Rupert Kingston - Co Founder of Delilah Cosmetics

My Man of Substance for February is Rupert Kingston. In 2014, with his business partners, Hannah Nicholson and Juliet White, Rupert Kingston founded delilah – the luxury British beauty brand born out of friendship, a passion for cosmetics and the desire to help women of all ages look and feel beautiful. Rupert is the Creative Director of this award-winning business, having spent many years in the industry as a make-up artist and Creative Director developing numerous award-winning cosmetics. delilah is stocked in Harvey Nichols, Fortnum & Mason and together with high end salons and spas nationwide, including the Richard Ward salon in London’s Chelsea. Rupert is married and lives in Henley-on-Thames.
We met at the Winser London Marlow boutique and had lunch together at the Marlow Bar & Grill opposite our boutique for a chat.

Rupert, what sparked your interest in the beauty industry?

During my A’ Level Art course I wanted to photograph someone with body make-up – so I found a shop called Screenface in Notting Hill which sells all kinds of professional make-up and special effects products. That sparked my interest in working in film and TV – prosthetics, clever powders and amazing sparkly products. I trained at London College of Fashion back in the very early ‘90s – that’s where I got the interest more in the fashion side, but the first real job I had was with Thames TV for The Bill. Eventually I left to go freelance and worked as an assistant on fashion and beauty shoots and did a lot of catwalk work. I loved it and that was the start of my fashion and beauty career as a make-up artist.

Given the huge value and potential of the beauty industry, what are your plans for the delilah business and do they include international expansion?

Our strategy for the first two years has been to focus on launching into high-end salons and spas – luxury beauty locations with women who have questions about beauty going in every day and where there’s very little competition. This has given us a good customer base – we now have 150 locations including the Mandarin Oriental, Langham Hotels and the Four Seasons through to beautiful little day spas in towns and villages in areas like Cheshire and Surrey. We now need to become more recognised and there’s an expectation for us to also be in luxury department stores. We were lucky enough to win Best New Brand last year at the CEW Beauty Awards and off the back of that we were approached by Harvey Nichols - launching with them has been a great platform for us. We are also stocked in Fortnum & Mason’s fabulous new beauty hall. Retail works really well for us.
Internationally we now ship to 10 countries - the countries we picked were driven by the amazing PR we have had and when you have beauty influencers like Sam & Nic Chapman, Justine Jenkins, Amanda Bowen, Patsy O’Neill all talking about delilah, that travels and as a result, we have had strong international interest. 2017 will be focused on developing our presence in the US beyond our existing presence in high-end hotel spas in Las Vegas, Colorado and Miami. We will always straddle top-end retail and luxury salons – that makes us different.

delilah is such a truly British brand – do tell us more about this and how important this is to you.

I’m a huge Anglophile – I would never live anywhere else. I live close to Henley and I love the Regatta – so British! When we entertain international customers we take them to the Wright Brothers’ seafood restaurants in Soho and Spitalfields – they make the best fish pie – with the surprise for our guests of mashed potato on the top!
Our Britishness has been integral to the Beauty Editors’ and the customers’ love of our brand.
The beauty market has changed due to the economy and I think consumers when buying luxury need to buy into a story that feels closer to home. From my point of view, British women wear their make up a certain, natural way and that is encapsulated in our collections. Unlike Eastern and Southern European women who are not scared of colour and bold looks, British women like a simpler, more restrained make-up routine – they want their skin to look more natural. With our packaging, our branding gives very subtle nods to our Britishness– the delilah rose logo, the gold, even the pewter grey, are understated and luxurious.

How did you meet your delilah co-founders and what are each of your roles and the dynamics between you?

I’m really lucky as I work with my wife and one of my best friends. All three of us had a very strong feeling for what the brand should be. In terms of roles, in a start up business you never just do what you are supposed to be doing – you are pushed out of your comfort zone to do things you don’t know anything about and learn on the job. Brilliant, exciting and frustrating all at the same time!
I’m actually the only one out of the three of us who does what I trained to do because I’m the only one who can do it – I trained as a make up artist by trade. So I do education, training, being a spokesperson for the brand, being involved on the PR side and the marketing. I suppose I’m the ambassador for the brand. I have worked with Hannah for ten years - she is MD, but she is a brilliant beauty buyer and her talent is her understanding of product and what the consumer really wants to buy. At the minute she looks after all the finances as well. - she’s had to learn the financial strategic side of the business.
My wife, Juliet, is a very talented photographer and graphic designer and has an incredible eye for detail. Nothing gets by her. A luxury brand feels consistent when all the tiny details match and are aligned. Juliet has a brilliant, fanatical eye for detail and is creative with it, but her role is Operations Director, so she has taken her skill for detail and applied that to making sure things are where they are supposed to be.

There is much interest in how modern cosmetics are made – excellent ingredients and those no-nos such as parabens. What are your rules?

A lot of people ask me if our products are 100% natural. I have done product development for many years and have found that women want different things from cosmetics. At the top is performance – that it applys properly, that it looks good and that it stays in place. The problem with a 100% natural formulation is that it doesn’t do all those things, so we do use some man-made compounds. Some are made in a lab – that doesn’t mean they are not safe. In our eye shadows, for example, we add nylon (which is completely safe) as that helps bind the powder together so you can use a small amount of it really flat and the nylon holds it together.
We really pay attention to potentially toxic ingredients – parabens is the big story at the moment. So we use zero parabens and instead use more natural preservatives. We use packaging that is airtight, for example, so you don’t need such preservatives – simple ways to overcome this bacteria issue.

What is your top beauty tip?

Find the right routine that makes your skin look amazing – make it simple: a good primer, a good foundation and a good way to apply that foundation. If your skin looks amazing anything else after that is going to be easy – whether it’s simple mascara or a full smoky eye. Lots of women say to me they have stopped wearing foundation as they are wary of it being too caked on, too thick and heavy. They want to be a natural but better version of themselves – to look like they’ve slept well, to have that glow. I recommend our Time Frame foundation to them – it’s quick and easy to use - and they come back and say they now always wear it. When you get it right, you can’t live without it.

I know that Mary Greenwell, the fabulous make-up artist to the stars - whom I interviewed in September 2015 – is a huge fan of delilah. Do you know which are her favourite products and how does she use your collection?

Mary Greenwell is one of the great British make up artists – she’s one of my heroes – one of the originals. It’s really fantastic she’s talking about delilah. She has called in quite a lot of our products – particularly primers, concealers and our foundations. I know she likes a natural look and our products work well for that effect.

Finally, if you bought a Winser London gift for your business partners, what would you select?

Hannah likes a structured look and she loves coats – she’s always in a new coat. The Winser London Milano Wool Car Coat is a great idea – I’d give her one in blush. Hannah wears that colour all the time – antique pink – it’s a very delilah colour, I love it.
Juliet is really into wrappy, layering things - she’s quite boho – so the Cashmere Blend Snood in camel would be great for this transitional month of February. I adore cashmere scarves, so I might cheekily gift myself one of your luxurious Cashmere Wraps in a classic colour like grey or midnight navy blue.