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  • In conversation with

    Ruby Hammer

    Whether you know Ruby Hammer as one half of the duo behind cult ’90s cosmetics brand Ruby & Millie or have jotted down her advice from the many TV shows she’s appeared in, you are sure to be familiar with the helpful and intuitive approach to beauty that has seen her top the industry for more than three decades. 

    Frankie Graddon

    From Harrods’ shop assistant to household name, Ruby has risen through the ranks to become one of the UK’s best-loved make-up artists. As well as creating glossy editorials for the biggest names in fashion, she introduced Aveda, L’Occitane and Tweezerman to the UK market and has been instrumental in shaping the contemporary beauty landscape. Launched in 2019, her eponymous brand incorporates the industry expertise and inclusive values that she is known for. 

    Having turned 61 in December, Ruby is by no means slowing down. We caught up at the start of the year to discuss her career to date, her beauty and wellness must-haves, and why she no longer feels guilty about having a facial. 

    How did you get into the industry? 

    It was by fluke. I’ve always had a love of make-up but it wasn’t something I’d planned to get into. I did an economics degree, and after graduating, my then boyfriend introduced me to his friend, who was a make-up artist. She needed an extra pair of hands for London Fashion Week, so I started assisting her. I learnt everything as I went and gradually began booking my own jobs. It was an opportunity that I had to grab.

    You launched your first brand, Ruby & Millie, in the ’90s and it was pioneering in the sense that it offered products for a breadth of skin tones at an accessible price point. What were the biggest lessons you learnt while running the brand? 

    I have a great affection for Ruby & Millie; it was really unique and visionary for its time. The products looked cool, but they had to perform, so it was important to both me and Millie that the formulas were the best we could afford to make them. 

    The brand lasted for 15 years and it was a time of experimentation for me in lots of different ways. I had to learn what sorts of deals to sign, how to speak to labs, how to go from conception to consumer, how to make sure products weren’t just brilliant but also commercially viable. I also learnt that all parties involved have to be satisfied. You put your life and soul into a brand – it’s like a long-term marriage. 

    Throughout your career, you’ve pushed for the beauty space to be a more inclusive one. Do you think there is enough representation now? What more needs to be done? 

    I’m an Asian woman born in Africa and I’ve travelled the globe extensively, so inclusivity is inherently within me. I’ve always reached out and spoken to people. Beauty has always been about empowering and educating. 

    I’m 61 and we now live in a world where you can have the menopause and be a woman of colour and still be creative and relevant. But we’re not at the end of the line by any stretch. We need to be less sexist and ageist and have more inclusion at every stage of the link in every industry.

    Ruby & Millie had 12 shades of foundation which we had to fight for. My brand has 50. It’s like being handed a baton but you don’t just want to pass it on, you also want to push the benchmark. It doesn’t stop.


    My beauty philosophy is to really know yourself and work out what’s good for you.


    Aside from your own, which brands do you swear by? 

    I love CeraVe skincare; I used to buy it from the US before it was available in the UK. I also use Murad, Augustinus Bader, Bioderma and Crème de la Mer. Lancôme has a beautiful eye make-up remover that I use. 

    In my make-up bag I have Laura Mercier translucent powder, NARS concealers, Giorgio Armani luminous silk foundation, Pat McGrath eye palettes and Lisa Eldridge velvet lipstick.  

    Can you share your best beauty tip?

    It used to be ‘blend, blend, blend’. Now it’s to look in the mirror for 10 seconds every morning and look at what your skin is doing before deciding what to put on it. We tend to just go through our usual routine without much thought. But it’s worth noticing whether you’re puffy, dry etc, then using the products to suit.

    How has your approach to beauty changed over the years? 

    As you get older, you can’t just think that things will happen to someone else. You need to check in with yourself and get that stress level down. Check your skin and body and look at how things are changing and adapt to them – you are your own best expert. Go to the experts if you need to and ask for help. It’s not vain, it’s knowing yourself and what works for you.

    What wellness rituals do you rely on? 

    I take Symprove every morning and Lumity morning and night supplement. I also take vitamin C and D as I haven’t been going outside as much since Covid. Since I hit the menopause, I do weight-bearing exercise to help bone density. 

    I also don’t feel guilty when I have a facial or massage. I’ve come to realise that you have to take care of yourself, because when you’re not in the best state, you’re no use to anyone. Take that five minutes to sit and have a cup or tea, or close the bathroom door and have a long bath. Whatever makes you feel and look good.

    Where does your passion for make-up come from? Was it a big part of your childhood?

    My mum was very fashion conscious and experimental. I grew up in Nigeria, where we didn’t have a TV and magazines, but she’d take us all to see Bollywood movies at an open air theatre. She was a very young mother – by the time she was 23 she had three kids – and she was a housewife. But my father and her would entertain friends in the evening, and when she came into my bedroom to kiss us goodnight all glammed up, I thought she looked like a Bollywood star. I was inspired by that power of transformation.   

