Susie Rushton: Beauty Queen

Saturday 12 July 2008 00:00 BST

It's a nation synonymous with sun, sangria and soccer champions. But cutting-edge beauty? Almodovar's movies might've done great things for Spanish arts, but the Technicolor eyeshadow of his female leads (not to mention the transvestites) never looked particularly sophisticated to foreign eyes. But it is this very nation, from where I've often brought home a tan but rarely so much as a mascara wand, that is fast gaining ground on the dominant French, Japanese and American brands in the billion-pound global beauty industry.

The biggest of the Spanish players is Puig (pronounced "pooch"), the multi-brand group based in Barcelona. You mightn't have heard the name, but you'll know the fragrances they manufacture: Prada, Comme des Garçons' 2 and Nina Ricci's classic L'air du Temps. Then there's Natura Bissé, the super-scientific skincare company, also hailing from Barcelona (who knew the home of La Sagrada Familia would incubate the next generation of cosmetic giants?). Founded in 1979 by the researcher Ricardo Fisas Mulleras, Natura Bissé is providing serious competition to the likes of Crème de la Mer (American) and La Prairie (Swiss); the brand's new "Frozen Marine DNA" facial treatment, which includes glycolic (fruit acid) peel and an ice face mask, has them queuing from LA to London (try it at the spa at One Aldwych).

The Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade has a few ideas about what's driving the market for make-up there. As more women join the labour force in the new, dynamic Spain, much of that disposable income is being spent on sophisticated skincare, cosmetics and treatments. All Spain needs now are beauty icons, apart from, of course, Penelope Cruz, who, gorgeous as she is, is the face and – controversially "enhanced" eyelashes – of the really rather French L'Oréal;

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