I first met the lovely Alice du Parcq when we sat opposite each other at Brides magazine. Owner of quite possibly the most gorgeous hair ever and a guru on all matters fragrance and skincare, she is now a freelance journalist and fragrance expert who writes for everyone from Stella to Vogue, Red and Conde Nast Traveller. From motorbike-proof mascara to tips on finding a fragrance and the secret to glowing skin, we asked her to spill the beans….
Please tell us a bit about yourself
I’m 37 and have a little girl, Poppy, who’s three and a half, and my husband John works in St George’s Hospital as a consultant pathologist (he diagnoses cancer and does post-mortems. Delightful!) I have what what I call a ‘patchworking’ system of looking after Pops, writing from home and going into town for meetings and important launches while she’s with my parents or at nursery. Over time I’ve specialised in the topics I love the most: fragrance and skincare, and learnt a lot of important lessons about freelancing and the beauty industry. Namely that I have absolutely no desire to fit in, or do what the industry expects me to, or behave in the sycophantic way that social media intimidates us into. When I started out there were a lot of slow, quiet days that played on my insecurities and sense of worth, and the FOMO felt acutely lonely as a freelancer at home. Now, luckily, the quiet days are very rare, but if they come I absolutely relish them! Through various experiences over the years I’ve learnt that chasing popularity is the crux of anxiety and unhappiness, so I keep my work life as simple as possible and make sure family (and close friends) fill up all my spare time.
Have you always had a love of skincare and make-up products? Were they something you loved as a young girl?
I was definitely more into skincare and fragrance as a teenager than makeup. There wasn’t any pressure to look ‘done’ or groomed at my school (I went to the French Lycee in South Ken where our uniform was jeans and a cigarette!) so lip balms and eau de toilettes were my first beauty obsessions. I was always more drawn to my mother’s and grandmother’s perfumes than anything else on their dressing tables. The powdery, violet scent of Guerlain Meteorites complexion beads in my granny’s bathroom was everything, but I had no interest in using them on my face. I used to steal the purple ones and keep them in my pocket to smell throughout the day, and my mum would go mental when the laundry came out covered in streaks of lilac shimmer.
What was your first must-have beauty item?
I was obsessive about a fragrance GAP used to make called Heaven. Splashy, laundry-fresh, slightly herbal. I drenched myself in it and when I hugged my school friends every morning they’d breathe in and say ‘you smell amazing!’. That really became my ‘thing’ and in my late teens I got more adventurous with perfume and wore – are you ready for this? – Obsession by Calvin Klein. LOL! Such a sexy, resinous musk-bomb with amber and vanilla. One friend said to me on our last day of A-level year: ‘I’m always going to remember you as the girl who always smelt incredible’.
What’s your approach to health and beauty?
I don’t follow trends, whether that’s makeup or skincare or hairstyles. I definitely used to in my 20s though: I was always up for trying the latest chemical peel, the airbrush foundation, the hair straightening treatment, the ridiculous cellulite blitzer machine, the dumb cayenne-pepper-lemon detox plan. Now I look at what’s happening in skincare especially and I’m pretty horrified by how trends are overwhelming women into buying things they don’t need. Like Vitamin C products, or Retinol, or 12-step Korean routines, or high percentage acid products. Don’t get me wrong, all these products are fantastic for a certain type of skin, but a huge proportion of women in the UK have fragile complexions that need a simpler approach. We don’t all live in polluted cities with aggressive environmental damage, so I think my approach and advice is to be sensible and use/do what feels good, what you can afford, what tangibly improves the texture and look of your skin … and if you get to a point where you’re recoiling from the mirror every morning then change it up!
Please talk to me about skin. Do you have any great tips on looking after skin and getting a great glow?
A few months ago I had a bit of an epiphany. For a long time I was using 5 different skincare products every morning, all absurdly expensive, and one day I took a really good long look at my skin. All my issues were still there and nothing was improving. The dryness and rough texture along my jawline, the puffy pockets under my eyes, broken capillaries over my nose and cheeks, the deep line in between my brows. I looked like shit to be honest. Something had to change. I had recently been given a facial oil by a PR friend who evangelised about how transformative it was; made of 11 wildcrafted, pure ingredients, no industrial chemicals, and to be used on it’s own. It’s called No1 Nourishing Face Serum by Vanderohe. After four weeks, I have never had such a clear, soft, even, glowing complexion. And I can’t tell you how liberating it is to just use one product post-cleanse. The only other thing I’m absolutely strict on is a good cleanse every morning and evening. I use a cleansing oil or greasy balm (currently I’m on my 2nd pot of Caroline Hirons for Pixi Double Cleanse), and always with a warm damp flannel that acts like a daily gentle exfoliator. I get an extra dose of hydration from my precious, cherished Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue tinted moisturiser – which adds a juicy, bouncy glow to my skin without covering too much. I’ve also dramatically cut down on my booze too – how boring – but it’s helped enormously with my red, flushing cheeks and tiny broken capillaries.
