Beauty And The Middle East: Net-A-Porter's Global Beauty Director Newby Hands Talks Glamour In The Gulf

BY Harper's Bazaar Arabia / May 11 2016 / 16:04 PM

Maddison Glendinning meets ex-Bazaar Editor Newby Hands while she's in town with Net-A-Porter to talk about the purchasing power of the women in the Middle East

Beauty And The Middle East: Net-A-Porter's Global Beauty Director Newby Hands Talks Glamour In The Gulf

If there's one woman who knows beauty, it's Newby Hands. The Bazaar alumni (she was the Beauty Editor at Large at Harper's Bazaar UK for over a decade before simultaneously joining online beauty retailer FeelUnique) has dedicated her career to all things aesthetic. In May of last year, Newby made the jump to Net-A-Porter, where she took up the mantle of Global Beauty Director for the site, as well as PORTER and The Edit. “For the three years prior, I was doing FeelUnique and one day at Bazaar, so thank goodness I’d dipped my toe in the world of digital,” she says with a laugh as we sit down to chat at Jean-Georges restaurant at the Four Seasons Dubai.

Newby has just wrapped up a beauty presentation to the region’s top press and bloggers, explaining the biggest beauty trends worldwide, and here in the Middle East.  “We have 30,000 Middle Eastern customers, 20% of which buy beauty,” she explains. “Our customers here love make-up brushes and tools from Artis and Kevyn Aucoin. We’re in the epicentre of contouring here too so the beautyblender is consistently in the top 20 products ordered in this region. Footcare also dominates, which goes hand-in-hand with the strong sandals sales we see. ThisWorks and Margaret Dabbs are key brands in this sector.”

She has high praise for the region and its love of all things beauty. She says with a laugh, 

“This is my spiritual beauty home!”

“Everything is so glamorous! The woman here knows her techniques, and everything is done with precision and professionalism. It’s very impressive, and it’s beautiful! When I went to see Jen Atkin today, the women were all getting their hair done with these extensions and it was just getting bigger and bigger and I was like, ‘I want that!’ So much for this London undone look, it’s like, ‘I want three more inches of hair!’ I totally celebrate this unabashed glamour. I think everybody can do with a little more glamour!” She adds, thoughtfully,

“I’ve been so impressed with the women here, there’s just a real empowerment and celebration of beauty”

It’s been three years since Net-A-Porter launched its beauty division and Newby tells me that “the numbers and intel we now are able to gather give us a really clear view of what is working in our markets.” For example, these numbers have shown that Sunday Riley’s Good Genes Treatment is the bestselling product in the Middle East. “Twenty per cent of our Middle Eastern customers repurchase this product,” Newby explains, adding that the customer here is “very knowledgeable and sophisticated” and opts for brands like “Leonor Greyl, Aesop, Oribe, Rahua, Anastasia Beverly Hills and Hourglass.”

Taking a global view, pink lipstick is the number one selling beauty product worldwide, and brands like NARS, La Mer, Embryolisse and Slip are cult favourites among customers. Unsurprisingly, Newby says that “Charlotte Tilbury is a global phenomenon” and that another one of the site’s bestsellers is Elle Macpherson’s The Super Elixir. “If it’s good enough for Elle, it’s good enough for us,” she says as I make a mental note to add that to my cart the second I am home.

Charlotte Tilbury, Surratt and ThisWorks are all key brands for Net-a-Porter's Middle Eastern customer

Net-A-Porter stocks several brands by world-renowned doctors, and Newby says these are key. “There’s something very appealing about buying into a regime. These guys know skin and they know women. They see so many women a day with so many issues and they’re able to formulate products that help to fix them. They’re testing all the time.” Newby counts Dr. Harold Lancer (“I like him as a person and I like his attitude to skin. I use his Method Polish”), Dr. Jean-Louis Sebagh (“I always use his serums”), and Dr. Marko Lens of Zelens (“I like his Peeling Pads”) as some of her favourites, as well as Dr. David Colbert whom she recently met. “I’ve started using his serums,” she tells me.

The doctors also provide tips that us regular folk may never have heard of. “Dr. Lancer once told me that you should take off your make-up, scrub and then cleanse. So, you take off your make-up like you would your clothes before showering, then you scrub because you want to get rid of all of the dead skin and dirt, and then you cleanse. This way, you’re cleansing really good skin. And when he said it, I thought, “why has no one ever told me this before?!”

In Newby, the luxury organic sector has a fan. “One of the things I discovered when I started at Net-A-Porter was how many really beautiful, luxury, natural ranges there are. Certainly in the UK, natural products had a bit of a bad rep, but now there’s some really beautiful, passionate companies, with great back stories who are making these products.” She mentions Susanne Kauffman as an example and her face lights up at the mention of her herb oils. “Oh my goodness,” she says hands outstretched showing her appreciation for the product. “Her entire collection is all inspired by the valley in which she lives in the Alps. To me, that’s what a modern company is.”

After the years she’s spent in the industry, and her current job title, I ask whether she has a never-ending stream of products in her personal regime, or if she’s managed to edit them over time. “I probably have about 20-25 staples, maybe 30, but that’s hair, face, body. I don’t always use them all. There’s a lot of troubleshooters in there, you know, like I come here and it’s very hot and humid and when I go back to England it’s not so warm…I’m always trying new things and sometimes they’ll make it in there. It used to be with beauty products that it was hit or miss, but now it’s pretty much all hit. The industry’s upped the ante, and that’s how it should be."

"The competition is too tough and we’re too smart, and so are our customers” 

I suggest that the willingness of women to explore all things beauty has to offer and embark on the journey of discovery in regards to new products is somewhat of a Catch-22, given that brands have a very limited amount of time in which to impress us. “Exactly,” Newby says, “Women today are smart, we know that in the short term, if it’s not working for us, there’s plenty more options out there. You know there’s a shocking statistic I heard a while back in Paris at a launch and it was that in luxury skincare in Europe, a woman will use a skincare product for 11 days and if she doesn’t see enough of a difference, she will go to another one. This is why they have to put in shimmer and shine and plumping. Thank goodness for hyaluronic acid so we do see something,” she says with a laugh, adding, “someone said to me recently, ‘oh but that’s so superficial’ and I said ‘well thank goodness for superficial, I love superficial. When I’ve just woken up in the morning after flying in from Dubai and I couldn’t sleep, superficial is fine by me!’ It’s fine for now, you know, and then it’s about doing all of the work for the long-term.”

Newby also shares her predictions as for what will be big in the coming months. “The re-thinking of skincare. The Asian influence on skincare isn’t a prediction as it’s already here, but it’s about breaking that three-step regimen and instead having a wardrobe of products that work in different ways for different scenarios. Also foundation is going through a change, thanks to new technology. Brands are putting a lot more high-end skincare into foundation with completely new pigments.” Are there any products we should keep an eye out for in particular I ask? “There’s a new Hourglass foundation that you should definitely look out for that’s launching really soon, plus we’ve got new brands like Dr. Dennis Gross, Ouai by Jen Atkin, Jo Malone’s new company Jo Loves and plenty more coming to the site.”

Good Genes, Dhs376, Sunday Riley

It’s evident throughout our chat just how passionate Newby is about the world of beauty, and as a fellow beauty enthusiast, it’s infectious. She has a thirst for knowledge about what her customers do and don’t want, and has a genuine interest in their opinions so that she can take them back to her team to further solidify the edit. “I’m so glad the ‘perfect’ product doesn’t exist. It would be the end of our jobs!” she says with a hearty laugh. “That’s what I love about Net-A-Porter. The real sense of discovery and the fun that comes along with it. That to me is so joyful.”