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  • Writer's pictureJuliette Wills

Cult Classics - Barry M Cosmetics

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

When a brand you coveted in the '80s is still creating a stir almost forty years later, you know it's time to revisit it to see if it still holds its magical appeal...

When your new nail polishes go perfectly with your 1940s pastel telephone cord clutch, that's amore

Not to be confused with the perma-tanned Barry Manilow who sang of showgirls called Lola and confusing triangles, Barry M is the cult beauty brand that started life in London back in the utter splendour that was 1982. What a time to be alive - we had the rumblings of Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, punk/goth queen Siouxsie Sioux, Adam and the Ants, Culture Club, Marilyn (I used to fancy him/her, I was a bit confused), David Sylvian (ditto), the knockout that is Debbie Harry, the 'everyone's-got-a-favourite (mine was Keren) Bananarama and, a bit later, Madonna and the unforgettable force that was Cyndi Lauper. Music and make-up, that's what it was all about. Music and make-up.

Banarama - none of this taking all your kit off crap to sell records in those days. Keren (middle) was my favourite

I mean, you couldn't ask for a more exciting decade to grow up in. Sadly I was too young to hit it at its peak, instead developing crushes on my friends' older sisters and my super-trendy babysitter, Fiona, and her mate, Lorraine. They wore winged eyeliner. They wore pixie boots and white stilettos, 'Y' cardigans and one-shoulder tops, they had burgundy or blonde hair, short at the back, long at the front. I was obsessed with their nails - always polished but likewise gnawed - and the lashings of blue mascara combined with their 'flick' that meant they could barely see as they strutted down the street. They were EVERYTHING, and as a 10-year-old I was in awe, wishing I'd been born in 1968 so I would have been old enough to join their gang. Also, I was from Bromley - look up 'The Bromley Contingent' and you'll see how near and yet how far I was from history, dammit. I once went down a slide in a playground behind Zowie Bowie while Angie Bowie waited to catch him at the bottom. True story.

Siouxsie Soux must have gone through shitloads of cotton wool balls

I never did get my own gang, but I did get my own nail polish, and it was by Barry M.

The company's eye-popping products began to define its unique and colourful brand. They were the first company to launch a white eyeliner, the first to offer fluorescent Nail Paint, and the first to see black Lip and Nail Paint duos which I remember well (but would not recommend unless you want a clip round the ear from your mum and a ‘What IS that on your mouth, have you got any tissue?’ from your best mate). You’d look like you’d eaten a whole bag of Black Jacks. Still, Barry dared to be bold and stayed one step ahead of his competitors, and we have to love him for that.

As a teenager in the mid-80s my friends and I would stand in front of the make-up displays in Boots, trying out lipstick testers on the backs of our hands and swiping nail polish on as many nails as we could before getting thrown out. Back then it was Rimmel, Barry M and Bourjois (which, I’m ashamed to say, we pronounced ‘boorjoyce’ until someone told us it was a French word and even then we just shrugged and said, ‘Yeah but boorgewah sounds weird’). When one of us had enough pocket money we’d buy Rimmel’s Heather Shimmer, a Bourjois eye shadow or a Barry M nail polish and we’d share them. When I started earning my own money at sixteen, the first thing I did was head to Boots and buy a blue Barry M nail polish and my very own Heather Shimmer. But Barry's was a brand I’ve largely ignored since - it’s at the cheap end of the spectrum and I was rigidly a Rimmel girl for the next decade, but I'm pleased to see that Bazza kept going with the madness.

Look! Fun! Madness! Maybe not at 47, but buy it for your daughter

It was with some delight, then, that I realised that the Barry M brand is not only still around, but it’s going from strength to strength. The combination of seasonal launches, innovative products, affordability, its cruelty-free status and the fact that it simply doesn’t take itself too seriously means I decided to revisit my youth and see if, at the grand old age of 47, it was still a brand for me. And, if you're around my age, if it's for you. I’m pleased to say that it is.

I’ll start with the summer 2020 pastels range - the 'Gelly High Shine Nail Paint'. At first I painted my nails in one colour, then two, then painted one nail on each hand a different shade. If I could have kept those colours on forever I would have, because I really found it hard to pick a favourite. I’m really drawn to pinks and lilacs, though, so would have to vote for Grape Soda (I'm wearing it right now) and Raspberry Ripple as my number one and number two choice. Even the names are proper '80s! Start with the Super Mani 7-in-1 Treatment then apply three coats of colour and a top coat - it sounds a lot but this polish chips less than a more expensive brand I own and at £3.99 a bottle, you can buy every shade. If you've got daughters, you may be obliged to share (at that price they also make great 'well done on your exam/thank you for not running away/Christmas stocking gifts). I adore the classic packaging, too - I mean, what's not to love?

I liked having different coloured nails so much I even did a photoshoot for The Telegraph while sporting them. In short, pastel nails are beautiful for summer. You can swap back to your trusty deep pinks and reds (and black, or maybe that's just me) when the clocks go back. Currently, all their products are vegetarian and 97% are vegan (the 3% that aren't quite there, used ingredients such as beeswax). Their nail polishes are 100% vegan. They are committed to reformulate the remaining products so that they are all 100% vegan this year. Go, buy some and follow them on Instagram:


If you want to only shop Barry M's vegan products, click here:

I'd love to know what your first beauty purchase was and when, and what you remember about it. Tell me in the comments below and remember to share the link on social media if you think your friends would enjoy reading it, too. Cheers! #barrym #barrymcosmetics #barrymnailpaint #duranduran #1980s #debbieharry #bananarama #cosmetics #80sbeauty #veganbeauty #vegan #crueltyfreebeauty #pastelnails #yellownails #bluenails #lilacnails #nailpolish #makeup #crueltyfreemakeup #becrueltyfree #BMbabes #cultbeauty

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