140 Years of Beauty with Smith & Caugheys

by Georgia

2020 sees our family business reach 140 years of service to Auckland and beyond, as a company with this longevity we have seen exponential change over this time. From expanding our bricks and mortar stores to the inception of our online store, we have evolved with the times. Beauty has always been an important corner-stone of our offering, a category that is always exciting, fast-moving and ever changing. A multi-faceted industry, Beauty combines science and technology with fashion, creativity and theatre, all fueled by exacting customer demands. In the early years, our range was predominantly soaps and other scented goods presented within the Patent Medicine Department, by the 1920s demand was high and the product range increased to include skincare, forming the Toilet Goods Department. Skin formulations were the focus of emerging beauty companies during this time, with products targeting many of the same skin concerns of today. Cosmetics grew in demand as women around the globe became more liberated. Lipstick quickly became the most sought-after commodity, in the mid 1920s English brand, Dubarry was the first to offer lipstick in our Smith & Caughey’s mail order catalogue. Eye makeup and rouge were introduced soon after, their popularity would rise in the years to come.

As the decades rolled by, our customers embraced all things Beauty. Between the 1930s and 1950s face powders presented in ornate compacts and crystal fragrance atomisers were atop the bestsellers, the dedicated French fragrance counter was always abuzz. We became the exclusive stockist for Helena Rubinstein as New Zealanders’ appetite for cosmetics emerged and by the 1960s our brand lineup included; Cyclax of London, Harriet Hubbard Ayer, Revlon, Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden; the 1970s saw Coty, Mary Quant, Lancôme, Estée Lauder, Christian Dior and Shiseido added. By the 1980s demand had grown so significantly we saw the need to open the Smith & Caughey’s Beauty Hall, a fresh concept in New Zealand’s retail landscape, one of an international standard. 

As the decades rolled by, our customers embraced all things Beauty. Between the 1930s and 1950s face powders presented in ornate compacts and crystal fragrance atomisers were atop the bestsellers, the dedicated French fragrance counter was always abuzz. We became the exclusive stockist for Helena Rubinstein as New Zealanders’ appetite for cosmetics emerged and by the 1960s our brand lineup included; Cyclax of London, Harriet Hubbard Ayer, Revlon, Max Factor and Elizabeth Arden; the 1970s saw Coty, Mary Quant, Lancôme, Estée Lauder, Christian Dior and Shiseido added. By the 1980s demand had grown so significantly we saw the need to open the Smith & Caughey’s Beauty Hall, a fresh concept in New Zealand’s retail landscape, one of an international standard. 

The top performing brand at this time was Elizabeth Arden, home of the beloved fragrance of the 1950s, Blue Grass. Our New Zealand exclusive launch of Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door fragrance in the 1980s signified the shift to more modern times. With only one or two major products launched per year, all the stops were pulled out to celebrate. Red Door was launched with a Patrick Steel Fashion Show followed by a cocktail evening in our Queen Street store. 

This cocktail evening was the first of its kind for our store. A fabulous event enjoyed by all, though Kevin to this day remembers the sound of tall crystal champagne flutes shattering on the floor as they slid from silver trays at the entrance. A mistake that was quickly and quietly rectified, it was not to be repeated in countless events to follow as our hosting abilities were fine tuned.

This was not the only Smith & Caughey’s and Elizabeth Arden collaboration. In a pioneering move in the Gift with Purchase space, we joined forces in 1992 to create a handcrafted, overnight tapestry bag. Of beautiful floral design and equally beautiful quality this Gift with Purchase set a world record for the best-selling results per capita, with customers queued around the counter and a total of 5,500 bags gifted. Kevin still sights the bag today from time to time, being put into an overhead locker on a flight, or being carried around the city. 

This was not the only Smith & Caughey’s and Elizabeth Arden collaboration. In a pioneering move in the Gift with Purchase space, we joined forces in 1992 to create a handcrafted, overnight tapestry bag. Of beautiful floral design and equally beautiful quality this Gift with Purchase set a world record for the best-selling results per capita, with customers queued around the counter and a total of 5,500 bags gifted. Kevin still sights the bag today from time to time, being put into an overhead locker on a flight, or being carried around the city. 

The launch of such high-end products demanded window frontage and key promotional space. Many long-time Smith & Caughey’s customers will remember some of the elaborate window displays we have created for Beauty and Fragrance launches, which often had to be crowd controlled as people spilled onto the street to get a glimpse at the newest display. To introduce men’s fragrance Lagerfeld Photo, our windows were occupied by Candy Lane’s modern dance performers during peak lunch hours, to entertain all Queen Street passers by. 

In the early 1990s, shoppers were taken by surprise as music swelled through the Ground Floor whilst ballet dancers in bodysuits twirled across the store to perform atop the Estee Lauder counter, celebrating the new Spellbound fragrance.

For the launch of Lancôme Trésor, Kevin was flown to Singapore, where he met the face of Lancôme, model and actress Isabella Rossellini. To this day, this is one of Kevin’s most treasured moments from his time with Smith & Caughey’s. 

 

By this time, many global brands began expanding their horizons to Australasia. The standard of our Beauty Hall meant Smith & Caughey’s was the perfect launchpad into the New Zealand market. Many beauty houses seen here today arrived exclusively with us, such as M.A.C, Yves Saint Laurent, La Prairie, La Mer, Bobbi Brown, Tom Ford and Giorgio Armani As the makeup phenomenon M.A.C took the world by storm, Andrew Caughey was determined to secure the brand for Smith & Caughey’s. Kevin attended the Australian launch of both the brand and its first Viva Glam lipstick in 1995, where he remembers meeting inspirational and iconic brand ambassador RuPaul, who glamorously towered over him. Andrew proved successful in recruiting the brand for the company and in 1999 M.A.C made their debut into New Zealand exclusively through our Newmarket store. A statement making launch installation of nearly nude models lined the store’s window, transformed into living art throughout the day by M.A.C’s team of talented body painters. Prestige brand La Mer was introduced in 2001, the original Crème de la Mer being its only product. A stunning living coral aquarium was installed as part of this counter, so extravagant in size, the floor beneath had to be reinforced with steel beams. Chanel was the catalyst to expand our Beauty Hall once again, the luxury brand opting to move to a more central location within our Queen Street store. A favourite Chanel moment for Kevin was the relaunch of Chanel’s iconic No. 5 fragrance, as Queen Street’s full frontage showcased oversize replicas of Andy Warhol’s silkscreen series entitled “Ads: Chanel.” These were coveted by the public and staff alike. 

Kevin recalls crowds amassing once again in 2013 for the New Zealand debut of Benefit, complete with their gamechanging Brow Bar. Another Queen Street window favourite was the striking installation created by Aēsop in 2018. Thousands of bottles were meticulously placed on the window floor, celebrating not only Aēsops exceptional products but also their passion for design, literature and science.

 

 

 

Exclusivity has always played a key role in our Beauty lineup. A cocktail partyone without incident this time, celebrated the exclusive launch of Giorgio Armani Beauty. Just this month Napoleon Perdis joined us exclusively at all stores, as will the exquisite Libertine Parfumerie in the very near future.

 

Smith & Caugheys has had many memorable and momentous occasions as a result of this dynamic industry. While at Smith & Caughey‘s the category started small, today it is woven deeply into the fabric of our family business. We look forward to seeing where beauty may take us in our next 140 years

 

Words: Smith & Caughey’s 
Images: Supplied

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