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Beauty: Marks & Spencer gets a makeover

I love MS like a kindly aunt. I long for it to do well, but I have, in recent years, been in a constant state of frustration. I want it to sell me the definitive navy cardi, the perfect sucky-in black opaques, the immaculate white tee, but everything seems to be cut so square, so short, so diagonal. And don’t get me started on all that beading. Beauty has been even less remarkable. There have been some serviceable products – most appearing to be very much “inspired” by other brands, none heroic, nor anything more than a half-hearted impulse purchase while shopping for a cheese and onion sandwich. To say someone has now taken the matter in hand would be an understatement.

MS Beauty has seen major change in recent months, all of it for the dramatically better. It’s brought in legendary makeup artist Mary Greenwell as ambassador, and axed all own-brand makeup other than seasonal gift sets and the solid Autograph range. (Try the eye shadow sticks, £9.50. They’re superb.) In its place are some extremely well-chosen cult brands that deserve some mass-market exposure. New on the shelves is Pixi, whose small but great makeup and skincare range includes the deservedly famous Glow Tonic liquid exfoliant, £18 (and new Glow Pads, £24), as well as lovely lip and cheek tints. Some of my favourite skincare brands are there, too, such as Nuxe, REN and Skyn Iceland. (The Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels, £25, are my pre-party staples, and the Pure Cloud Hot Cloth Cleanser, £22.50, has permanent residence in my bathroom.)

Groundbreaking specialist products abound, including Ameliorate exfoliants (genius on goosepimply arms), James Read Self Tan, Leighton Denny nails and Diego Dalla Palma, a confusingly packaged range of very good professional makeup; try the Long-Lasting Eyebrow Maker Pen and Chubby Lip Stylo (both £14), one of the prettiest daytime lipsticks I’ve tried this year.

It’s reassuring that despite MS’s newly acquired passion for quality cosmetics, it hasn’t forgotten its high street status. The best of the bargain brands have also gone in-store, with more, I suspect, to come. Ambre Solaire (you can’t go wrong), Bourjois (peerless creme blush, excellent smoky eye palettes), Burt’s Bees and glittery British icon Barry M all feature in the new lineup. Now if the troubleshooter in beauty could just pop over to fashion, I’d be even happier…

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