Behind closed doors: fashion insiders reveal their beauty cabinets

Want to really know a person? Then sneak a peek at their dressing table, says Sali Hughes. Plus Amy Fleming snoops through the beauty stashes of the stars

It all started some 20 years ago, when I found myself at the house party of a celebrity model I didn’t know, who was midway through an advertising campaign for a brand of shampoo and conditioner she insisted she couldn’t live without. My natural cynicism, combined with (at that stage) a couple of years’ working in and around the beauty industry, meant I assumed she’d never been near the two-quid shampoo outside a film studio; so a wee break also became a fact-finding mission. Working on the assumption that anything really personal, such as prescription medication, would have been stowed safely away, I peered into her cabinet and spotted several half-empty bottles of those very same hair products – as well as a dirt-cheap supermarket face cream. I’ve liked her ever since.

I have been fascinated by bathroom cabinets for as long as I can remember, and so the idea for my In The Bathroom With… series on YouTube, in which I interview women I admire while sitting on their loo-lid, rifling through their toiletries, came very easily. I’d noticed over the years that the most open and juicy conversations on any night out take place in the ladies’ room, where people feel safe and off-guard. There’s something so intimate about the bathroom environment, not only because of what we do in there, but also because the combination of medical and cosmetic makes it such an intriguing and revealing place.

Nowadays, I’m aware that my job makes my own (very large) bathroom cabinet the subject of some scrutiny, too, and this is one reason I keep it in relatively good order. Everything is filed into plastic Muji bins Dymo-labelled by category (serums, night creams, nail stuff and so on) and Ikea baskets for small, fiddly things such as razor blades and cotton buds (see opening page). Skincare products I’m interested in testing, and that have passed an initial play at the kitchen table, make it upstairs and into the appropriate bin (I keep makeup and perfume in separate places: the steam plays havoc). Every eight weeks or so, I do a stocktake and re-edit the bathroom cabinet according to what’s impressed me and what hasn’t. It sounds complicated, but the organisation makes my life a great deal simpler; it’s satisfying in the same way a record collector might enjoy sorting her vinyl.

Work isn’t the only consideration, of course. My bathroom serves a family of four, so essential supplies such as heavy-duty sunblock, nit combs, huge family packs of loo paper, dog shampoo and my partner’s beloved talcum powder (kept despite my hatred of it) are just as important as the posh creams that help pay the mortgage. I like that, in its own way, our bathroom cabinet reflects the evolution of my family: the baby wipes and Calpol are now gone, the sticking plasters are no longer covered in Mr Men, the fruity toothpaste has been upgraded to Colgate. Some things remain by luck or default: scales I pretend don’t exist, the muscle-relaxing bath foam for after a run I’ll never take, a rubber duck I can’t bear formally to retire.

But I’m comforted by their presence, their homely clutter. When I see those hotel-style, minimalist bathrooms, with small empty cupboards, my heart sinks. And I wonder what their owner is hiding.

Lianne La Havas Singer/songwriter

I love doing my makeup. I like to spend time on it, and don’t like being rushed. Eyeliner is the most beautifying thing – to give you the shape of cats’ eyes. When I was a child, I used to do a lot of drawing, and for some reason I loved drawing eyes. When I was old enough to be allowed to wear makeup, the first thing I wanted was eyes like the ones I drew. I’ve been trying to perfect them, applying eyeliner as evenly as possible, since I was 13 or 14.

Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Guardian

What’s on my table

Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner For everyday, I put on moisturiser and just liner, sometimes even without mascara: if the liner’s perfect, you can get away with not very much else on the face. My favourite is my Bobbi Brown gel eyeliner pot, and I use the applicator from one of my liquid liners (Sleek’s Dip It, which I got from Superdrug).

Skimdo curl cream I’ve got very curly, kinky hair. I love to wear it naturally, with all the mad curls, but it’s hard to keep on top of the maintenance without having to wet it every day. A friend with exactly the same hair texture has invented a product called Skimdo: you put it on wet hair, divide into sections, and coil each little bit with your finger. This creates shiny, uniform ringlets that last for a week, bouncy and moisturised and tangle-free. If you concentrate, fingercoiling takes about an hour, but saves so much time in the long run.

