"People who are compassionate to animals tend to be compassionate to people."
Queen rocker Brian May is addressing a crowd of supporters in Edwardian-era suffragette costumes and paper animal masks, clutching placards denouncing animal testing. Lush's Oxford Street flagship store is heaving, as it should be — it's opening day, and those who aren't joining May in a march on Westminster will be staying behind to load up shopping baskets, backpacks, and even suitcases with product.
There's a whiff of Willy Wonka in this three-floor, 9,500-square-foot beauty wonderland, opened on London's bustling Oxford Circus just in time for the British brand's 20th anniversary this month. Every impulse says touch, smell, play, taste. Black tubs of face masks are presented on ice like oysters on the half shell. Chunky, rainbow-hued slabs of soap and shampoo bars jockey for space with pink flamingo bubble bars and creamy Love and Light hand lotion, the latter being one of 200 new products created exclusively for the store. It's the largest Lush store in the world, and no expense has been spared nor detail overlooked.
Upstairs, a Lush buyer in the Soapbox lecture and events space is explaining how the brand's SLush Fund — in which 2% of the annual buyers' spend is invested in fair-trade projects — led to the discovery of the brand's beloved moringa oil. On the ground floor, shoppers curious about the virtues of a particular shampoo or conditioner are guided to the Hair Lab, where a shop assistant will treat them to a wash and 20-minute head massage; dryers are available for DIY blowouts.
Perhaps the best bit is tucked downstairs. To the right, there's the Gorilla Gallery, an olfactory-guided tour that pairs Mark and Simon Constantine's scents with other sensory experiences. We won't ruin it for you, but it involves Gil Scott-Heron records, disco gear, and scented sand. We repeat: scented sand.
Just opposite sits the in-store spa, decked out in all the comforts of a quaint British country cottage — reclaimed wood, a claw-foot tub, kitschy duck art. The big-ticket treatment here is The Planets, a three-phase head-to-toe indulgence that clocks in at around three hours of bliss. The mystical experience, according to one aesthetician, "takes you on a journey through the past, present, and future," starting with a full-body massage designed to help you release "the past." You're then ushered into "the present," which involves some soothing tea, a hand and arm massage, and a palm reading. Lastly, "the future" is an hour-long facial to rejuvenate the skin. Custom music inspired by Gustav Holst's "The Planets" symphony complements each treatment as you move from room to room, ultimately emerging to a celebratory calming cocktail filled with candy floss. There are worse ways to kill an afternoon.
At the risk of trotting out any old-dogs-new-tricks clichés, it's all very exciting progress for a company started by a group of, in the words of cofounder Rowena Bird, "unemployable" friends in Dorset, England 20 years ago. And, according to Bird — every inch the unconventional Lush beauty guru with her tattooed arms and electric-purple mascara — it's just a taste of things to come.
Here, Bird weighs in on the brand's evolution, why "anti-aging" is a forbidden term, and what amazing ingredient skin-care buffs need now.