Trinny Woodall: ‘I used to be Marmite, but I’ve evolved as a person’

The beauty boss on her Irish tribe, trading commodities in London and her three-minute make-up routine

A more subdued Trinny Woodall than I expect greets me over Zoom from the back of a black London minicab. As one of her four million social media followers, I’m far more familiar with her neon-clad, frenetic alter ego, who is often as brightly packaged as her yellow and silver Trinny London cosmetics. But today, the British entrepreneur, beauty expert and fashion guru, who has been “back-to-back” since returning from a holiday in the Caribbean the day before, speaks surprisingly softly and cuts an understated figure in a simple navy (“her black”, she calls it) two-piece, accessorised with a chic pair of thick-framed glasses, also in navy.

She looks every inch the successful chief executive of a multimillion euro company, and she’s obviously matched her outfit to her mood, as she suggests in a business-like fashion that we get started, which I appreciate as I have just 15 minutes to chat with her as she travels from a product development meeting at Trinny London HQ in southwest London to an interview with best-selling author Mo Gawdat for her podcast series Fearless.

Though restrained, she is warm and communicative, speaking with passion and purpose about Trinny London, which is launching in Brown Thomas on Tuesday. It will be the brand’s flagship location in Ireland and will be followed by several more concessions throughout the country later this year. Customers can meet Woodall, browse the collection, try out products and book appointments with professional Trinny London make-up artists.

The premium, but affordable, make-up brand has enjoyed phenomenal success since it was established in 2017, due in no small part to Woodall’s vision, work ethic and willingness to do whatever it takes to succeed. This included selling her home and £60,000-worth of clothes to raise funding, while working 16-17 hour days, six days a week until she felt she was on the edge of burnout. It was only when media executive Linda Yaccarino told her, “Do what only you can do. Everyone else can do the rest,” that the Londoner’s mindset shifted and she was able to achieve a measure of balance in her life.

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Not that you would think it to watch her on social media, which she populates with a furiously energetic cocktail of try-ons, tutorials and shop-ups, which are served up around the day-to-day business of running an award-winning make-up and skincare line, which ships to 180 countries worldwide. Trinny London has captured the imagination and customer loyalty of women across the age divide with its unique brand of messaging that insists that with a few relatively inexpensive, easy-to-apply products, a woman can be her best self, and, more importantly, that her best self is good enough.

“It’s a fresh way of looking at make-up,” says Woodall. “It doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, make-up can be quick and easy. Trinny London is for women who have 10 minutes to get ready in the morning as much as it is for those who have 40 minutes,” she says. “Being your best self isn’t the insurmountable journey some women think.”

Woodall says the challenge has always been to find a language that speaks to both the woman who doesn’t wash her face in the evening and the one who layers on eight products every night. Whatever vernacular Woodall’s been using, it’s working. Trinny London has 1.2 million customers. The ambition? Twenty million.

“I’d say we’re only one-10th of the way into our journey,” she smiles. She’s the brand’s own best ambassador. With the endearing imprecision of someone always on the clock, she spends about three minutes most mornings “smudging”, “sponging” and “sprinkling” her cream-based coloured pigment pots into enviably chic make-up looks that have a DIY charm far removed from the technique-driven messaging of traditional make-up brands. This accessibility is reinforced by company branding that, for the most part, eschews professional models in favour of “real” women with a range of skin types, tones and textures – flaws and all.

When it’s dark all the time, women want a bit of colour. But fake tan destroys good skin

—  Trinny Woodall

Despite the strength of her social media following and the success of Trinny London, Woodall describes herself as “Marmite”. “I used to be more Marmite,” she says, “but I think I’ve evolved as a person.”

Certainly, Woodall has gone through many incarnations since she founded her first business selling bows at the age of just 16. She traded commodities in London (“I bloody hated it! It was me and 64 men on a trading floor”) set up a direct-to-consumer business in the late 1990s (“way too early”), wrote a style column in the Daily Telegraph and became one half of the pull-no-punches noughties TV makeover duo Trinny and Susannah on the BBC’s television show What Not To Wear. Best-selling books followed and a global TV spin-off before their very particular, hands-on style of makeover fell out of fashion.

Her personal journey has involved as many highs and lows. She’s been married, divorced, bereaved and she struggled to conceive for almost a decade. After a heartbreaking 16 cycles of IVF, she gave birth to her now 19-year-old daughter Lyla, who is clearly the great love of Woodall’s life, and mother and daughter share a home in Notting Hill with their two rescue dogs, Lily and Daffy. Woodall is also a devoted stepmother to her late husband’s son Zak.

The 60-year-old believes it’s her candid sharing on Instagram that women like most about her and certainly she has managed to cut through the cacophony of fashion, beauty and lifestyle influencers that clutter up the online space. “I share whether I feel good or bad,” she says. “Social media is full of ‘life is all sunshine’ or ‘poor miserable me’ and I think I offer something in between.” It’s true, Woodall shows the good, the bad and the ugly, exposing her open pores and pimples as readily and matter-of-factly as her latest Zara haul.

Having suffered from acne as a young woman, it’s not surprising to hear that Woodall feels the future of Trinny London lies in skincare. “That’s my sweet spot,” she says. “We have our own lab here in London and we’re constantly searching out raw ingredients. We’re innovative. We’re not a brand that has its name above the door and buys in white label products adding a single active ingredient. I’m all about efficacy and I want to explore and push how effective skincare can be.”

She laments the Irish obsession with fake tan, although she understands it. “Of course, when it’s dark all the time, women want a bit of colour. But fake tan destroys good skin. Bronzer and fake tan block pores, stain skin and dehydrate it.” Woodall believes that striving for a glowing complexion in your natural tone and adding a touch of blusher is the best approach and she’s determined to convince us all. “It’s a mission for me,” she says.

Her other mission is to educate. “We need to reinforce education about skincare. We launched our at-home microneedle last year and it sold out in six weeks. There were people who said we couldn’t put a microneedle in the hands of someone at home, but you can if you give people the right information. It’s about not treating women like fools and remembering that not everyone can get to a salon. When we sold out, I thought ‘Yes! Our intuition is right!’”

It’s this intuition that has attracted her global community of fiercely loyal “Trinny Tribes” – women, largely over 40, who, says Woodall, empower, support and uplift one another online, and in person at the brand’s various events, openings and launches. She’ll be meeting her Irish tribe this week, the fifth-largest in the world at almost 6,000 strong. “These communities started organically,” says Woodall. “A woman called Kelly in northwest England founded the first, and the whole thing just mushroomed from there. I simply helped them join up with each other.”

It’s a far cry from the cold and calculating white-collar, male-dominated trading floors of London city, where Woodall says she learned to tell filthy jokes. She uses the word “emotive” several times throughout our conversation, describing the brand, its message and her own perspective as “speaking to people emotionally”. She says: “At Trinny London, we always talk about how something makes you feel. It’s less about how something makes you look.”

And this is the true Trinny London sweet spot because when you feel good, you look good.