Givenchy Dahlia Noir This has been my perfume for a few years now. Someone gave it to me as a present and I felt I’d finally found my fragrance. It’s an important thing, for a woman to find her fragrance. It’s fresh, not too sweet and not too strong. Now my friends all know my smell.

Lancôme Grandiose Mascara The brush has an angled “swan neck”, and I wondered what that might do. It turns out that it makes it easy to apply without getting it on your eyelids or in the corners, without blobbing, basically. And the mascara makes your lashes really curl upwards, all juicy and fat. Afterwards, I separate my eyelashes with a Boots No7 Lash and Brow Brush Pro. It’s amazing. I use the brow-grooming brush on it, too.

Embryolisse Lait-Crème Concentré I use this cream morning and night. A makeup artist used it on me once and gave me the rest of the tube. It has the perfect balance of richness and lightness. At night I also use Kiehl’s Midnight Recovery eye cream. I don’t know if it actually works, but I guess it’s peace of mind. It feels as if I’m doing something nice for my under-eyes. The more moisture, the better, I suppose, and Kiehl’s stuff has a lovely, sophisticated smell: deep and earthy and floral.

Mac Film Noir lipstick I either like dark, really intense lipstick or completely nude, except for my Burt’s Bees chapstick. Film Noir is a 1920s-esque chocolatey-brown colour. I also like Antique Velvet, which is similar but a bit more matte.

Nars The Multiple in Orgasm It’s got a bit of a funny name, but this is an amazing blusher that’s also a highlighter. The colour is a pearlescent rosy pink, with lots of lovely shiny bits in there. It’s perfect.

Lianne La Havas is headlining LeeFest Presents: The Neverland on 28-30 July.

Alexandra Shulman’s dressing table.
Alexandra Shulman’s dressing table. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian

Alexandra Shulman Editor-in-chief, Vogue (dressing table pictured above)

I haven’t got any makeup on today. Sometimes I go on what you’d call a makeup craze, but I’ve never been one of those women who won’t go outside unless they’re made up. I’ve never understood that. As far as I can tell, it’s a generational thing: I’m amazed by how much foundation teenagers put on their face today. I think I first wore foundation in my 30s.

I grew up in the days of Biba, so I wore a lot of dark plum lipstick and black nail polish. Now, if I wear makeup, it’s base and eyeliner. I’ve never really worn mascara, because I have very long eyelashes, so I just look like I’ve got two tarantulas on my face. That said, if I had my life again, I would wear more.

This is how my makeup table looks on a day-to-day basis. I don’t really store things away. That’s a photo of me shot by Jane Bown after I became editor of Vogue, and this is a chest of drawers from Graham & Green. It’s beautiful, but I really need to get a proper dressing table. I should also add that it’s usually a lot messier than this.

What’s on my table

Floris Stephanotis Bath Essence This is my favourite bath product – I often dab it on as perfume. It’s one of those things that people had by the bath when I was growing up. Floris keep discontinuing their best old scents to launch new ones, so I’m on a one-woman mission to save it.

Bobbi Brown foundations (various) I use a lot of bases – a BB cream, an advanced serum. Basically, whenever I get my makeup done professionally, they always use one of those, and it’s brilliant for someone who doesn’t wear a lot of makeup. I vary how I apply it. Sometimes I just use a serum with a moisturiser and some foundation, and mix it all up together.

Alexandra Shulman
Alexandra Shulman. Photograph: Roger Askew/REX Shutterstock

Dr Hauschka Rose Day Cream I’m a huge fan of Dr Hauschka: it works fantastically and I also just love the smell of it. I put it on in the morning, but it’s oddly strong and thick, so you have to massage it in.

Ainsworths Recovery Remedy I carry this stuff everywhere. Whenever I’m worried about something in the day, I take it. If I wake up at night worrying, I put some drops in water and it usually sends me back to sleep.

Miss Dior My favourite scent. You know how some smells just suit your body? Well, this is mine. People come up to me at parties and tell me I smell nice. It was my luxury on Desert Island Discs.

Lipsticks/stains, Chantecaille and Armani I’m a strong believer in the power of buying a lipstick. You go into a shop, you pick one out and you think your life will be better for having it. I don’t know if it’s that powerful, but I do like lipstick. That said, I tend to wear stains – Chantecaille, and my new favourite is the Armani one.

