Although they were established 85 years ago, I only became aware of Queen Cosmetics last autumn, when I found their Theatrical Cleansing Cream on the shelves at John Bell & Croyden. It’s quite difficult these days to discover something captivating and surprising quite by chance. Beauty brands spend a fortune on advertising and marketing, soliciting ‘celebrity’ endorsements, holding high profile launches, all of which can be fun, but none of which comes close to the joy of stumbling across something marvellous all by yourself.
I met Mr Lees and his daughter Catherine (the family behind Queen Cosmetics) at a John Bell & Croyden event this spring, and was very happy to accept Catherine Lees’ offer of some Queen products to review. Queen have a very long-standing relationship with John Bell & Croyden (who are their exclusive London stockists) and also sell through their own website. Queen also offer a very well-thought out and affordable sample service, and so when I told Catherine which products in Queen’s extensive range I was most intrigued by, I expected to receive samples of each. I was surprised – and extremely grateful – to receive full-size products through the post.
This meant I could try each product thoroughly and share my good fortune with the Belle of Brockley, whose skin is more delicate than my own thick hide, and whose insight is invaluable to me. The Belle and I spent a pleasurable afternoon decanting and discussing – and there was a great deal to discuss.
The packaging is absolutely lovely. Back in 1927, I assume Queen would have been packaged in glass: these days it comes in plastics, which is more practical for gadding around and presumably keeps the costs down.
The Queen bottles and tubs are elegant, understated and simple. They have a genuinely vintage air about them (mercifully free of any cupcake-retro styling) – slightly old-fashioned and begging to be displayed on a beautiful dressing-table. Sadly, neither the Belle, nor the Siren of Stepney, nor I have such a thing any longer – too many house moves over the years: too many men unwilling to risk their backs carrying heavy constructions of wood and glass up and down stairs …
The names … what’s in a name? A great deal, if you love words as much as I do. Queen Theatrical Cleansing Cream is an absolute joy of a title, for what is a Queen, without a dash of theatre? This name makes me giddy with associations: in rapid succession I think of Albert Finney in The Dresser; Joan Collins wearing a towel and a turban in the privacy of her dressing-room; Glenda Jackson, removing Elizabeth R‘s white and red paint …
I have no idea if any of them used Queen Cosmetics, but I don’t need celebrity endorsements to like a product – I just need something that stimulates my imagination, and Queen Theatrical Cleansing Cream is a tubful of evocation in cleanser form. Suntan Lotion and Seaside Cream are simple names that suggest a blissful Eden before Ozone Level Awareness, when we could scamper on sand or shingle beaches concerned only with the cut of our jibs and our bathing suits. I am put in mind of Chanel accidentally inventing the sun-tan, and a horde of aristos following in her wake, having first sent their maids out to buy Queen Cosmetics as a safeguard against reddened skin.
The products are unscented and hypo-allergenic and the formulations have remained consistent over time, which is why Queen Cosmetics have an enviably loyal following, who recommend Queen to their friends, children and grand-children and remain faithful and committed to the brand. Looking at Queen’s website and facebook page is enlightening, as there are so many testimonials from people who have found in Queen the perfect products for their sensitive and reactive skin, and who are greatly alarmed when the national press run scare stories suggesting that new regulations in the beauty industry might force this heritage brand to change their ingredients.
The Belle and I dislike the modern trend of selling beauty through fear, and sadly, some in the beauty industry exploit the growing market for organic and natural products through this route. Instead of emphasising the quality of organics and naturals (and selling through desire), parabens, sulfates, and petroleum jelly are presented as though they are death-in-a-bottle, which is both absurd and patronising.
The current hysteria in favour of naturals overlooks the fact that natural ingredients can cause reactions. Hypo-allergenic products such as Queen were developed because not every comely young maiden could achieve a radiant complexion just by crushing a handful of wild cornflowers in morning dew gathered beneath a moon that man had never set foot on … some comely young maidens would break out in blotches or worse, and stable, chemical formulations were a gift to them.The Belle and I have no fear of mineral oil, nor do we shake in our boots at the mention of petroleum by-products. Perhaps this is because we are older, and can remember many great beauties of our grandmothers’ generation whose soft and perfect skins owed a great debt to Vaseline (and very little else).
