Liz Hurley, Linda Evangelista, and Tracey on the Clarins counter... cosmetics companies have a lot invested in their front-line staff. By Tamsin Blanchard. Photographs by Robert Wyatt
When Chanel advertised for beauty consultants in Birmingham and Norwich recently, the company was inundated with applicants - more than 100 for each post. The successful applicant will most likely have previous experience in cosmetic retailing. She - or he - will be well-groomed, know a thing or two about how to apply mascara, and a have a warm, friendly manner. After two courses and a written exam about the product range and customer service, she will be ready to join the team of 350 perfectly polished beauty consultants across the country.

Liz Mearing is the consultant division manager in charge of recruitment and training. "We don't look for models but we expect their make-up to be immaculate," she says. "We find that after a while with the company, the consultants naturally metamorphose into Chanel beauty consultants." That may have something to do with the free allocation of the latest colours given to each consultant every season. It may also be something to do with the fact that when a customer walks into a department store, what she sees is not the latest face of Chanel who is paid to be the pinnacle of perfection, her face blown up to gaze seductively out of a glossy magazine. What she sees is the real face of the cosmetics company, the one smiling at her from the other side of the brightly lit counter. The brand image starts here, at ground level. "We give them a Chanel boutique uniform and we expect them to wear it with pride," says Mearing. The three-point Chanel make-up philosophy is easy to remember: "It must be blended, balanced and co-ordinated."

Cosmetics companies spend millions projecting a face for a brand - Elizabeth Hurley for Estee Lauder, or Linda Evangelista for Yardley - but this is the real face of the brand, without the benefit of retouching or extra lip gloss. This is the cover girl come to life and if the face behind the counter has a mask of orange foundation or a glob of blue mascara balanced on one spidery lash, the brand might as well flush its advertising budget down the toilet. In this business, appearances are everything.

Gillian Rosen is the personnel manager for retail field staff for Estee Lauder and oversees the recruitment of ground staff. "We look for people who take pride in their appearance. Good grooming," she says. And if you have potential, grooming is something that can be taught. The introductory course begins with four days of product knowledge, learning about administration, fragrance, new products, and how to display them. The assistant then works on the counter for six weeks, shadowing the counter manager and, of course, wearing full Estee Lauder make-up. The job involves constant training, from how to apply make-up to how to sell it. Every time a new product is launched there is a day's national training. The vital staff attributes are an ability to interact with people, drive, enthusiasm and being able to sell. "They don't have to look like Liz Hurley - we wouldn't find anyone if that was the case," she says. What is important is not just a pretty face but a personality as well.

At Clarins, Sue Hopkins has worked her way from number two in the Harvey Nichols Clarins Beauty Room 14 years ago to be head of training. She steers new recruits through a one-week induction course of specialist training which includes a pre-recorded video message from Clarins founder, Jacques Cortin-Clarins. "He talks about how special they are. How important it is to see the woman in the customer and to love your customer," says Hopkins. "He is terribly charismatic. They love it; we love it, too."

The look of the Clarins specialist is all important in relation to both the selling of the brand and the brand image. "First impressions are last impressions," stresses Hopkins. "The specialist's image is something we spend a lot of time working on. We look at body language, making sure it is positive at all times. It is very important to look the part." Specialists don't just have to achieve a high level of grooming, they have to reach the Clarins standard of grooming. That means wearing a well-pressed uniform at all times, as well as making use of the products allocated to them. It is all part of the total image, carefully engineered to instill confidence in the customer. Not only must the specialist love the customer, the customer must love the specialist enough to allow her to sell her a package of beauty products and colours.

If Monsieur Cortin-Clarins, who founded the company in 1954, could spare the time to talk to every specialist individually, he would. That's how important the sales assistants are. Brand image can be bought with advertising. But in the beauty business, the face that really counts is the one you are looking at as she smooths foundation on the back of your hand

Christian Dior

Zoe Veitch, assistant business manager "I've been with Christian Dior for nearly two years. When I first joined we all went on a three-day intensive training course, where we learnt about all the skincare, make-up and fragrances. Product knowledge is really important to Christian Dior. We have 13 different fragrances including the men's side, so there's quite a lot to know. Our current bestseller is Dolce Vita, but Miss Dior is our classic. It was launched the same year as the fashion line in 1947. Fragrances such as Diorella sell well to the younger market because they are lighter as there is no alcohol in them. Our best-selling product at the moment is the Mascara Flash, which is like a normal Mascara

but it's for your hair. Lipstick is generally the product that people are introduced to Christian Dior through. From this customers go on to things like nail varnish or eye shadow."

Zoe Veitch (left) wears

Teint Compact Lisse Foundation, pounds 21.50

Stick Concealer, pounds 15

Solo Dior Single Eyeshadow, pounds 13

Night Blue Thickening Mascara Parfait, pounds 14

Navy Blue Diorliner Liquid Eyeliner, pounds 17

Earth Lip Liner, pounds 10

Cashmere Beige Lipstick, pounds 13

Rose Shimmer Lip Gloss, pounds 13

Soft Blush Final, pounds 21.50

Mauve Flutter Nail Enamel, pounds 11.50

Total look: pounds 149.50


Vicky Gill, business manager

Tracey Gregory, studio manager

"Clarins's make-up philosophy is to keep make-up natural, just enhance your natural looks. The emphasis is on looking after your skin. That is not to say that we aren't fully trained in make-up. We've completed courses in everything from the initial intense product knowledge to facials, colour consultation, massage and make-up techniques. We are starting some self- serve shelves soon, so that people can browse without feeling pounced on. Our current bestsellers are our unisex gentle foaming cleanser and our self-tanning milk or spray. If we could give our customers any advice for summer, it would be to fake your tan and keep your skin out of the sun, unless you have a good SPF sunscreen."

Vicky Gill (right) wears

Compact Foundation, Real Beige, pounds 22

Bronzing Duo Blusher, pounds 17.50

No 9 Eyeshadows, Seashell and Mahogany, pounds 17

Black Liquid Eyeliner, pounds 14

Black Lengthening Mascara, pounds 13.50

Red Lip Liner, pounds 10

Lasting Scarlet Lipstick, pounds 12.50

Pink Quartz Nail Colour No 1, pounds 10.50

Total look: pounds 117

Tracey Gregory wears

Compact Foundation, Gold Beige, pounds 22,

Nutmeg Blusher, pounds 17.50

Jewel Eye Highlight Compact Eyeshadow, Warm Accents Four Colours, pounds 25

Brown Eye Pencil, pounds 10

Black Thickening Mascara, pounds 13.50

Natural Brown Lip Liner, pounds 10

Long Lasting Lipstick, Summer Fruits, pounds 12.50

Self Tan Gel Face and Body, pounds 13

Ginger Lipstick, pounds 10.50

Total look: pounds 134