In conversation with

Katie Service

Beauty Editorial Director at Harrods

katie service harrods beauty

Introduction

Introduction

Like many other writers, Katie Service has made the switch from the editorial lane (she was Beauty Editor at Evening Standard Magazine) to the brand side (she’s now Beauty Editorial Director at Harrods). Her surroundings may have changed, but her bread and butter is the same: “When you are creating content – whoever you are creating it for and wherever that content is ending up – you still need to tell a story”.

Compelling narratives are the golden ticket for beauty brands that want to set themselves apart. Unfortunately the industry is, according to Katie, prone to copycatting: much beauty writing hinges on the same old themes (“new year, new you etc”) and every new brand seems to want to look like Glossier. There are innovators afoot though, and Katie herself has co-launched The Beauty Conversation newsletter which provides a platform to help beauty brands carve out a unique voice in a crowded marketplace. Here Katie gives us her take on the real change-makers, as well as some of her favourite stories.

Question and Answer

Which books did you read as a young woman? Were there any that stood out for you in their descriptions of female beauty?

I did classics at university so much of my late teens and early twenties was spent reading Ancient Greek myths and epics, in which both beauty and the deceptiveness of appearance are recurring themes. In Greek mythology beauty has a tough side too which I think I always found interesting; there were the beautifully awe-inspiring Amazons of Herodotus who used men as sperm banks and sliced off their own breasts to become better warriors; Helen of Troy in the Iliad, the face that caused 20 years of destruction and grief to Greeks and Trojans alike and then Aphrodite goddess of love and beauty, who could be as viscous as she was beautiful, and very jealous of other people’s beauty.

greek myths book
"In Greek mythology beauty has a tough side too which I think I always found interesting"

You've just had a baby girl...what do you hope will be the beauty message when she is growing up?

I hope that she knows that beauty is about inclusivity and that looking beautiful is not an elitist sport. I am not a supermodel but I have the right to feel beautiful and I want her to feel the same and that be reflected in the beauty journalism that she reads. I hope that social media becomes a safer space too, I find the influence that some Insta-celebs hold over young women quite scary and I hope there are more regulations brought in with regards to copy cat surgeries and injectables by then.

“I am not a supermodel but I have the right to feel beautiful and I want my daughter to feel the same and that be reflected in the beauty journalism that she reads”

If you could save one book to give her when she turns 16 what would it be?

Such a hard question. Madame Bovary as a cautionary tale perhaps or Ovid’s Metamorphoses to teach her about the transience of appearance. It’s the most wonderful book to read, filled with stories about men and women gods who morph into trees, animals and other objects.

ovid metamorphoses
"It's the most wonderful book to read, filled with stories about men, women gods who morph into trees, animals and other objects"

Which publications do you most enjoy writing for and why?

Any that lean towards a more thought-provoking view on beauty. That’s why I’ve mostly been full time at supplements for newspapers. ES Magazine, where I used to work, is great because its audience is so varied. You’re writing for basically everyone on the tube so that could be the 40 year old male banker, the 20 year old student, the east end hipster, the west end yummy mummy and everything in between. It’s a great challenge.

What attracted you to Harrods?

The global audience for a start. People come (both physically and digitally) from all over the world to connect with Harrods the brand. There is so much opportunity to learn and to join many more conversations. But also the beauty customer is extremely smart and engaged. They know their stuff and they are super knowledgeable. They expect to find/read about the best products, experts and creatives in the world and so it’s an exciting challenge to be part of a team that is trying to curate that for them. Loving it so far.

How has your editorial background played into your role there?

When you are creating content, whoever you are creating it for and wherever that content is ending up, you still need to tell a story. Every project whether it’s a brand video that is produced for a plasma screen network or for a podcast still has to have an introduction, a middle and an end. It has to take you on a journey.

vogue beauty
glossy mag

What are some of your favourite stories you have written about beauty?

I wrote about Muslim beauty bloggers for Sunday Times Style about 3 years ago, which is still one of my favourites. For ES I got to write about a shaman in London and interviewed grime star Loyle Carner when he became the face of YSL’s new aftershave. I did a column on AI in the beauty world to the other day and wrote about a new study that shows the effects of a Mediterranean diet on depression for Moody.

Which other beauty writers do you really admire?

I love Francesca White’s witty tone in Tatler and the brilliant Surgery report she does each year – there is nothing like it. Beauty should definitely be both intelligent and humorous, which she manages with ease. Ex-Vogue Beauty Director Nicola Moulton is a brilliant writer. And of course my old boss and mentor Kathy Phillips. Victoria Buchanan in the Future Laboratory reports are always on the money.

The way we market and message to women has changed a lot in the past few years. Do you think the beauty industry is keeping up?

Yes and no. The change-makers and innovators of the industry are doing a great job at developing new, more inclusive dialogues (Marcia Kilgore, Brandon Truaxe, Seb Pole, Pat McGrath, Emily Weiss etc) but unfortunately beauty is also an industry of copycats and all it takes is one great idea to take off such as Glossier or The Ordinary before the entire beauty market starts to look and sound the same. So it’s often two steps forward one step back. I love following Diet Prada, who calls out all the copycats!

“Diversity should be a given, a prerequisite of starting a brand in the same way that I feel sustainability should be”

There have been a few very public mistakes made by the beauty industry when it comes to the diversity conversation (Dove advert, Munroe Bergdorf being dropped from Lancome, Solange’s hair on ES shoot). Is it just a buzzword?

Yes. ‘Diversity’ is such a funny word because it’s become a trend in beauty, which it never should be. In my opinion, it should be a given, a prerequisite of starting a brand in the same way that I feel sustainability should be. I also feel that sadly social media has created a culture of fear around the world with lots of people attacking each other rather than working together in a more inclusive and positive way. We’ll only move forward if we work together to eradicate society’s flaws. From a casting point of view, I can happily say that when I request a package of models from a model agent for a shoot it is filled with girls of all colours and ethnicities, which is brilliant but proof that getting a diverse image of beauty out there to the world is entirely possible we just need to keep at it, it’s in the hands of the beauty and casting directors.

How do you educate yourself?

I try to read as much as possible especially work from my peers and colleagues with different skin and hair types and to ask questions to hair, makeup experts and dermatologists that don’t just relate to my ethnicity. It’s also important to admit when you’re not an expert in something and to know when to commission a piece out to someone else who is.

"I try to read as much as possible especially work from my peers and colleagues with different skin and hair types and to ask questions to hair, makeup experts and dermatologists that don’t just relate to my ethnicity"

You have your own beauty newsletter. Can you tell us about that?

Yes! So I’m part of a beauty collective called The Beauty Conversation (alongside Navaz Batliwalla and Yolanda O’Leary). We send out industry monthly newsletter designed to help beauty, grooming and wellness brands or individuals who are looking for help in carving out an unique, authentic voice in a crowded market. You can sign up here. We curate the best articles, news reports and podcasts that you should be listening to so it’s less of an editorial platform and more of a reading list with added business advice.

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