THE ONRUSH OF new fashion and cosmetics brands and boutiques onto Fillmore Street in recent years has been astonishing — and beauty and body products are the indisputable trend of the moment.
There is understandable confusion about why so many have located so near each other and what sets them apart. And those seeking something new or a special gift are met with a barrage of adjectives: ethically sourced, cruelty-free, anti-microbial, sustainable or hypoallergenic.
But step inside any of the stylishly sleek shops and you’ll find knowledgeable sales associates with a true passion for their products. Lotions and potions are formulated not just to prettify, but also to fortify the health of the skin and the spirit of the soul.
The neighborhood is home to San Francisco’s first Aesop store, which offers skin, hair and body care products from this Australian company. In its 29 years in business, the number of Aesop boutiques has burgeoned worldwide, with each designed to reflect the look and feel of the surrounding community. On Fillmore, sales associates pridefully point to the subtlety of the place, including its “organic opening,” which offers a mostly darkened doorway to passersby. “We don’t like to be invasive,” said one.
The company’s claim to fame is its savvy chemistry, with scientists sourcing a balance of plant-based and laboratory-made ingredients for products for everyone in the family — from pets to humans. Customers are encouraged to try out the lotions and exfoliants on the spot; a strategic sink makes it handy to wash off any residues. And samples are liberally offered for home experimenters. Specially packaged for the holidays are six gift kits honoring noted naturalists — including California’s John Muir — ranging in price from $72 to $142.
The newest kid on the block, Atelier Cologne offers 30-something scents of Cologne Absolue — pure perfume — blending citrus with raw materials such as violet leaves, pink pepper, gaiac wood, and black and green tea melded with high concentrations of essential oils for sniffiness that lasts on and on. The company was founded by Sylvie Ganter and Christophe Cervasel, a couple who met, quickly fell in love, then set out to create the first fragrance house entirely dedicated to cologne. Very French. Their goal is to evoke a “memory in a bottle.” Also very French.
In addition to cologne, the line, recently acquired by L’Oreal, includes scented candles and skincare items such as body lotion, shower gel, hand cream and soap.
Finding a fitting scent for yourself or for gifting takes time, so speed shoppers need not bother. A popular gift item: a 3.4 ounce bottle of cologne, ranging from $125 to $145, in a leather case that helpful Atelierites will engrave in gold, free of charge, with a name, date, city or meaningful phrase. Tres romantique.
Among the very first makeup boutiques to hit the street, Benefit has long been the neighborhood go-to spot for brow shaping and lip waxes. Earmarked by its girlie decor and cheeky promotions, the local shop is always bustling, allowing those in wait plenty of time to peruse the shelves stocked with products. Dogs-in-waiting are encouraged to nosh on a biscuit or two. Of late, the emphasis has been on eyebrows — with copious offerings of pencils, primers, gels and even highlighters for those who want theirs either “bigger and bolder” or “defined and refined.”
A gift bestseller — a “Haul-iday” Special, in Benefit parlance — is “Girls Gone Wow,” a smattering of products for $46 including mascara, face and lash primers, eyebrow gel and cheek and lip stain — all packaged in a girlie head, reusable all year long.
With its lovable slogan “Flirt More, Harm Less,” Credo distinguishes itself on the street by offering a collection of 70-plus brands conjured by “industry angels” that are free of chemicals and animal testing. Sales associates say every product in stock has a story behind it. Here’s one: Juice Beauty’s creative director of makeup, the consciously uncoupled Gwyneth Paltrow, says she curates all products “for her close friends and family.”
For the holidays, you might treat the skin-conscious souls on your list to a signature 60 minute facial ($150) featuring Tata Harper’s cruelty-free products. They’ll be indulged in the cozy private spa room adorned with a leafy ceiling trellis in the back of the boutique.
Kiehl’s has been in business since 1851 and on Fillmore since 2004. Since L’Oreal acquired the brand, its reach has spread far beyond department stores to 62 shops nationwide, in addition to a formidable international presence.
