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Nigella Lawson's Sixties make-up

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For Nigella Lawson, make-up is Sixties make-up, not least because she learnt how to apply it by watching her mother

Beauty Director: Nigella Lawson

Photography: Matthew Shave

Make-up: Tricia Woolston

My whole notion of beauty, of glamour – of femininity I suppose – stems from the memory of watching my mother at her kidney-shaped dressing table putting her make-up on when I was a little girl. It was like being at the cinema in the dark, watching a film star. The film star can’t see you, but you are there, held absorbed: it’s wonderment.

My mother wasn’t chatty or companionable as she made herself up to go out, but that wasn’t unfriendliness, it was absorption in the task – an absorption I shared not least because watching my mother get ready to leave the familial surroundings of home and her role as a mother to go out in the evening a beautiful woman (and a young woman at that: I can remember her putting her make-up on to go out for dinner to celebrate her 26th birthday) was like catching a glimpse of the grown-up world. It all shimmered for me with excitement and glamour.

I didn’t want to draw attention to myself, I wanted to stay an observer, trapped in the magic of it. There’s a face people put on when they apply make-up that is so intensely private that makes watching it – even to a small child – seem like an illicit thrill. Even watching her rub Vaseline into her elbows – part of the ritual – seemed glamorous, full of mystique. I can still remember the smell of her crème rinse (this was the world pre-conditioner) and the Johnson’s Baby Lotion she’d rub on: it is more exotic to me than all the perfumes of Araby.

Of course this being the Sixties, the make-up was not subtle but like a gorgeous form of face paint: pale skin, the PanStick rubbed over the face, also smeared over lips like White-Out, the flickering ribbon of eyeliner, false eyelashes (actually, my mother always went out at night wearing two pairs of false eyelashes in case one pair fell off), hair pieces; it was the most fabulous dress-up. And it suited my beautiful mother with her Audrey Hepburn looks. Even if I haven’t inherited her diminutive glory, I wear her make-up still. For me, make-up is Sixties make-up; I have been wearing eyeliner and pale lips since I was a teenager. And of course as I learned what make-up is from my mother, so my daughter learned from me. I remember when my daughter was about 14, my sister said to me: “I see she’s inherited the eyeliner gene.” We all do a lot of eyeliner.

I don’t go full-out Sixties, but when I put my foundation on (over Skin FX Brite Prep, which contains a factor 50 sunscreen) I rub it over my lips and then put By Terry Baume de Rose on top: that’s my lipstick. I love By Terry make-up as it smells like old-fashioned make-up, heavenly scented, reminding I had a bite of an apple my mother was eating. I long to learn to put false eyelashes on myself but until that time I brush on coat upon coat of mascara: my current favourite is Helena Rubenstein Surrealist Mascara, which I have to buy duty-free when I come back from countries that still sell Helena Rubenstein; otherwise, I love Giorgio Armani Eyes To Kill Mascara.

I buy make-up a lot – any shopping that doesn’t involve a changing room is a treat in itself – but actually need only a small (if costly) amount. I tell myself that it is better to spend money on your face than on clothes, but actually my make-up buying reflects the way I buy food: I am extravagant but never wasteful. So I buy expensive make-up but make it work hard for its keep: By Terry Ombre Blackstar sticks do doubleduty as both eyeliner and eyeshadow.

I’m not saying I couldn’t do without Bobbi Brown Eyeliner Gel (in Espresso please) but day in, day out I reach for the By Terry Ombre Blackstar in Black Pearl. Because it’s so thick it doesn’t matter if you do a bad line, it just makes it slightly Anouk Aimée, which is certainly no bad thing.”

Nigella’s new show The Taste debuts on Channel 4 in January 2014 – keep an eye on nigella.com for more details

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