Queen Shampoo (r.r.p. £10.50) is a gentle, unscented product that lathers easily and rinses out well. It is a glorious amber colour and looks beautiful when light streams through the bottle. Regular readers know that I am making attempts to improve my fine (and now thinning) hair: to this end I have been trying vitamin supplements and a number of different shampoos and conditioners. I have been using the Queen shampoo when I feel I’d like a change from my regular shampoo. (I am something of a product tart, and a firm believer in regularly shaking up one’s regime.) It reminds me of Johnson’s No More Tears (of which I am very fond), and after using it I feel the same sense of squeaky-clean comfort I remember from the days when my Grandfather washed my hair. I like to combine it with DHC After Bath Treatment.
Queen Seaside Cream (r.r.p. £23.45) is a pumpkin-coloured buttery balm that seals in moisture and acts as a barrier. I found that working it into my legs after shaving, significantly lessened the desire to scratch (which I habitually fall prey to). I also like to use it on my knees and elbows, both of which are prone to tatty scaliness, and it makes them look far more civilised. I accidentally tested out the Seaside Cream’s effectiveness as a barrier cream by applying a thick layer of fake tan to my legs after using the Seaside Cream. Not one drop of fake tan got through (which puzzled me immensely, at first). This makes the Seaside Cream great to use around ears and hairline when dying your hair.
Queen Eyelash Cream (r.r.p. £10.25) is a tiny little tub of slick and shiny whiteness that you apply to your eyelashes to condition them. I like to apply mine by smearing a little across my Japonesque eyelash curlers before clamping and lifting. My main reason for doing this is because it makes curling my lashes more interesting, and thus something I’m more likely to do … I don’t curl for beauty reasons: my optician wants me to do it to discourage my lashes from growing in-the-way. He told me to do this two years ago, but it’s only since adding Queen to the process that I have begun to do it regularly. I also like to swipe a little Eyelash Cream onto a clean mascara brush and run it through my brows from time to time.
You can see the Eyelash Cream in the picture to the left, along with my choices for applying it, all photographed with some of my favourite books: E.F. Benson’s Lucia series. I have no doubt that Lucia would have leapt upon Queen cosmetics when they appeared in 1927 – Mapp would have scorned them as a frivolous indulgence. When I use Queen Eyelash Cream, Seaside Cream and Suntan Lotion, I feel like Lucia – and there is no-one in literature more delightful to channel than the irrepressible, indomitable Mrs Emmeline Lucas. Queen Cosmetics encourages me to throw off my modern, functional towelling bathrobe and luxuriate in my products whilst wearing my treasured silk kimono (which, like Queen Cosmetics, is 85 years old or thereabouts).
Queen Theatrical Cleansing Cream (r.r.p. £23.00) has become a beauty must-have for me. I am quite newly converted to the joys of cleansing, and, until I discovered this product, I still firmly believed that falling through the door and then into bed with all your make-up still on was one of the great joys of a good night out. However after just a few sober tries of this product, a strange thing happened … I found myself wending my way home; slightly inebriated, filled with happy recollections of my night out – and actively looking forward to the soothing, comforting ‘get to bed now’ feel of my Theatrical Cleansing Cream.
The name (although marvellous: please don’t ever let it be changed) is something of a misnomer, because this product isn’t actually a cream. I guess it is more like a balm, and the texture reminds me of coconut oil. I think of it as a crush … my fingertips delight in breaking the surface tension and scooping the soft contents out. I apply it fairly lavishly and massage it into my skin, and it takes off everything, with just a couple of dampened cotton wool pads. When I’m feeling unusually co-ordinated I might add toner to the pads, but water (as recommended) does perfectly well. I almost always then forget to moisturise, but drift off to sleep with no fear, as even without night cream, my face feels beautifully soft.
