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Undercover Shopper: BHV

In her continuing quest for the perfect concealer, Paulina Szmydke visits BHV’s recently revamped beauty floor in Paris.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 08/09/2013

The BHV department store on Paris’ buzzing Rue de Rivoli is well known for its vast DIY section, where a home-remodeling enthusiast can find anything from intricate plumbing gimmicks to hammer drills and be professionally advised by a highly knowledgeable staff. But it is certainly not reputed to be your one-stop shop for makeup. So when the slightly dusty department store announced it had upped the glamour factor of its formerly uninviting beauty department, I rejoiced. Strategically well situated on the southern border of the swinging Marais district, it has the potential to be a valuable time saver, and I was eager to give it a try. I didn’t want to just go and take a look, though, so I thought the best way to test the new department would be with a proper mission in mind. I decided mine would be to find an efficient concealer that annihilates dark circles, or “anti-cernes” as the French say. I deemed this quest less banal than say, finding the right lipstick color, which I admit can be tricky, but really is just a matter of taste and doesn’t require much expertise on the part of the sales staff.

This story first appeared in the August 9, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

It should be noted here that I am a difficult and exigent customer. I know what suits me and I tend to pay more attention to the list of ingredients than an item’s catchy tag line. It’s difficult to sell me a product
that is not a finely tuned match with my skin’s tricky nature—extra pale, thin and somewhat reactive.

Consequently, in my case, a concealer like the one I’m after can make or break a well-done makeup. The problem with many concealers, I’ve found, is that they either leave my skin texture looking uneven or they dry out the already most-sensitive part of my face, despite my consistent use of Dr. Sebagh’s Eye Expert treatment (I’m a fan of its combination of hyaluronic acid and oligopeptides), which, by the way, is not available in France. I was kind of hoping to find it at BHV’s new beauty department, but sadly no sign of it there either.

I started my quest at Chanel. The salesperson watched me try out various products for five minutes, but didn’t offer assistance. Disappointed, I moved on. Its neighbor, Yves Saint Laurent, did not have much new to offer in said category, so I walked across the aisle, where the Diorskin Nude concealer caught my attention. A friendly associate came right over to point me in the right direction. She knew all about the composition of minerals and ingredients in the item, and swiftly found the correct shade for me, before introducing me to the brand’s novelty this season, a BB cream just for the tricky eye area with an integrated formula for extra moisture.

She offered to apply it to my skin, but I wanted to see what else was out there, so I headed for Sisley’s stand, a brand renowned for its eye mask, which I tried and found very effective thanks to its softening and smoothing abilities. However, I like to hear why and how a product works instead of just being assured that it’s of great quality, especially when the item is new on the market. Unfortunately, the Sisley salesperson wasn’t able to tell me much about the Eye Concealer with Botanical Extracts. She knew it contained caffeine, which helps reduce undereye bags, but one look at me would have sufficed to see that was not what I was after. Its other ingredients—such as arnica, red vine and botanical glycerin—would have been more enticing had she told me about them, and considering the elevated price point (about $76, versus Diorskin’s $40), I figured I’d keep on looking. I often do reach deeper into my pocket, but I need proper service to come with it.

Caffeine made me think of Clarins’ excellent Body Lift products, so I headed there. The stand is the largest on the floor, as it also includes a treatment cabin, and it appears to be the one with the most staff, who move swiftly and get right to the point when asked about one of the brand’s products. Having already spent more than an hour in the beauty department, the experience here was really like stepping into another universe. Before I had finished telling the associate my story, a knowledgeable saleslady was already applying Eclat Minute Instant Light Eye Perfecting Base under my eyes. It’s not a conventional “anti-cernes” item she said, but a light-reflecting foundation which brightens the area, whereby it looks more refreshed. She scribbled the name and price for me on a Post-it and suggested I look around while she packed a bag of samples for me to try at home, politely noting that BHV offered a 20 percent discount for purchases of 60 euros or more that week.

I lingered a while longer. I visited BHV’s revamped perfumery, which is divided into two sections—one for conventional fragrances, the other offering a wide range of niche scents. A salesman immediately offered to initiate me into Terry de Gunzburg’s new olfactory universe. He was there just for that, attentively navigating clients between the five bottles. The neighboring Serge Lutens stand was deserted. I wanted to get more information about the new La Fille de Berlin and was told to run across the beauty department to Shiseido’s stand to grab a saleswoman there. She was indeed totally up to speed and glad to walk me back to Serge Lutens, which is part of the Shiseido group, as I learned from the physical workout, but I did think that was a lot of hassle. Beauty is also about relaxation and this was not my idea of it.

Thanks to the jaunt across the floor, I discovered BHV’s new multiproduct corner, showcasing Dr. Hauschka, Korres and Phytosolba among other brands. Grabbing a basket at the entrance, I felt like I was stepping into a delicatessen for beauty.

The saleswoman there really knew her products. She advised me on antiaging moisturizers from Carita and self-tanning lotion from Lierac, and she also helped me adjust my daily cleansing routine. She took one look at my skin and suggested I switch from Nuxe’s milk cleanser to gel. I told her that being the organic freak that I am, I thought it was my duty to turn to a “natural” line entirely, but that I just couldn’t identify the right prod- uct. She shook her head and said natural was not for me; such products don’t contain preservatives, she said, which makes their texture richer, and that is not advised in my particular case. Leaving the section, I grabbed a box of Carita’s hyaluronic acid–infused eye patches, which I tend to put into my fashion week survival kit. (Their immediate smoothing effect makes them indispensable.)

On my way back to pick up my goody bag at Clarins, I was also pleased to be offered a little tour through the newly installed Nail Kitchen, which turned out to be organic. Kure Bazaar is the name of the nail polish line, which features a nontoxic formula and an eclectic mix of colors. The lady at the nail bar assured me that the color would indeed stay as long as that of a more conventional polish. No wonder all the seats were taken; the next open appointment was not until 9:45 the following morning.

In the end, I left BHV’s new beauty department $200 lighter (including the 20 percent reduction), but I didn’t care because my eyes looked brighter, too—thanks to a combination of Sisley’s Eye Contour Mask (I decided to splurge) and Clarins Eclat Minute. Despite the glitches in service, BHV’s new 1,000-square-meter beauty department has become a much more welcoming and prolific place to hunt for polish and concealers. Thankfully, it’s not just about drills and hammers anymore.

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