Before I review this book, I need to tell you the story of the kindness that brought it into my life. Pretty Iconic had been on my Amazon wishlist ever since its publication was announced (I am a HUGE fan of Sali’s and will pretty much slavishly read anything she writes), but what with Christmas and other things, had resigned myself to not having enough money to buy it right off the bat. Instead I hoped I’d get it for Christmas and had left heavy hints in Benn’s direction. The signs looked promising and I forgot about it for a bit.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, I came home from work at the end of a personally stressful week to a rogue Amazon package. Inside was this! I wondered whether someone had bought it from my wishlist and sent it to me accidentally (I have done this before…) There was no name inside and so I took to social media to thank my mysterious benefactor. My friend Sarah told me it was her and her kindness, at the end of a really horrible few weeks personally and professionally genuinely made me cry. She didn’t even know that life had been a bit crappy, she just knew that we are often on the same wavelength about beauty/Sali and thought I would like it. It was a lovely gesture and I am massively grateful- I have promised to take her out for tea and cake to discuss the book.
Because, oh, there is SO MUCH TO DISCUSS. There are three places I trust for makeup advice: Sali, Jane at British Beauty Blogger and drag queens (Courtney Act is the reason I use a knock-off Beauty Blender sponge.) The book is fairly straightforward: there are 200 products in here, illustrated with beautiful photos, that have in some way changed the way we do our faces/treat our skin/smell. Some are proper icons- Chanel No.5, Eve Lom Cleanser, Bourjois Little Round Pots- and some are upcoming contenders, such as contouring kits and the aforementioned sponges. What I love, though, is that this isn’t just stuffed full of expensive kit, but also the things that you’d expect to find in a working class home of the 70s and 80s- Vosene, Matey, Old Spice.
And it’s not just bland product descriptions, either. Sali has woven together stories and memories with her picks: the smell of her children and her grandad (which is the same smell my own grandad had. I think I looked a bit odd in Boots the other day sniffing Old Spice and trying not to cry); the Copperknockers lipstick she wore for her first kiss. I found myself thinking back to my own memories- the year I, unlike Sali, got Tinkerbell makeup for Christmas (totally wasted on me-I was a tomboy until the age of 16), the smell of the Rive Gauche my Grandma has worn for years. These products are tied up with our lives and ourselves and that’s so powerful. Sali explains how these products have impacted on culture as a whole, too, in ways that you might not always expect.
There are things we disagree on, too. I love Carmex and Cetaphil; I’ll never get on with the smell of Chanel No.5. But I also left this book with a shopping list as long as my arm and a desire to walk into Boots and smell everything. It’s a funny, feminist and wonderful book and one that I am lucky to have read. I definitely owe Sarah a huge slice of cake for this one.