When it comes to products, do you believe that you get what you pay for? Or are there some great high-street products that work just as well as expensive ones?
Oooh good question! Some types of products are far more superior in results and application when you spend a bit more: self-tan, skin serum, aromatherapy products and scented candles are probably the only areas I’d say ‘throw money at it!’ Make up, moisturiser, cleansers, eyemakeup remover, nail polish, shampoo, suncare, even some perfumes… there are brilliant affordable brands that do these incredibly well so try to save here if you can. Although there is one exception. I know some people bang on about how La Mer isn’t worth the pricetag, but I’ve seen first hand how that stuff can save someone’s skin. My mum went through very aggressive chemo a few years ago and it completely destroyed her complexion. I gave her a pot of La Mer and within weeks I could see the transformative, healing, reparative results. If anyone’s going through a really bad skin phase, spend your next paycheck on that magic cream.
What are your desert island beauty products? i.e. the things you couldn’t live without
Clinique superfine liner for brows in Soft Brown – I’ve used it for years. The colour isn’t too rusty or grey, and the fine nib has just the right amount of wax in it to not drag over the skin.
Bobbi Brown No Smudge Mascara – this literally does not budge. I’ve used it every day since I trialled it for Brides Magazine years ago when I drove through the rain on my motorcycle with the visor open as ‘research’!
Bare Minerals Complexion Rescue – mentioned above. It is pure JOY!
My WetBrush Pro. I’m just going to say it: it’s better than the Tangle Teezer (shocker!). I have long, knot-prone, thick hair that needs a thorough brush every day, and this glides through in quite the most spectacular way. I use it on Pops who has inherited my grizzly bear hair gene. Poor kid!
Ameliorate Skin Smoothing Body Lotion. I get that hideous keratosis pilaris on my arms and calves – horrid red dots of congested hair follicles. This gently clears the dead skin away and simultaneously drenches you with hydration, and the red bumps have really improved.
The entire L’Occitane original Shea Butter collection. The hand cream, hand soap, bubble bath and shower cream are heavenly!
Please talk me through your daily ‘look’. What products do you veer towards every day?
I do a quick morning cleanse with a warm cloth and cleansing balm to remove the sleepiness from my skin, then use 4 or 5 drops of oil. While that sinks in I do my hair: my default look is a topknot but if it’s just-washed I’ll keep it down or grip it back into a half-up with a small crocodile clip. A quick massage of tinted moisturiser, and a dot of concealer on blemishes, then brow pencil and mascara. A good spritz of perfume and I’m ready (at the moment I’m obsessed with Jo Malone London Basil & Neroli, and Tom Ford Sole di Positano).
And how would you change this for a night out?
Definitely more ‘eyes’ for sure. I’m not really a lip girl – I’m too clumsy and forgetful. I’ll work some bronzy eyeshadow onto my lids then line them with a deeper brown near the lashline, and smudge it all out. I’m all about the bronze too: in my dreams I’d have a bronzing palette big enough to dip my whole face into. I go at it all over, then use a highlighter down my nose and on the tops of my cheekbones. Never too much though – it can look really obvious and ageing otherwise.
I can’t not ask you about your amazing hair! Your father is a hairdresser. Please can you tell me a bit about him. You must have learned a lot about hair cut, care and styling for him?
Ha! Yes! He trained as a colourist in France and moved to London in his 20s. For a good few decades he tinted Princess Margaret’s hair – they’s always do The Times crossword together during her appointments. Occasionally if a celebrity was in town they’d send for him to do their highlights in their hotel room; that’s how he met Grace Kelly and Meryl Streep. He started doing my highlights when I was 14 and I’ve never been to anyone else for my colour. He’s in his 70s now but still works three days a week in a salon in Mayfair, and I pop over to my parents’ house to get my lights done in the kitchen. As a child my hair was always washed with Kerastase Bain Satin shampoo, the smell of my childhood! He still teaches me so much about hair – just recently we discussed the benefits of silicone-free shampoo as it doesn’t leave residue around the roots.
Do you have any amazing haircare tips?