Interview by Morwenna Ferrier

Patrick Grant’s dressing table
Patrick Grant’s cabinet. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Guardian

Patrick Grant, creative director, Norton & Sons tailors, Savile Row

I’m fairly low on the maintenance stakes. I can get into black tie in 10, maybe 15 minutes – it’s such a well-oiled routine. I do, however, enjoy the ritual of getting dressed up. It feels really special: tying my tie, putting my cummerbund and cufflinks on, making sure my hair’s brushed, shoes polished and everything’s neat and tidy. I like that Beau Brummell idea that if you’re properly dressed, you should be completely unremarkable. The same applies to grooming: it’s about careful understatement, making sure everything is as neat and orderly as it can possibly be, and nothing jars.

What’s on my shelves

Mr Natty’s Famous Beard Elixir My grooming regime largely revolves around the beard. I give it a weekly trim with a Phillips beard trimmer. Depending on the time of year, I trim to different degrees: in winter, it’s left a little longer, to keep my face warm; I ride a bicycle, so it makes a massive difference. It also feels more appropriate in winter, because you’re wearing heavier, woollier clothes, so you’re much bulkier all over. I usually have a trim of the tache before I go out, and once or twice a week I’ll use a beard oil.

Sisley Sisleyum Anti- Age Global Revitalizer For Men I’ve used this since my mid-30s. It’s light, matte and totally invisible. Because I cycle a lot, I sweat a bit, and some creams make your face additionally sweaty, which this doesn’t; it also has a good herbal man fragrance. I put it on three or four times a week, especially if I’ve had a lot to drink – it’s a great hangover skin-reviver.

Patrick Grant
Patrick Grant. Photograph: Richard Young/REX/Shutterstock

Aveda Men Pure-Formance Pomade I don’t use much product in my hair, partly because I wear a cycle helmet a lot of the time. Shampoo-wise, it’s whatever’s on special offer at Boots or Sainsbury’s. I very occasionally use this pomade as a light tamer if my hair is sticking out oddly, or if I’ve just washed it and it’s a bit fluffy.

Bleu de Chanel As part of being properly dressed, I would always wear a fragrance. I have quite a few, and it’s very mood-dependent. I have a bottle of Bleu de Chanel at home and one in the studio, because I get dressed all over the place. I also wear Issey Miyake’s L’Eau d’Issey, Eau Sauvage by Dior and Penhaligon’s Blenheim Bouquet.

Charlotte Olympia Dellal’s dressing table.
Charlotte Olympia Dellal’s dressing table. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Guardian

Charlotte Olympia Dellal Shoe and bag designer

My 1940s-inspired look is more down to beauty than clothes. That era is very much about hair and makeup, and my set hair and red lipstick make me feel like me. My grandmother wore red lipstick and had a little mirror for reapplying. Even if I’m by myself, I’ll still put on lipstick. When you’re tired or not in the mood, it looks like you’ve made an effort.

I keep the rest of my face natural and fresh, so I look more modern than throwback. Instead of loads of makeup, I use beauty products that are about looking after my skin, such as Dr Sebagh Eye Primer Lift.

I don’t wear foundation – just some Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat, blusher occasionally and sometimes mascara for evening.

My dressing table is built into my dressing room. If I have time, I sit at it and make a ritual out of preparing to go out. It’s more fun swanning around in a dressing gown and having my hair pinned up.

Charlotte Olympia Dellal.
Charlotte Olympia Dellal. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

What’s on my table

Mama Mio The Tummy Rub Oil I used this before I had babies, during pregnancy and still now that my youngest is almost two. It’s not just for pregnancy. I love the smell and consistency.

Wella Setting Lotion You put this in your hair when it’s wet. I have a guy who sets it for me, 1940s style, with a pink hairnet under a dryer, then brushes it out, backcombs and sculpts it. It looks high-maintenance, but the hair stays set for a few days: you wake up and put on lipstick, and that’s it.

Roger & Gallet Gingembre Eau de Toilette I’m not one to use perfume much, but when I do, I like a fresh fragrance rather than something overpowering, or floral (I get hay fever). My mother used this, so the smell reminds me of her.

Mac Ruby Woo red lipstick This is my go-to lipstick: it has a matt finish, lasts a long time and it’s the perfect red. I’ve worn it when blond, brunette and redhead. It’s the kind of thing I buy in bulk and keep one in my car, one in my house, one in my office.

