Pretty Iconic – Sali Hughes is writing beauty history

As someone who values the work of journalists, dread the day when people stop reading actual books and believe that history is utterly significant to learn in order to understand our future I couldn’t be more happy when I learned that Journalist and respected Beauty-writer Sali Hughes was writing on her second book.

Pretty Iconic –  a personal look at the beauty products that changed the world could be a heavy and serious read; something that no one actually would work their way through (only the title may scare off some readers) but here’s the thing: the book with its 408 pages covering 230 products is nothing but a light and fun experience! It is like an Encyclopedia over our most well known brands and their bestsellers, it is product-history mixed with the author’s personal history and experiences with the items and it is completely subjective, without trying to be anything else! Very liberating.

When I first got Pretty Iconic in my hands, I wondered if this was going to be yet another “Instagram Darling” – that’s what I call books, props and items that you see all over Instagram because they photograph well or they signal to the followers that you are “in the know”. I have a love-hate relationship with those products and especially when it comes to books; I can’t stand it when you realise that someone own a book just because you should, but haven’t actually read it properly! The academic book worm in me wants to hide under a pillow when I see those posts…

Happily to know, it seems like Sali Hughes’ book actually is being read and loved, as it is supposed to and well deserved to be! Following the huge success of her first book Pretty Honest (read my review over here) this book is the dictionary I always needed and a wonderful look int my own background.

I curled up on the sofa with some vanilla tea (sweet) and candles, all set to read the book. Already at the Introduction I found myself reading some parts out loud for my husband to hear (he brought it on himself by asking what the book was all about). Sali explains:

“But what makes an icon? Quality alone is neither enough nor strictly the point. The beauty products in this book aren’t always, in my view, the best – at least not for me personally”. 

This is where she’s got me: the fact that the term “icon” comes with so many interpretations; it can be the most sold item, the most used item, quality or non-quality, all about the brand or something more anonymous. This book is filled with them all: from the most luxurious and recognised perfumes and creams to those we remember our parents stashing the first aid kit with. Pharmaceutical products and beauty floor items, duty-free must haves and those products you knew of but never had the money to buy. You see why it draws you in? It’s something for everyone and instead of just rambling on about products, we get to know some easy digested and interesting history and facts about the brands and their iconic items as we go along.

Pretty Iconic is divided into five chapters which makes it easy to follow. I wouldn’t say it is strictly chronological and I don’t think that was the point of it either!

Sali starts off by discussing The Icons, going high and low between CHANEL No.5, Esteē Lauder Double Wear Foundation, Weleda Skin Food, Johnson & Johnson Baby Lotion and back to Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour cream and some much loved Guerlain Meteorites. Reading about all of these icons and knowing them inside out from personal experience, it was like reading about my own life. Some people collect photo albums or maybe christmas cards, I collect beauty and I know my personal and private history with all the products as well as the mark they’ve made in history itself. For example; living in the Middle East makes it hard not to know about the controversy when NARS Orgasm (iconic blusher) was about to enter the market.

As a huge lover of anything Molton Brown; I just have to sneak in the fact that 2016’s Holiday collection featuring scents from Sweden and Laponia made me incredibly homesick and nostalgic and so their candle with Juniper Berries and Lap Pine made it the only choice for me when I sat down to read about a personal history lesson in beauty! Obviously, Molton Brown London is amongst The Icons, but much to my surprise I didn’t know about the brand’s background as a hair salon!? This is what I love about Sali, she’s been around the block for decades and have an unique insight and knowledge into a crazy and revolving industry. This is not a blogger trying to write a book. This is journalism and fact-based mini articles that will hold over time and be interesting to read in ten years from now. It is timeless and classy.

For The Classics – the second chapter of the book – I could immediately see that Sali and I have grown up in different countries and with different backgrounds. I enjoy that, the fact that we both have had our personal beauty-journey but it is interesting to see that even with something that critics name “shallow” or “skin-deep” the beauty brands we look at as classics are like everything else in history: determined by social status, education, personal interests and preferences, location and so on. I wasn’t anywhere close to being as cool or independent, rough or city-chic as Sali was and of all the products presented as The Classics I personally related most to Anaïs Anaïs polished scent by Cacharel or the Dior Creme abricot. The first one I remember from my mother’s collection even though she doesn’t remember wearing it! and the latter was something I sought after at the Dior counter. This is maybe what I enjoy the very most about the book: the diversity.

the third chapter of the book called The Game-changers might be the one where I felt like I’ve landed in my own beauty room. Some of my most trusted and used products and brands are being represented and as I’m born in the early 80’s I didn’t know how much some of them truly changed the industry when they were launched! I did know that Laura Mercier took concealing to a whole other level when she presented the Secret Camouflage duos to the world. I use mine a lot. Whenever I try out a new concealer, this one is my role model – it allows me to blend and mix, to see that one face comes with many many shades and pinpoint concealing is almost like being an artist. Mix and match.