I was determined to test these products over months, and across at least two seasons, so that they had every chance to do what the natural lobby claims to be their terrifying worst in terms of drying, pore-blocking etc. And of course, the Queen Suntan Lotion (r.r.p. £18.45) had to wait until we actually had a summer to test it in.
I have to admit, I was slightly afraid to try the Suntan Lotion because it contains only very low levels of sunscreen, which work out to about SPF3. Yes, SPF3, not SPF30 – which is my default choice for sunblock. I have pale skin, but I can tan naturally: either through inadvertent over-exposure (burn and tan – never recommended) or if I’m outdoors all summer long and build up a natural tan despite using sunscreen (not recommended by the Skin Cancer foundation, who believe there is no such thing as a safe natural tan). Queen Cosmetics make it absolutely clear that their Suntan Lotion is formulated for sensitive skin that is irritated by high levels of sunscreen, and stress that it must be applied before sun exposure, and re-applied liberally at regular intervals. Re-application of sunscreen … not one of my strengths. My family are accustomed to me losing a couple of days each summer to light sunburn, or, more often, a crashing, crippling headache brought on by too much sun and too little water. I steeled myself to come a cropper using Queen Suntan Lotion, but that’s not how it turned out.
The Suntan Lotion is extremely easy to apply, and felt more like a body lotion than the thick, gloopy sunblocks or sticky messy sprays I usually use. Knowing how low the SPF was, I made sure to apply early, liberally and often, and developed a conscientious awareness I’d never had before. I was actually thinking about my sun exposure, rather than trolling along regardless – and because the packaging was light, neat and proved leak-proof all summer long, I carried it everywhere and re-applied it whenever and wherever I felt like it. I ended the summer with arms and shins browner than my belly, (so the Skin Cancer Foundation won’t approve) but I always have done, and this year there was certainly no more of a dramatic colour contrast than usual. Being mindful of my SPF (or lack of) had the pleasant knock-on effect that I treated myself more carefully than usual, remembering to re-hydrate and seeking out the shady side of the street. A glorious, much needed summer with not one single headache … it was bliss.
This is my experience with Queen Suntan Lotion, and if you decide to try it, please, please take care. In the same way that vitamins work well on my junkfood-stuffed body, this Suntan Lotion has had a particularly happy outcome for me because I am usually sun-stupid. Had I kept up my old patterns of behaviour, I would have burnt, without doubt. As it is, I’m looking forward to using it again next year.
Did I suffer any increase in blocked pores, break-outs, dryness, or any other ailment of the skin? Not at all. I believe my health is at far more risk from the every day pollutants that surround me, living in a city in which a surprising number of able-bodied people drive cars, than it is from using any amount of petroleum by-product on my skin.
Queen have undoubtedly appeared on the dressing tables of many a noted Great Beauty during the past 85 years, and I would give much to rifle through their order book in search of famous names. Queen are far too discreet to allow me that … but Mr. Lees did tell me the name of one Queen devotee: a society beauty whose scandalous parties shocked and delighted the British public when a court case caused much of the gory detail to be reported in the scandal sheets. I shall not reveal her name – I’ll just provide the ENORMOUS clue that the recent musical about her life had to be re-worked for health and safety reasons, when the number of naked men required onstage at one time caused so much over-crowding that some poor actors were tumbling into the orchestra pit. I’m sure you’ll agree that this sounds like a life well-lived, and it was a life lived in Queen Cosmetics …
… ‘We will pay anything for Lucia books,’ran the strap-line on the advert placed by (then-out-of-print) Lucia’s famous admirers in 1940. I would pay anything for Queen Cosmetics, but I am extremely pleased that the entire range is available at a reasonable cost, so there is no need for me to plunge into penury in pursuit of the perfect peau. You can purchase anything in the Queen Cosmetics range from their website, or find selected products online and in store at John Bell & Croyden.