    You moved from Nigeria to London when you were 12. How did that impact your relationship with beauty?

    In Nigeria we weren’t allowed make-up – maybe a tiny black line on the tops of our eyes if it was Eid. But when we moved to the UK, I went to a comprehensive school where we could wear it, so I started experimenting. At 16, I got a job at Harrods, which really fed my passion for beauty. I’d spend my lunch breaks flicking through Vogue and use my staff discount to buy products from Biba and Stagelight. I also lived in Putney and on my bus route would see all the punk rockers at The World’s End. I didn’t like the music, but the make-up was so inspiring.

    Can you tell us about your first big break?

    My biggest break came from Karena Callen when she was the beauty director at British ELLE. I was doing a reader event at The Sanctuary at Covent Garden, with the skincare brand Prescriptives, and afterwards Karena came up and told me she was doing a shoot in St Lucia and asked if I’d like to be the make-up artist on the job. My little girl had started school so I jumped at the opportunity. That was my first trip on location and it led to me doing lots of editorial, which in turn led to TV shows like The Clothes Show. This was in the ’90s and everything has evolved organically ever since.

    Speaking of TV, you were one of the first make-up artists of colour to be on British television. Can you tell us what that experience was like? 

    I didn’t really think about it at the time. We’ve got so many different artists now, but it wasn’t like that back then. In those days, as someone Asian, you’d be an accountant, a doctor or work in a shop. I was on television and in magazines, not only as a women of colour, but as a young working mother. I was, unwittingly, a role model. 


    I’ve come to realise that you have to take care of yourself. When you’re not in the best state, you’re no use to anyone.


    On the subject of your own brand, you launched Ruby Hammer Beauty in 2019. What prompted you to develop the range? 

    Ruby & Millie was such a success and when it was over there was a hollow feeling in my stomach. Around that time, my mum was diagnosed with cancer. When she passed away, I was grieving and I didn’t have the oomph to do anything. I was 50 and had lost my dad, too, and that grief threw me into menopause. My hair went grey overnight and my period stopped. A few years later I got the itch to do something again and I started asking myself: what would I do? Social media had launched, there were lots of new brands around, so the market was very saturated. I didn’t want to repeat what was out there already, so I thought about what I could give as a professional make-up artist. I started with the magnetic brushes and it’s grown from there. 

    The brand is sustainable and vegan – can you tell us a little more about how a conscious ethos informs the business? 

    When you launch a brand now, you have to think about how it can be made sustainable and cruelty-free. The beauty industry is evolving and there’s so much more information and opportunity to create consciously. It’s expensive to do so, but it’s right and it feels good. 

    You have to be thoughtful at every step. For example, when I was formulating my Lip Serum Balm, I wanted it to be easy to use, not tacky and give a hint of colour. I had to push to get that with a vegan formula, but I did, and I’m always going to make that choice. 

    The last few years have seen the beauty industry go through a huge evolution in terms of technology, social media, the wellness boom etc. Where do you see it going in the next five years? 

    I think the next five years will be about lasting the course. We are at a tip of recession and that’s throwing businesses into potential difficulties: shipping costs, transportation costs, raw materials costs. Brands are going to have to hold their ground and not fall off the precipice. 

    Experimentation within beauty will continue. We saw it during Covid when we all reached for skincare. In tough times, these things bring us joy and that’s why beauty is so important. It’s not frivolous – it’s there to empower and give confidence. How you look impacts how you feel and that’s very powerful when used the right way. You can’t quantify emotional wellbeing. If beauty allows you to get through difficult moments, it can only be a good thing. 

    Over the past three decades, you’ve worked with the biggest names in the industry. If you had to pick a career highlight so far, what would it be?

    My career isn’t over yet, so I’m still hoping there are some more to come! Getting an MBE for my contribution to the beauty industry from the late Queen in 2007 was a huge career highlight. The day itself was fantastic and a little petrifying, but it was such a proud moment. I’ll never forget it, it still makes me emotional. I’m an immigrant, so to receive an accolade in my adoptive home is an amazing thing. 

    Can you talk us through your everyday beauty routine?

    I like to use light products in the morning and always hydrate and protect. I start with an effective cleanse, then if my skin needs it, I’ll do an exfoliant, a serum, a cream and a mask. If I’m short on time, I’ll cleanse and be done.

    I haven’t got many lines but I am prone to pigmentation, so I’ll use a vitamin C serum in the morning. As I get older I don’t want to fight the process, but I do want to make the best of myself, so I use a retinoid to give me plumpness. It’s not a laborious process. My philosophy is to really know yourself and work out what’s good for you.



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