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One-Stop Pots: Trinny Woodall Puts a Personal Spin on Color Cosmetics

Woodall has turned her lifelong obsession with skin care and her considerable social following into a direct-to-consumer, community-fueled business called Trinny London.

LONDON — Trinny Woodall, whose posh, throaty voice and amusingly blunt style advice is still ringing in many a British TV viewer’s ear, is back with a new business. It’s color cosmetics, rather than clothing, and with the backing of Unilever Ventures and some smaller investors, the 54-year-old entrepreneur is creating a makeup and skin-care proposition for more than just Millennials.

After years spent criticizing herself — and others — most famously on the hit BBC TV show “What Not to Wear,” which she cohosted with friend Susannah Constantine, Woodall has since turned to Facebook Live and Instagram, where she films herself scrubbing, rubbing and exfoliating from her home bathroom, and doling out girlfriend-style advice about her favorite beauty products and clothing — all of which she pays for herself.

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She recently gave herself a mini-facial on Instagram, using her Foreo Luna and a cheaper version she’d picked up at Marks & Spencer. “I’d say the vibration is on the same level, although the M&S one is a little bit firmer,” Woodall says in the posting in her “Absolutely Fabulous” accent. “The Foreo is a phenomenal product — I live by it — but I’d say the M&S one is a bloody good alternative.”

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She’s turned her lifelong obsession with skin care and her considerable social following — 340,000 on Instagram and up to 100,000 views for her Facebook Live video series — into a direct-to-consumer, community-fueled business called Trinny London, which launched late last year.

Her creamy, customized color cosmetics come in little transparent pots that click into stacks. Customers chose their colors and foundations based on a series of questions about their eyes, hair and skin, and then build up their own stacks, or buy pre-made sets with names like Full Night’s Sleep, No Frills Fresh or Hangover Cure.

Trinny London Stack
The Trinny London Stack Courtesy Photo

Among the hero products is BFF Cream, an SPF 30 radiance booster that comes in four shades; Lip2Cheek, which comes in six shades, and the Just A Touch range of 14 foundations. Prices range from 16 pounds for a lip balm to 35 pounds for the BFF Cream. There’s also Golden Glow gel cream bronzer, and Face Finish, a mattifying balm that aims to take the place of a powder.

She insisted on creating cream formulas thanks in part to Trish McEvoy, who taught Woodall how to put makeup on without using a mirror.

“She made me feel my face and put the products on, and ever since then I kind of felt it’s so important that we have a relationship with our face where we’re putting stuff on, feeling where it should go, as well as looking in a mirror. It’s a relationship you get with cream, but that you don’t get with a brush,” said Woodall from a sofa in the living room of the cozy South Kensington house that serves as Trinny London’s headquarters.

Dressed in Victoria Beckham flared trousers and a sequin top and flashing some seriously chunky, colored rings, she said mirrors can sometimes get a woman down.

“I think that when we look at a mirror, we see what we want to see that day, depending on how we feel emotionally. Yesterday, I was in an exceptionally creative mood, so I felt that I looked f–king amazing in the mirror. Whereas today I woke up and I hadn’t slept that much, but my fingers tell me I’ve still got my cheekbones.”

With an initial round of funding from friends, work contacts and Unilever Ventures — the private equity and venture capital arm of Unilever that finances early-stage companies in personal care and digital — Woodall and her team were able to research and categorize various skin tones, based on 5,000 women, to create the color formulas.

Together with Woodall’s longtime makeup artist Charlotte “Cha Cha” Ribeyro and others, they also sampled the products on “real” women, who they recruited over Facebook and social media. They later featured some of those women on the site and in videos talking about their skin and how they apply the products.

The social element and real-woman factor isn’t new: Avon, Mary Kay and Liz Earle, not to mention Kylie Cosmetics and Glossier, all work it, although it’s always been a part of Woodall’s persona. Well before she launched the brand she was happy to talk about her plastic surgery, love of micro-needling or the challenges of keeping up with her Botox treatments.

“I was always very interested in makeup and skin care even before clothing, because I had really bad skin,” she admitted. “From 13 to 30, I had acne and I did the works. I did appalling fake tans, I had decades of terrible makeup, but I would always customize my skin care and my makeup, and I was always wanting to find the consistency that would penetrate or would stay on my skin. It was the same with makeup. I always had Muji pots, and I was mushing my favorite colors into them.”

The business is as much about the community she’s created as the products themselves. “My career is about transforming women, and the emotional process of transformation,” said Woodall, adding that she sees so much opportunity to woo more customers. “What is the audience out there that’s not buying online, and how does that look?

Woodall got her answer last month when she unveiled a last-minute pop-up shop at her South Kensington headquarters. The 80-odd makeover slots costing 45 pounds, redeemable against purchase, sold out within 15 minutes and her team has since done about 300 more appointments, which were also booked in minutes.

She won’t be selling via third parties — at least not at the moment. Woodall said the crucial personalization element of Trinny London would be lost. Also, the brand needs to collect data from customers and many third-party retailers won’t even allow brands to have their own iPads in store.

She’s also wary of using influencers to market Trinny London — after all, she is the influencer. “The thing about anyone who comes here is they feel I’m their friend recommending and I am their friend because I really like these women. The question is how we keep that feeling of a friend recommending to customers,” she said.

Her dream is to create a Trinny London online community that leverages female relationships. “It will be a community where you can think, ‘Let me go and talk to other blonde or platinum-haired, 52-year-olds,’ or whoever, or “I’m thinking should I go gray naturally, who else has done it, and what does it look like?’”

Although Woodall declined to give first-year projections, she said that in year five she’d like to have a business with revenues of about 75 million to 80 million pounds. Including skin care, that number could rise to 100 million pounds. A third product category to launch after skin care could take it to 120 million pounds a year, she added.

Expansion, she said, will be about adding three more categories to Trinny London, the first of which will be skin care (she’s currently at work on a night filler, among other products). She won’t reveal the other two categories just yet, although she’s planning a trip to New York in March to raise money for their launches.

She’s also mulling an airport retail model, with the stacks sold through a vending machine, and color matching done on an iPad. “It’s a year away, and it’s still a lot of research, but it is something that will fit well with the brand,” she said. “This is the beginning of the moment. There’s lots and lots and lots to be done. It’s looking like the journey is going to be really exciting.”