Try not to use any styling products on your hair before a colouring appointment. That can really affect the saturation of colour and the ease in which the stylist can apply the tints. Use the same quantity of conditioner as you would shampoo, even if it’s just for the ends. Drench them in the stuff! Since I upped my conditioner game I’ve not had to trim my hair so often. I always give my hair a really good brush before washing it to make it easier to manage when it’s wet. I’m a massive fan of Percy & Reed hair products: the packaging features brilliant instructions and the overall selection of items is exactly what real, modern women want for their every day hair. Miracle Balm is a must-have for me; it’s like a tinted moisturiser for the hair – it give it a subtle ‘something’ and makes the hair feel done-but-not-too-done.
Has your attitude to health and beauty changed since you having Poppy?
I massively paired back all my products just after having Poppy because as a new mum I didn’t have time for laborious routines. But I soon realised that even though I was just going to playgroups and music classes I still wanted to feel human and groomed, so I made sure I always had a whizz of mascara on and a sweep of bronzer. Just because I made a child didn’t mean I had to completely ignore my own sense of presentation and worth, so I began to have regular pedicures and insisted on Sunday Morning Bathroom Time, where John would take Poppy out for a walk and I’d do The Full Works for a good hour: face mask, exfoliating, shampoo and hair mask, top to toe body moisturising, blow-dry, light makeup, a quick DIY manicure. I also discovered how completely transformative gradual self-tan could be. When you’re not sleeping more than a few hours a night, you need all the complexion help you can get so my main focus was good cleansing and a regular dose of gradual tan. My go-to brands are James Read, Vitae Liberata and Sisley for the most authentic colour (and I always use a mitt!). I’m still such a self-tan superfan and always do a little top up once or twice a week. I’ve started mixing it into my facial oil and that’s worked amazingly!
Being a mother and working in the beauty industry, you must be aware of the pressure on young girls. What message do you hope to pass on to Poppy about beauty?
She’s only 3 and a half but every day I tell her she’s amazing and she can be whatever she wants to be. We don’t talk about bodies, or prettiness, or ugliness, or use the words fat or skinny. She’s surrounded by strong, confident, successful, clever and funny aunts who all have very different body shapes and I know that will give her a fantastic foundation for her own self-image and self-worth. Being plus-size I have to be careful of how I talk about myself, so I never vocally complain about how I look or what I eat when I’m around her. Being big has never held me back from jobs or boyfriends of friendships, so I hope that will inspire her to not associate popularity and success with looks.
I know that you are a whizz with fragrance. Do you have a signature fragrance or do you use a couple?
I have a small ‘wardrobe’ rather than a signature fragrance, which fit around whatever mood I wake up in or what the day has in store. My regulars are Jo Malone London Basil & Neroli and Tom Ford Soli di Positano (both crunchy-fresh, splashy and bright, perfect for every day simplicity). I love Chanel Coromandel for wintery days and nights out (warm, cashmere-blankety, oriental and sexy). Byredo Gyspy Water is a carefree, hedonistic one for days when I’m feeling like I’m nailing life. Juliette Has a Gun Gentlewoman is a gorgeous masculine cologne with a soft musk base that’s brilliant for winter days. And Hermes Terre d’Hermes is my ‘I’m having an off day’ scent, when I need something earthy and grounding and reassuring, particularly when life has dealt me a bad hand. It’s what my husband wears, so when I spray it it’s like he’s lingering around the corner, looking out for me.
Do you have any tips on finding a fragrance?
Google the perfumes you currently wear and find out their ‘notes’ to see if there are any similar ingredients that might link them all. Like that you have a head start when you speak to the shop assistants. Go somewhere with a big selection of brands and super knowledgable staff, such as Liberty’s perfume department, or stores such as Jo Malone London, Penhaligon’s or Floris that have a big selection of flavours. Keep up to date at The Perfume Society’s website for new releases and features on existing incredible perfumes you might never have smelt before. My top tip is to always spray the tops of your wrists, not underneath. When you wash your hands you’re less likely to rinse it all off, and the hairs on your arms hold onto the perfume for longer.
Let’s talk sun. Are you religious in your application of sunscreen or do you like a bit of Vitamin D?
I am such a sun baby! I love getting a tan and I absolutely love sunbathing. I could do it as an Olympic Sport! I know that’s a huge taboo in my industry, but it’s my happy place. A few years ago I got sensible and I vowed never to let myself burn. I use the once-a-day brand UltraSun SPF30 religiously in hot sunny weather, and go down to 20 on the last few days of a holiday. I also use UltraSun on Poppy. I slather on SPF50 every morning (on holiday, or when it’s really sunny here in the UK) and the all-day coverage is gob-smackingly effective. She has quite sensitive skin and at first I was really scared to send her out with just one layer of SPF, especially when she’s on the beach in full sun, but it really does work amazingly.