The boutique’s boast is that it carries something for everyone: dogs, babies, men and women. When helping customers suss out holiday gifts, sales associates say they ask a lot of questions, “not to be nosy, but to find the perfect fit.” Among them: “Is it for a male or female? Is he or she into sports?” A safe bet is the Crème de Corps Body Butter — acclaimed for its fluffy texture and easy absorbency. The two ounce size is $15; eight ounces cost $38; 12 ounces, $48.
This boutique, which opened on Fillmore six years ago, has the look and feel of a science lab. That’s quite intentional, as the founders, seeking “to create something less commercial,” distinguished the line by offering scents handblended on the spot. There are now well over a dozen of them, as well as several city-exclusive scents, each one available only in the city that inspired it. San Francisco’s is Limette 37, which has light, fresh notes of lime and bergamot.
Le Labo also offers hand-poured candles in a number of its signature scents, which, like the fragrances, can be labeled with a personalized name or saying. And it recently unveiled a new creation: an electric home diffuser specially fashioned from wood salvaged from water tanks in New York. Only 300 were made; each sells for $590.
The Monet-inspired blue and yellow hues of this boutique signal its provenance from Provence. Inside are a plethora of products carefully arranged by labeled categories: bodycare, handcare, skincare, aging, home fragrance and so on. Nearly all ingredients are sourced from southern France, where the company demonstrates its goodwill by supporting small local farmers.
The shea butter used in its beauty balms, however, comes from Burkina Faso, where the L’Occitane Foundation rubs in good karma by supporting the local women with literacy programs and entrepreneurial projects. The butter makes up 20 percent of L’Occitane’s Dry Skin Hand Cream. Those running the chemo groups at the hospital up the hill send patients to buy it in bulk to combat persistent dryness and itchiness. A 5.2 ounce tube, $28, makes a good gift. And the shop offers an added perk for those who are all thumbs: complimentary gift wrapping.
M.A.C., part of the Estée Lauder Companies since 1994, opened its doors on Fillmore more than a dozen years ago. Devotees of the brand laud its long-lasting lip colors and low-key but helpful consultants. Activists applaud its company culture, including producing the recent film, More Than T, about the lives and times of six transgender individuals.
A good one-size-fits-all holiday gift might be a certificate for a one-on-one make-up application and lesson by one of the aforementioned consultants. Services range from 30 minutes, with a focus on a single feature such as lips or eyes; to 60 minutes, for a full makeup look, which includes a face chart to use as a cheatsheet at home plus a free mascara; or 90 minutes, described as an “extended tutorial,” with the face chart and mascara included, along with a 20 percent discount on products. An added benefit: Consultations are conducted in a small room in the back, extending privacy to those who are just learning to color in the lines.
NARS Cosmetics, a subsidiary of Shiseido since 2000 — though Francois Nars himself has stayed on as artistic director and copywriter — launched 22 years ago with a dozen lipstick shades, and rapidly expanded to include a complete line of makeup known for its rich and vibrant colors loaded with pigment. While the products are widely offered at stores from Sephora to Nordstrom, the shop on Fillmore, which opened in 2013, is one of only eight freestanding boutiques in the nation. Consultants offer a number of services, including event makeup applications ($100 with eyelashes, $85 without). All service fees can be applied to products.
For the holidays, NARS offers a limited edition collection of four Sarah Moon eye shadows to wear alone or layer, along with a Via Veneto eyeliner, all for $49.
Born in the U.K. and now snaking its way into the U.S., Space.NK offers a curated selection of skincare, make-up, haircare, scents and home fragrances from around the world. Customers are urged to indulge in “cross-brand education” and to pick and choose among the 80 beauty lines rather than focus on one in particular. “We carry things you might not find anywhere else,” says one sales associate.
As for holiday gift offerings, she says: “You can’t go wrong with candles. They’re warm and welcoming — especially during these colder, wetter months.” This season, a Space.NK votive in Shimmering Spice scent goes for $20. It’s a nice host or hostess offering for those who don’t want to arrive empty-handed.