The idea came easy enough. While Sali Hughes lay in bed with her husband one morning, listening to him lament about all the old make-up in the attic, it came to her. All that old make-up represented a time capsule, a mixtape of her life, and that would be the topic of her next book.

She started by making a list. Typing out the name of each product that mattered to her, that had changed the face of beauty somehow. Hughes reached 300 products in a mere 30 minutes. It was time to alert her publishers, who had been keen on her writing another book since the publication of her first book, Pretty Honest. They loved the new idea. And Pretty Iconic was born.

Hughes delved into more detail about her most recent project with Make-Up Artist magazine recently, saying: “Pretty Iconic is a look at the products that shaped how women look. Modern skincare as we know it would look very different if it weren’t for Clinique 3-Step, for example. All modern foundations derive from Max Factor Pan Cake, launched in the 1930s. I would certainly have had less fun in my youth had I not doused myself in Lou Lou by Cacharel, and who doesn’t own an Urban Decay Naked palette? These are just some of the products that mean a great deal to our culture and to our self-identity. I wanted to celebrate them by paying tribute not only to the influential classics (8-Hour Cream, Vaseline and the like), but to the iconic products that make us instantly nostalgic, transporting us back to a Matey-filled bubble bath, an Impulse-drenched school disco, a red lipstick-smudged first encounter with a lover. These products matter, and so rarely get written about. I wanted to honor them—and to educate and entertain in the process, of course.”

Hughes writes from the heart about the make-up industry and has hopes that her book will create a sense of nostalgia where readers can say: “Me too! I remember that!” She also writes from an informative place, where she hopes to educate readers on products overlooked or taken for granted. For example, she says, “Few people realize that YSL’s Rive Gauche was the first perfume designed for feminists, for example. They just think it’s the scent their mum wore in the 1970s—they don’t realize how culturally important it was, too.”

Overall, Hughes says Pretty Iconic is for make-up nerds—make-up nerds like her.

Early Inspiration

As for her love of make-up, it started at a young age. She was naturally obsessed with the femininity of make-up and skincare as far back as she can remember. As a child, she wanted to play with little else. Her party trick quickly became being able to look at a fashion or catwalk shoot and instantly be able to tell who did the hair and make-up on which model and for which designer.

Too antsy to wait to dive into the industry, she ran away to London at the age of 14. There she met the late make-up artist Lynne Easton in a Soho bar. “I told her how much I loved her work,” Hughes says. “She was impressed by my knowledge and offered me a job as her assistant. I did all my training with her, on the job, on videos and shoots for George Michael, Pet Shop Boys, Belinda Carlisle and on big TV commercials with dozens of extras. It was a baptism by fire and incredibly hard work, but I loved it and learned a huge amount over our two years together. But that was just the beginning. If you truly care, you never stop learning.”

For Hughes, it’s full speed ahead. She is currently writing her third book, researching a new radio series, writing all her regular columns, preparing for a season of reader events around the country, co-running Beauty Banks (the non-profit she co-founded to provide essential toiletries for people living in serious poverty) and she is in the early stages of planning a huge secret project for 2020.

Instagram: @salihughes


Pretty Iconic: A Personal Look at the Beauty Products that Changed the World, £12.99 (4th Estate), is available now. To learn more or purchase CLICK HERE

Read about Sali Hughes’ popular YouTube series, In the Bathroom With, in Issue 133 of Make-Up Artist magazine.