Represented as another game-changer is the GHD styler and in my personal opinion, this brand continues to be game-changers with every new technology that they present. This is a fine example of highly qualified R&D used to improve the beauty industry and make other brands follow the leads.

As Sali is well known for her love of fragrance it comes as no surprise that this chapter (and the rest of the book) features some of my most beloved perfumes! I think I was about fifteen years old when everyone was talking about Calvin Klein CK One and I’m pretty sure that my parents don’t want to read what I associate it with hahaha. CHANEL is of course a part of the game-changing community with their Le Bland and Le Vernis releases. We all have them, we all need them. I was pleasantly surprised to see AVEDA Shampure in this chapter, this full range of amazing hair products holds the iconic herbal-scented scent that I think most of us will for ever associate with the brand. It naturally occupies my bathroom.

For the fourth chapter called The rites of Passage I will just make a hop and a skip. This is not me being rude; I have of course read it but it didn’t speak to me on a personal level the way the other chapters did and do. I think it is the perfect example of how an Encyclopedia works; we don’t have to use everything in the book in order for us to enjoy the content. Simple as that.

The last chapter in the book is why Sali Hughes distinguish herself from many in the industry: I believe she’s got both the knowledge and the power to see what our beauty-future holds. When Sali speaks, we listen and she always seem to speak with such  consciousness . With her columns in The Guardian, various interviews she gives or what she present on her own platform she never push for extremely high-prized products unless they give her results that are out of this world. She always understands the value of money, the responsibility she has as a journalist and she never hides the fact that she is fortunate enough to be sent tons of products per year to try out. A normal consumer need to spend their hard earned money on beauty and we listen to what Sali has to say!

The chapter, called The future Icons is nothing but a joy to read. How can you not love a person who starts out by discussing the iconic CHANEL No.5 and them let her book land in the fragrance of Diptyque Philyosykos?! I’ll leave it up to you to read her history around this beautiful scent which I too love to wear for daytime, and simply move on to some of the other products that she predicts to be future icons: Alpha-H Liquid Gold, my personal ‘deserted island’-product (even though it might not be all that appropriate on an island, baking in the sun without sunscreen…) this product deserve all the press it gets. Not a new company, they’ve just celebrated their 21st anniversary but I believe it only to be the beginning of the brand’s greatness! We can see that, according to this chapter, Korean skincare and brands from Australia seems to be the thing and it pleases me a lot since I’m very much a protector and user of Australian beauty. There’s just something very special and high-quality about the way they research, develop and produce their products. Obviously it pleases me a lot to see my all time darling brand SUQQU represented here. The way Creative Consultant Jorge Balzaretti continues to develop and push the brand forward, I’m quite sure they will be well recognised and hopefully easy to get worldwide in a very near future.

But back to Pretty Iconic: would I say it is a book worth buying?

Absolutely and to be honest I think it suits those that are not hardcore beauty fanatics as well. The text is witty and personal, interesting and informative and the selection of products very considerate to the public. I love the chic cover but personally I’m not a huge fan of the lighting and composition of the pictures. Still, I must say that Sali never fail to deliver, she is like no one else in her field and deserves a ton of respect for the work she’s doing. Go buy the book – I’m thinking it is the perfect beauty gift for the hostess (or host) who owns too much products but could enjoy some entertaining knowledge about the industry! ♥

    1. Hi Rich, you’re more than welcome! I’m very much in love with her “no BS”-style and I would recommend her to anyone who’s interested in this weird industry of ours 🙂 Taker a look at her personal channel on YT and, as I’ve already suggested: watch all In the Bathroom interviews. Hugs, M

  1. Wow!Thanks for the amazing review! Your review highlights the nostalgic and innovative approach of the book- especially Calvin Klein CK One took me back to my high school days when either everyone at school had one (you could smell them a mile a way!)or dying to get their hands on it, including myself. I just read this last week and found it fascinating and informative. I wish there was an inclusion of more non-Western products & brands as the Japanese and Korean were and is now the leader of beauty in Asia and making waves in the global market.
    Anyway, this book is a great read and I bought one to give it my sister.
    Thanks for the insightful review!!

    1. Hiii Jayme! So wonderful of your to read and comment in here, I love to get to know you more and more! Hahaha, yup, the CK One is a classic! I agree with you that the Asian market is leading in so many ways in beauty and should get even more focus than this. I think the western world is slowly catching up and finding out what brands to support and love. I’m giving it 5 more years and then you’ll see these brands as classics or Holy Grail products 😉 xoxo, M

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