gentle, soothing alternative for that redness-prone, English Rose – or over-worked model – complexion.
English-brand, Balance Me, a GG and industry favourite, uses rosehip and camellia oils and chamomile extract in their sublime Radiance Face Oil, the perfect product for infusing fashion-frazzled skin with a nourishing, dewy glow. An alternative is multi-award-winning, cult classic and pharmacy staple, Bio Oil. This miracle oil contains lavender, calendula, rosemary and chamomile oils, along with breakthrough ingredient PurCellin Oil™ and vitamins E and A. Use in the bath, natch, as a facial or body oil or to reduce stretch marks and scarring. If I weren’t so English, I’d positively enthuse…
And if a week of designer meltdowns, model tears and flat champagne – or simply repressed English rage – has left you more spent than a Merchant-Ivory heroine, add a handful Epsom salts to your bathwater to relax tired, tensed-up muscles. For a more luxurious update, Lola’s Apothecary’s Epsom Salt-based, Tranquil Island Bath Salts, also contain Dead Sea salt to detoxify the skin and lavender buds for added soul soothing.
As a rule I hate to disagree with Hannibal Lecter but he’s wrong when he says we covet that which we see everyday. For whilst the ultimate English pharmacy – the ubiquitous Boots – is spoken of in the revered tones we usually reserve for, well, reserve, by our American chums, we seem strangely indifferent to its considerable charm. My tweenaged, Saturdays wouldn’t have been the same but for those afternoons spent scouring its aisles for new products by brands like Simple – a Scandinavian friend still raves about their wipes and eye make-up remover-, Boots’ Botanicals, Rimmel, Collection 2000 and, ahem, Clearasil…. These days Boots stocks a mind-boggling range of products and brands, for all pockets, ages and skin-tones. Check out Sleek’s amazing eye and cheek palettes for black skin and adventurous white chicks. I heart the discotastic vibe of the i-Divine palette in Lagoon, a snip at just £7.99. The Dazzle Dusts and nail colours by budget brand, Barry M take me back to my cash-strapped, early days in the business and are perfect for purse-friendly, colour trend items. Boots also provides much-needed exposure for smaller, specialist brands like Real Techniques by Sam and Nicky Chapman whose incredible brushes deliver on both price and quality and need no introduction to regular readers of this site, and WAH London, whose innovative, pioneering nail-art products launched, in-store and online, earlier this month.
It finally occurred to me, as I stood in a rural English pharmacy among an bewildering array of anachronistic remedies, adopted classics, and traditional goodies, listening to a Camilla P.B-alike, bemoaning the lack of linseed oil she used to polish her horse’s hooves before an evil, but probably imaginary, EU dictate wiped it clean off our shelves, and days later, as I browsed the shelves of the high street stalwart that gave a chance to two Norwich-based, make-up artist sisters and an East London nail art fanatic, that whilst our pharmacies certainly aren’t as elegant, glamorous or chic as their sleek Continental counterparts, they are a darn sight more entertaining, eclectic, frustrating and eccentric. Bit like LFW, and in that, our fair nation, really. N’est pas?