Elemis Marine Cream This is rich and indulgent. I use it when I have to travel for work, because it wakes up my skin. I’ve put a silver lid on it with my name engraved in it. I love that kind of Hollywood glamour.

Sisley Black Rose Precious Face Oil I use a few drops after cleansing. I love the smell. Coming out of a hot shower and using this sets you up for a good night’s sleep.

Bioderma Sensibio H20 I always take off my makeup and cleanse my skin. This takes off dirt you didn’t even know you had. Makeup artists always have it. You can put it on cotton wool, but I use a heart-shaped Konjac sponge.

Lulu Kennedy’s dressing table
Lulu Kennedy’s dressing table. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Guardian

Lulu Kennedy Director of Fashion East and editor-at-large at Love magazine

If I’ve got time before going out, I’ll have a relaxing bath with a glass of wine and Jo Malone orange blossom bath oil, which smells gorgeous. I might also do a Decléor Phytopeel face mask, which is deep-cleansing. Afterwards, before my skin dries, I spray on Carita Loves Courrèges, which is an oil you can use on your skin or hair, and which also smells gorgeous.

I used to be strictly soap and water, and didn’t even moisturise. I’ve got mixed-heritage olive skin, and it’s quite tough. But my friends who work in beauty and fashion were horrified and said: you have to start using moisturiser, you’re over 40, blah blah blah. It does feel like a nice treat for myself – being a mum. Half the time I use things simply because they smell gorgeous. I’m just not very neurotic about wrinkles, because I think, what can you really do? Some of these products do work, but others are more sensory. I’m not expecting a bath oil to change my skin.

What’s on my table

Nanoblur If I’m going to be photographed, I use this. It’s a finishing cream with no pigment in it. When you put it on, you kind of look airbrushed, and it’s very matt, so you’re not a big, shiny mess.

Topshop glitter pots I’ve got these in loads of different colours (my daughter’s always playing with them), which I use on my eyes. You can’t wear much other makeup, because it looks too trashy; but if you have just glitter and mascara, it’s an instant fun party look, along with chunky accessories.

Lulu Kennedy
Lulu Kennedy. Photograph: Dave M Benett/Getty Images

Bumble and bumble Thickening Hairspray My hair is curly and quite fine, and after I wash it, it is too shiny and limp. This hairspray gives it some texture without leaving a residue. I use it on my roots, then give them a little backcomb.

Mac cosmetics Mac products really work for me: the bronzer isn’t glittery, the eyebrow pencil is a brilliant match for my hair and Zoom Lash mascara is cloggy, how I like it: it gives you big, thick lashes. I don’t use foundation unless I’ve got a big party or shoot, then I use the medium coverage one: Mineralize Moisture Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF15.

Nuxe Rêve de Miel Lip Balm I rarely wear lip colour. This lip balm is the best – it’s the only thing that keeps my lips good during winter.

L’Erbolario perfumes I’m obsessed with scent and put it on about 10 times a day. I discovered this Italian brand, and my two favourites are Narciso Sublime, for summer, and Ambraliquida, which is my current one. I also use Essence by Marc Jacobs and Florissa by Floris, which has a powdery, old-world smell, a bit like Chanel No 5. Sometimes, I put a few drops of it in the bath.

Sharmadean Reid’s beauty cabinet
Sharmadean Reid’s beauty cabinet. Photograph: Sophia Evans/The Guardian

Sharmadean Reid, founder of nail salon, Wah London

I always play music while I’m getting dressed. It’s an essential part of getting ready. Right now, that’d be anything by Frankie Knuckles. I love having a bath or shower before and after going out, even if I get home at 3am. Before I moisturise, I pencil in my eyebrows with Smashbox Brow Tech; after I’ve put on moisturiser, I’ll brush my teeth while it soaks in, because makeup doesn’t work on top of fresh moisturiser.

I’ll do a bit of base with my Bobbi Brown foundation stick. I usually keep makeup as minimal as possible, because I want to look like myself.

