In 1993, from within a former banana warehouse tucked in London’s bustling Covent Garden, 29-year-old Nicky Kinnaird singlehandedly changed the state of the beauty industry. “I noticed that there were all of these young companies coming through with fabulous products, but they weren’t being curated by anyone or sold in any one venue,” she says. So Kinnaird took it upon herself to fill both voids, opening her own shop and stocking it with obscure, high-quality items she’d carefully unearthed from around the world.
Twenty years later, she’s queen of an esthetic empire, reigning over 64 Space NK stores in the UK and 23 in the U.S. And she’s not slowing down anytime soon — last month, a 24th outpost opened inside Chicago’s Bloomingdales. “It was a natural next step,” she says. “Chicago is a sophisticated city. We consider ourselves the beauty complement to the fashion and clothing that surrounds us.”
Year-round, Kinnaird and her team travel across the globe, discovering and “brutally editing” makeup, skincare, haircare and fragrance brands to add to their current roster (which includes big names like Laura Mercier, NARS and REN and up-and-comers like Sai-Sei, Bakel and African Botanics). “We’re not seduced by glitzy ad campaigns or packaging,” she says. “It comes down to ingredients and quality of performance.”
The strangest spot she’s ever struck gold? While vacationing at a Japanese hot springs resort with friends, “I was watching all of the Japanese women, and noticed that they had the most amazing skin texture and tone,” she says. “They were all using this strange synthetic washcloth, and I was obsessed with discovering it.” In her typically intrepid fashion, Kinnaird tracked it down, and the Life NK Daily Fix Japanese washcloth ($24) is now for sale in Space NK stores worldwide.
In a nod to the European pharmacy culture she was inspired by while summering in Valencia as a child, Kinnaird makes sure each member of her staff is a bona fide beauty expert. “When my friends and I were teenagers with broken-out skin, we’d present ourselves to the women behind the counters in the white coats, and they’d scour the shelves and come up with solutions and talk us through it. And it worked,” she says. “So my staff is totally immersed in knowledge.”
Kinnaird’s own beauty regimen is ever-evolving, save for one staple: Eve Lom’s cleanser ($80), a mixture of shea butter, clove, eucalyptus and hops that she discovered when the acclaimed facialist paid a personal visit to her shop more than 15 years ago. “Eve said to me, ‘Try it for two days and tell me what happens to your skin,’ ” recalls Kinnaird. “It’s genius, and it’s ended up being our No.1 selling item in every single store.”
Despite her deep passion for products, Kinnaird says her biggest beauty secret isn’t something that can be found in a bottle. “You can use all of the fanciest lotions and potions, but if your lifestyle is junky, they won’t work,” she says. And she’s not a proponent of piling on face paint, either. “I see so many people with great skin who feel the need to cover it up with a thick layer of foundation,” she says. “If you’ve got it, show it off. Less is more.”
1. Lipstick Queen Velvet Rope lipstick in Brat Pack, $50, available in September
2. By Terry Baume de Rose repairing balm, $59
3. Life NK Daily Fix Japanese washcloth, $24
4. Rococo nail apparel in Thompson Blue, $16.50, available Sept. 2.
5. Eve Lom cleanser, available in three sizes ($80 for 100 ml, pictured)
Visit Space NK (900 N. Michigan, 312-440-4479; Spacenk.com) Sept. 12 for its grand opening celebration — where you can get a skincare consultation, express facial and a fall makeover — and Oct. 26 for a one-on-one consultation with Kinnaird.