A while ago I was brought in to advise an international brand. Executives from around the world attended to discuss the company they revered.
“First, how do you categorize what we do?” they smoothed out. ‘Well,’ I replied, ‘we are talking about toiletries.’
A chill ran through the room. For a moment it looked like one of them was going to ask me to go out for a fight. The T-word was mentioned.
When did toiletries become an insulting term? The time was when we were grateful to them, not least at Christmas.
My grandmothers might give us Yardley talcum powder (£4.99, boots.com), Fenjal bath oil (£8.33, boots.com) and Badedas Gelee (£9.79 for 750ml, boots.com), of which I last one still on sale for my retro-inclined boyfriend.
Hannah Betts shared advice for making everyday life more enjoyable with toiletries (file image)
In return they would receive (luckily!) Bronnley lemon soaps (£16, fortnumandmason.com), along with their bottles of Chanel No 5. I still hunt for bars of Roger & Gallet carnation soap in vain.
Today, shoppers turn their noses at mere toiletries in favor of perfume (something artfully constructed by ‘a nose’) or product (something with super-scientific skincare ingredients). Still, toiletries have a long and impressive history.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines them as “articles used in washing, dressing, etc.”, and the term originated in the 1800s, when the brightest citizens made their ablutions ceremonial on a large scale.
In addition, the things we use to make our daily lives more enjoyable are of immense value.
When my appendix exploded nine years ago, my friend Kate gave me a bottle of Diptyque’s Velvet Hand Lotion (£48, diptyqueparis.com), which was so essential to my recovery that I still have it to this day.
Anyone who doubts the elegance of toiletries should head to Santa Maria Novella dispensary (uk.smnovella.com) – either the Florentine original or Blighty’s London Piccadilly outpost – and indulge in its intoxicating delights.
If you think like me, then you have to lose yourself in the mother-and-daughter brand Bertioli (bertioli.co.uk). It is a spin-off of Thyme (thyme.co.uk), the heavenly restaurant/hotel/restored village-within-a-village near Gloucestershire’s Lechlade, on the southern edge of the Cotswolds.
I was lucky enough to stay at Thyme and, my god, it’s paradise: lush greenery, wood smoke and an air of tranquility. The beauty products are designed to reflect this connection to the environment and nourish both people and the planet.
Even a city-loving cynic like me could sense this link. I got so tense that when Thyme’s creator Caryn Hibbert started talking about willow warblers and relaxing, I felt like I was screaming.
Hannah (pictured) confessed she started crying after climbing into a bathtub rich in Bertioli’s bath salts
Caryn, a former gynecologist who is also a gifted botanical illustrator, had met my type before and gently persevered.
At the launch of Bertioli, she and her daughter Milly wanted products focused on bathing and breathing – in time after a pandemic that has sabotaged both our respiratory and mental health.
Their first collection is a tribute to the British floodplain. A fusion of anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial watermint, apple blossom and thyme, the aroma inspires deep breaths. It reminds me of the old Laura Ashley No. 1, or possibly No. 2, fragrance and frock shopping with my mom.
As in the golden age of toiletries, fragrance is very medicinal here.
As Milly points out, “A 2019 study showed that the predominant sense that provides the health benefits of time outdoors is smell, with its direct effect on the limbic region of the brain. Our river mint is not only beautiful, it is also very medicinal.’
I can attest to this. When I clambered into a bathtub rich in Bertioli’s Bath Salts (£45), I must confess that I started to cry, and I’m not much of a cryer.
When I woke up, I covered myself with the brand’s hand and body lotion (£32.50), a blend of shea butter, almond, argan, olive, and avocado oil that imparts a slight menthol tone, which proves utterly relaxing to the limbs. .
Then I pulled my (genius) hooded robe from Thyme over my head to inhale the Breathing Balm (£20) and slept like I hadn’t slept in months.
RACING YOU TO IT
Guerlain Mad Eyes Contrast Shadow Duo – fantastic name, fantastic product. This festive, limited-edition version of the idiot-proof, double-sided eyeshadow crayon comes in two iridescent shades: plum and gold for warm complexions, or gray and silver (right) for cool tones. Swipe the lighter color over the lid, then go dark over the socket.
MY ICON OF THE WEEK
BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD
Barbara Taylor Bradford (pictured) uses Deborah Mitchell Black Bee Venom Mask to tackle small wrinkles
The author, 88, has just published her 35th novel. She says of her glowing complexion: ‘I have English rose skin – that’s because of a good diet, no booze and I don’t smoke.’ She uses Deborah Mitchell Black Bee Venom Mask (£114.10, heavenskincare.com) to target minor wrinkles, and also approves Eucerin’s Hyaluron-Filler (£28.50, boots.com). BTB goes to the hairdresser twice a week and considers Guerlain’s red lipstick as her ‘armor against the world’.
It may be expensive, but a little goes an extremely long way when it comes to Sisley Ecological Compound.
The result? Sisley’s wonder lotion has been a best-seller since 1980, selling a bottle every 45 seconds.
Makeup artists are devoted to it because it just sorts things out: oily skin in humid weather; dry skin in cold climates; and a hangover from too much pink gins for Christmas.
It also works wonders for eczema, rashes, blotchiness and inflammation. Once tried, never leave.
NOVEMBER HER HITS
The cult mask saves dried out hair. Now available in a 50ml size for just £3.
This is the longest lasting and best root coverage – no wonder the dark brown shade is a best seller.
The non-sticky formula is easy to brush out. This superspray is the scent of a good time.
This is the perfect dry shampoo for creating an effortless French girl look.
A lavender and geranium treat that suits even fine hair.