Walk down chic, cobblestoned Greene street in New York City's SoHo and you'll find a light, airy shop called Space NK, its shelves neatly filled with little-known, hard-to-find beauty, skin-care and hair-care products from around the world, all carefully selected by Nicky Kinnaird, 43, owner of this high-end beauty emporium. The English chain, a 54-door, $80 million company with a thriving Web and catalog business, just opened its first overseas outpost in the U.S. (In Britain it's a favorite of celebs like Cate Blanchett and Keira Knightley.)
Space NK's combination of haute couture cosmetics, high-tech doctor-developed lines and organic and botanical items including ar457, a skin-regenerating oil made from Moroccan argan nuts, and By Terry, a line of cosmetics developed by one of the creators of Yves Saint Laurent beauty products is very much the personal vision of the Belfast-born Kinnaird, who says she spent her childhood disappearing into the bathroom with "lotions and potions" to unwind after a day of school and sports.
Kinnaird, a self-confessed retail junkie, opened her first shop, selling clothing in a former banana warehouse in London's Covent Garden, when she was just 28. After seeing customer reaction to the shop's skin-care stock, Kinnaird decided to focus solely on beauty. The switch came naturally to Kinnaird, who was popular with her friends for bringing back obscure beauty products from her travels. Acting as a curator of sorts, she hunts for the people and brands that are as passionate about quality as she is. Over the years, her dedication to innovation has taken her to the remote Atlas Mountains in Morocco, to Brittany's marine institutes and to the foothills of Mount Fuji in Japan. A network of contacts everyone from package designers to chemists tips Kinnaird off to small firms and individuals developing artisanal products.
Landing on Space NK shelves is considered a true seal of approval for small companies, which often seek out Kinnaird's opinions and expertise during the development phase of their products. "I test all the products myself," says Kinnaird, who just might be her own best advertisement. "We're a small store, and every item that is in there is precious and special to us."