Millie Kendall MBE is a beauty maven who likes to do things differently. Whether it’s launching a Japanese brand in a quintessential British store, selling make-up with an LA style of service, launching a professional haircare range in a dept store -or her namesake brand to a high st retailer, Millie Kendall has, and continues, to do everything before everyone else in the business of beauty.
I met up with Millie at her Lubetkin apartment in Highgate, made her up & took pictures whilst she told me her fascinating career story plus all about her latest venture, BeautyMART.
Millie (above+left with her brother William) landed in LA from London at 12 yrs old amidst a sea of Farrah Fawcett clones who bullied post-punk Millie for her London style by squirting ketchup sachets at her. Unsurprisingly she left school at 15 years old but on Dad’s orders, reluctantly got a job at Toni&Guy. She was part of the YTS scheme (one of Margaret Thatcher’s better ideas) like most of the juniors. There, they learned basic accounting and business.
“I became very adept at shampooing hair”
Despite this, Millie’s teenage restlessness didn’t stop her “flip-flopping between LA, playing truant, dying my hair, being manipulative” and although she didn’t want to be a hairdresser “standing on my feet all day” she ended up at 19 working at hairdressing empire Bumble and Bumble in NY.
Millie did, however, become obsessed with make up, loving obscure ranges such as WIlliam Tuttle above, Il Makiage below and the beginnings of Mac, which was sold in the Bumble and Bumble salon.
After a couple of years clubbing (Paradise Garage, Sound Factory and Black Market) and hanging out with the likes of Miss Kier, Millie ended up in LA again. Millie’s father, growing weary of her inability to cut hair and full ability to party, ended up helping her get yet another job at little known Japanese brand (that was struggling to launch it’s first U.S. store) called Shu Uemura within a shopping mall called Century City between LA and Santa Monica.
Soon after Millie began working there, a feud broke out between the brand and the store manager who then staged a walk out, taking all staff-including Millie- to Millie’s dad’s hair salon around the corner for some advice. Millie’s father promptly told his daughter who had walked out with the rest of the team to “Go back there and take the store managers job!”. So she did.
After a time working as manager, the Shu store was visited by Mr Shu Uemura himself and the rest, as they say, is history. He immediately took a shining to the bright young thing that had saved the store from revolt and began asking her to travel around the States opening more stores. Millie was 21 years old.
“I used a mirror to sell from…it makes women all connect, seeing each other together….”
From then on Millie was to travel with Mr Shu Uemura around the world and ended up being the only woman (at just 23 years old) to hold a place at a male-dominated conference in Tokyo. Each time a new product would come out, Millie was asked her personal opinion and it was that valued opinion that prompted the brand to offer Millie the job of launched Shu Uemura in Harvey Nichols, London.
As Millie arrived in London she was soon approached by Aveda who desperately wanted her on board for the brand. Not wanting to leave Shu, she decided to have her cake and eat it to by setting up her own consultancy firm, meaning she could work for both brands without the conflict of interest.
As a result and within just 2 years, Millie Kendall was earning around £70,000 a year at just 23 years old and went on to be the first person to advise sponsorship of Fashion Week shows plus being the first person to advocate buying credits from make-up artists to promote her brands. Which is how I met Millie!
When Millie was 27, the ex buyer at Harvey Nichols (then at Boots to reinvigorate their cosmetics dept) approached Millie showing serious interest in taking Aveda into the store. For Millie, launching Aveda in a department store had been a hard enough sell to the brands founder, Horst Rechelbacher, not to mention the admission to co-launch it on QVC. For a professional hair brand this was apparently commercial suicide and launching in Boots was simply not something Aveda had envisioned.
This was the inception of Ruby & Millie.
Below; Ruby & Millie after receiving their MBEs with their daughters
Ruby Hammer’s husband had seen a picture in the Sunday Times Magazine (of two Russian Prostitutes!), one brunette and one blonde, and thought that the combination of two women in the industry would be quite dynamic. Ruby had wanted her own brand and although the marketing of yet another MUA brand didn’t appeal to Millie, the launching of a brand (that was the combination of the make up artist and the consumer-marketeer) like R&M would be uniquely different, to launch this in a mass market environment would be completely new. The term ‘mass-tige’ was about to become a concept………
Millie did not want to become a face of a brand so it still took 2 years to consider (coincidentally the start of this thought process was at a dinner in Bologna with Anna Marie Solowij, her current business partner).
Setting her terms to market and launch the brand in her own way, she finally agreed (left and above with Ruby). Ruby & Millie launched in Harvey Nichols and Selfridges with a 3 month lead and then a roll out into Boots, a standard concept nowadays but Millie designed a completely unique model.
“We resigned from the Ruby & Millie brand in 2008, we felt we’d begun to lose creative control and direction.”
They took the prerogative to walk away however the brand still exists. Millie still receives enquiries from customers daily, responding to each one and continues to consult and develop other brands for people with her company Project Maven.
Below Runs in the family; Millie’s brother William’s painting on her living room wall
Juggling motherhood (she has 2 girls) with marketing, retail, PR and development, Millie says “most importantly I love being on the shop floor”
“BeautyMART was born organically and not predetermined”
Anna Marie Solowij and Millie met back in 1990 on the same morning she met Ruby when they were shooting for Elle in Millie’s shop.
“I’ve had a long time relationship with Anna and when I came back to London from LA 3 years ago I bumped into her in the neighborhood I moved to. We got talking and we were both frustrated with the current method of retailing of beauty products in the UK. Nothing had changed since Nicky Kinnaird launched Space NK back in the 90′s. Originally it was a fashion retailer and I had the first & only beauty concession there.. being the experienced shop girl, I knew how it should develop. Anna was writing a piece on the future of beauty retailing and interviewed Daniela Rinaldi at Harvey Nichols. Dani said ‘put something together, we definitely need to do something new.‘ ”
BeautyMART’s pillars: Touch, feel and smell the products- plus;
1. To sell ‘Best In Class’ cosmetics crossing all price points. We know women shop across brands and price points but have no dedicated retail environment to do so and we wanted a customer centric shopping environment that is ultimately democratic.
2. We feel woman tend to shop from the pages of a magazine. They are keen to learn what the experts use and recommend and so part of our merchandising style and e-commerce style will be editorial, a magazine that has come to life. Products are cherry-picked from brands by our editor, so that customers are getting the best products the brand has to offer.
3. E-commerce in beauty is not synergistic with retail shopping environments. So instead of making a website like a shop, we decided to merchandise our products in our store like a website, this gives the customer the ease of shopping as if they were online but in-store where they can touch, feel and smell the products.
BeautyMART has started as a blog because because Millie says she is keen “to not just be about beauty, it is a forum for self expression, and we like a bit of humour, we think beauty should be light-hearted.”
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