What’s in my cabinet

Aesop Geranium Leaf Body Balm After my bath, I smear my whole body in either shea butter (I buy cheap tubs of it from the African hairdressers), Liha body oil or this body balm. I bloody love the smell of it and people constantly comment on it if I wear it. I mix it with almond oil and keep it in the gold bottle in my cupboard. This is quite a Jamaican thing to do, because you need way more intense moisturising if you’re black. Most Jamaicans I know will mix olive oil and lotion together in their own little pot and shake it up.

Sharmadean Reid
Sharmadean Reid. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

Neal’s Yard White Tea Facial Mist I hate looking like I’ve got foundation on, and if I’ve put some on for a night out, I’ll sometimes go too heavy. So I’ll spray this facial mist over it, to soften its appearance.

Peter Thomas Roth, Rose Stem Cell Bio-Repair Gel Mask This is a face-changer. If I sleep in it, the next day my pores look tight and refined. I love it. Night-time is when everything does its work.

Combs When I wash my hair, I comb through with conditioner to help it penetrate. I’ve never done my hair myself. I go to a hairdresser every week; I’ve been with her for eight years. When I wear my hair straight, I use Moroccan oil on it, which is the only thing that doesn’t make it look greasy. If I leave it natural, my aunt makes her own afro hair products called Nice To Be Natural; her Nurture Me leave-in conditioner has changed my life.

Le Labo Pure 28 perfume I like that it smells manly and musky. Pure 28 was a limited edition that I bought once, then it sold out. When they reissued it, I bought two more bottles and now spray only twice instead of four times, so it’ll last.

Echinaforce This is key, because when you start getting ill, that’s when you start looking terrible. I take a lot of vitamins, too.

Wah London Each Peach Pear nail polish I never wear pinks for a night out – it’s either dramatic colours or glitter. I’ll use red or this plum-coloured purple called Each Peach Pear.

  • This article was amended on 14 March 2016 to give Charlotte Olympia Dellal’s full name. Charlotte Olympia is the name of the brand.


Sali Hughes, Amy Fleming

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The 90s are back: how to get the look right
Think Britpop and grunge – and forget about the Spice Girls. Channelling the 90s is about sorting the bad from the good

Lauren Cochrane

11, Mar, 2016 @1:00 PM

Article image
Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman's fashion rules
The fashion expert on the perfect heel height, baggy clothes and why she’ll always have a thing for tie-dye

Alexandra Shulman

28, Oct, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
Can you really wear pyjamas to a party?
The new rules are: there are no rules. But is it really OK to wear lingerie to the office or a tracksuit to the shows? Jess Cartner-Morley rips up the dress code

Jess Cartner-Morley

12, Mar, 2016 @10:00 AM

Article image
Guantánamo: Behind closed doors
Edmund Clark took photographs of Guantánamo – of the naval base where the American community lives and the cells in which the prisoners were confined. He also took pictures of the homes where former inmates are struggling to rebuild their lives. The collection makes compelling viewing for former detainee Moazzam Begg

Moazzam Begg

06, Nov, 2010 @12:02 AM

Article image
Backstage beauty: makeup tips to match the professionals

From the no makeup look all the way to orange lips, Sali Hughes recreates the new season's looks

Sali Hughes

15, Feb, 2014 @9:00 AM

Article image
What we liked in 2013: uncool beauty

The bestselling product from Britain's favourite makeup brand isn't a hi-tech silicone gel from the likes of Dior or Chanel, but a matte powder from Rimmel, says Sali Hughes

Sali Hughes

28, Dec, 2013 @9:01 AM

Article image
Backstage beauty – eight of the best looks

Sali Hughes picks the hottest looks on the catwalk and explains how to achieve them yourself

Sali Hughes

07, Sep, 2013 @8:00 AM

Article image
‘I’d rather spend £300 on fillers than face cream’: the rise of face tweakment
From stars who don’t age to the Love Island pout, the ‘tweaked’ look is becoming the new normal. But what is it doing to us?

Miranda Sawyer

25, Jan, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
Sali Hughes: the 50 best ethical beauty buys
The Guardian’s beauty editor picks the best vegetarian, vegan and cruelty-free products

Sali Hughes

15, Jul, 2017 @7:00 AM

Article image
My looks: the unlikely sex symbols

What Matt Smith, Andrew Garfield, Chris O'Dowd, Stephen Mangan and Benedict Cumberbatch think about being unlikely sex symbols

27, Jul, 2012 @9:59 PM