The Gloss Beauty Editor Sarah Halliwell

In this series of interviews about the creative process, I’ll be talking to artists and people who work in creative fields to discover the common traits of creativity and what, if anything, is different. I’d also like to discover what creative practices could be used by people who don’t consider themselves artists in the traditional sense and how creative thinking is fundamental to growth and creation in all aspects of life.

Writing about beauty and beyond for 20 years plus. Beauty editor at The Gloss Magazine since 2011. Previously freelanced, writing for publications including Elle, the Observer, and worked on Time Out magazine for several years. Originally from Yorkshire, UK, I’ve lived by the sea in Dublin since 2010.

What about your work motivates you? What would you say is your forte?

I just feel really lucky to have the opportunity to write for a living. It’s all I ever wanted to do, and it still takes me by surprise that I get to do it every day. Working with the brilliant, dedicated, inspiring team at The Gloss – who always strive for better even when it’s harder to do so – is a massive motivator. You don’t go into publishing or writing to make lots of money – it’s for the beauty of expressing yourself and doing something you love every day.

I’m far better at listing my weaknesses. But I think I can be a good listener, which helps when doing interviews. And I try to convey my enthusiasm and passion for things in my writing.

What inspires you in the beauty industry today? How has it evolved and where do you think it is headed?

What inspires me most about the beauty industry is meeting creative and passionate people. I find perfumers particularly interesting and have been lucky enough to meet several, from Jean-Claude Ellena, the genius ex-Hermès perfumer, to Olivier Polge at Chanel. It’s like meeting an artist or composer – I never get tired of hearing them talk about ingredients, stories and different approaches to creating unforgettable scents. I also love writing about, and hopefully supporting, small Irish companies working to create sustainable, beautiful things with a focus on local ingredients.

The way the industry is evolving is fascinating, and currently the big focus is sustainability and “slow beauty”. Brands are falling over themselves to show off their eco-friendly credentials, and it’s a positive thing that we’re becoming more discerning and careful about what we consume in terms of beauty products. It’s also a particularly vibrant time for Irish beauty – there are so many brilliant homegrown brands that are truly authentic and passionate about what they do, from the Burren Perfumery to Cloon Keen in Galway and Benoit Nicol’s The Nature of Things.

How do you maintain your authentic self/voice? Does the constant comparison on and/or influence of social and/or regular media help or stifle this?

When I worked at Time Out magazine in London back in 2000, it was one of the only few truly independent voices in print. The ethos was built around honesty – giving genuine opinions, remaining independent from advertisers and, above all, being true to the audience. Similarly at The Gloss, we all try to take a refreshing and independent approach. At a time when so much of social media has an agenda, or is sponsored – endless influencers being paid to say how much they love a particular fake tan – print seems more important than ever, an alternative to the relentless noise of social media. When it comes to the beauty industry, I’ve always tried to maintain a healthy scepticism. There’s a lot of nonsense talked!

When did you know that you wanted to work the beauty industry? Were you influenced/inspired by your family, friends, etc?

All I ever wanted to do was write. It was my favourite thing to do and the thing I was good at from primary school onwards. I was never pushed or pressured at school which meant you just had to focus on what you were good at. In the 1980s, careers advice at a girls’ school was not the most useful; I remember asking what I could do with an English degree, and the one suggestion was to become a librarian … After a first job working in an eccentric private art collection, I eventually got into book publishing, where my perfectionist editor pushed me out of my comfort zone all the time, making me braver. I became interested in beauty when I was editing the shopping and fashion section at Time Out, and continued from there.

How do you keep positive when an idea fails or when you get negative feedback?

A small word of encouragement can make a huge difference when you write. You always think that when you’re older, you’ll be full of confidence and authority, but I still feel nervous when I file a piece of work, and rarely feel confident about it; I always want to do it better. However I’m pretty hardy, and genuinely happy to take constructive criticism from people I respect. Getting nominated for a Jasmine Award last year for writing about perfume was a lovely confidence boost. I do think when you get to 50, though, you generally care less about what people think of you and that is definitely liberating. Being able to let irrelevant things go over your head is actually a vital skill.

Have you collaborated within the beauty industry and/or with professionals in other fields? Was the experience worthwhile?

Not really – but I’d love to work with a perfumer someday and create my own perfume, or even lipstick colour; sadly I was utterly useless at science at school and it would take me a lifetime to pass even the most basic chemistry exam so I can’t make them myself …

Outside of the beauty industry, where do you draw inspiration? Do you have certain people you turn to?

I am inspired by travel – seeing what’s new in cities. I (usually) go to Paris and London quite often for beauty launches, and have been further afield too. I love to explore local beauty finds, such as the incredibly atmospheric hammams in Marrakech. Also, reading: I’m a huge fan of Luca Turin’s wonderfully opinionated writing about perfume, and admire many brilliant Irish writers, such as Colum McCann and Sara Baume. And designers like Dries Van Noten. I play a lot of tennis and, in these strange times, am finding a tennis mindset helpful: in a match, you focus on just winning each point at a time, rather than the end result, and it’s the same now – taking everything just one day at a time.

Do you think your national identity influences you and/or gives you a unique perspective on the world stage?

My national identity is slightly blurred at this stage. Though I was born in Yorkshire, I have been in Ireland for ten years now and hope to get an Irish passport. I fell in love with Irish literature and countryside (and an Irishman, now my husband) 30 years ago and absolutely love living here; I wear Stable of Ireland’s tricolour scarf with pride. I’m glad to have worked in London and had that experience, though; I do think it gives you a different perspective to move away from home, and to survive in a big city you have to up your game.

How does creativity enrich your life?

In so many ways. I feel so lucky to be able to work flexibly (now more than ever), travel to interesting places and see behind the scenes of how beautiful things are created, from meeting the lady who designs Chanel’s perfume bottles to talking about colour, creativity and Elizabeth Taylor with Philip Treacy in his studio. I constantly have to do new things, such as make videos, or host beauty events in front of audiences ­and, much as you dread these things at first, new challenges, that push you out of your comfort zone, always keep things interesting. I love doing a job that’s different every day – it never gets boring.

Lastly, you live by the sea, does it play a role in your life, creatively or otherwise?

Living by the sea is one of the biggest benefits of living in Dublin for me – I absolutely love it and swim whenever I can throughout the year. A cold swim instantly changes your mood, uplifts you and clears your head. You certainly know you’re alive! At the moment it’s a particular lifesaver, and I love seeing the older men and women fearlessly wade into the icy water every morning without flinching. I find it endlessly calming and restoring, and feel immensely lucky to have a desk that overlooks the bay.

First published 31.03.20

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