May | Beauty Brand We Love
These blue glass bottles are full of magical plant-based formulas
Cruelty-free, ethical and organic – Neal’s Yard’s star products are iconic for a reasonAnna-Marie Solowij
Covent Garden in the early ’80s was a dead zone with the ghost of the old fruit and veg market and a maze of mostly empty warehouses. But there was an alternative scene that made it worth the pilgrimage: Paul Smith on Floral Street; Flip and Paul Howie on Long Acre; PX on Endell Street; London’s leading vegetarian restaurant, Food for Thought, in an old banana-ripening warehouse on Neal Street; and then there was Neal’s Yard Remedies, named after its location. Only two of those businesses remain – Paul Smith and Neal’s Yard Remedies (NYR) and both are now global brands.
I used to buy essential oils, herbs for making tisanes, face creams and bath oils in lovely blue glass bottles from the old warehouse shop, tucked into a courtyard that was still redolent of the bustle of the old market. Natural health pioneer Romy Fraser was running the business, and though I had little knowledge of the distinction between natural and synthetic cosmetics, it felt good to be using locally made, plant-based products that had a positive effect on my skin and the planet. Today, those principles are the backbone of the responsible beauty movement, with much of the pioneering work having been done by NYR – it was the first skincare company in the UK to be certified by the Soil Association; has always been Cruelty-Free; was rated 100/100 for its ethics by The Ethical Company Organisation, and still manufactures in small batches in an eco factory in Dorset, where its organic herb gardens are located for grow all the ingredients.
I still buy NYR products: my favourite essential oils are Lavandin, £6, Ylang Ylang, £11, and Patchouli, £9.50; Women’s Balance Aromatherapy Blend, £15.50; Remedies to Roll Relaxation, £8, with a rollerball applicator; Frankincense Intense Age-Defying Cream, £55; Geranium and Orange Bath Oil, £15.
Today, Covent Garden may be indistinguishable from any other global retail hub, but if you head to Neal’s Yard and its courtyard of brightly painted warehouses, the enduring spirit of the brand lives on behind that blue door.