Manicure maestro Leighton Denny talks talons, trends and how the beauty industry is changing

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Leighton Denny interview

This month, Nancy Buckland Kirk has been catching up with the man who helped her get her nails in order, manicure maestro Leighton Denny.

I have a confession to make. I used to treat my nails with scant disregard. A teenage nail biter, I then spent a decade picking off whichever acrylic tips I had just had professionally applied. The result: cuticle carnage. I then made a decided effort to do something about my damaged, brittle and beautifully yellow-tinged talons. It was going to take an army to fix.

And then up stepped someone who was not only about to change the nail game, he was also going to encourage a long term devotion on my part. The man for the job? A truck driver from Yorkshire. Yes, you heard that right. He was into a very different type of palette before Urban Decay had even invented theirs. His name? Leighton Denny.

Leighton soon realised that his skills were far better used creating super deluxe nail and hand treatments, than cutting about on a forklift. At the time, the nail sector was a bit of an odd mix of professional brands, which produced perfectly serviceable products, and then the polishes produced by the big luxury houses. Whilst the shades were fantastic, the formulas then often left a lot to be desired. So there was a perfect niche waiting to be filled, and Leighton fitted the bill perfectly. He soon got a reputation for being a perfectionist, and his fashion-led work was soon gracing the pages of British Vogue. His number was on speed dial for everyone from Jade Jagger to Patsy Kensit.

Back in the days of pre-internet shopping, I tracked down Leighton’s products wherever I could find them. My brave mother wasn’t averse to ringing Harrods and putting on her ‘telephone voice’ to see what she could persuade them to send me. I awaited those parcels with such excitement. And then Leighton made a bold move: he launched on QVC. The UK’s favourite shopping channel already had some decent beauty brands, under the stewardship of the legendary Alison Young, but Leighton brought with him both Yorkshire charm and haute couture inspiration.

Since then Leighton has gone on to create a stable of innovations under the LD umbrella, also including his fragrance range, Light and Dark, and his Sun Believable self tanning portfolio. They have all been resounding successes because people don’t just buy into the products, but Leighton himself. When it comes to beauty awards, Leighton has swept every noted board, from the Sunday Times Style to In Style magazine. And always an open book, Leighton’s autobiography, How I Nailed It, an Amazon bestseller, is an absolute rollercoaster tale, charting his rise from wagon wanderer, to cruise ship worker, to the gold leaf paved streets of London. In 2014, he was awarded an MBE for his considerable services to the beauty industry. It was a fitting accolade, and a reward for his hard work, foresight and creativity.

Here’s the thing. I may write about beauty, but when it comes to nails, what I use, every time, over and again, is Leighton Denny. I know the 2019 tends are very fashion based, and most of the looks revolve around some sort of artificial nail or application, but there is absolutely no way I am ever going to undo all of the hard work Leighton Denny has helped me put in. So I thought I would let you in on my LD classic secrets, the brand’s new launches, and I was also lucky enough to catch up with the great man himself to get his advice, too!

Leighton you’ve been an established innovator in the beauty industry for a long time now – how has the game changed?

 “The internet has changed the beauty industry so much! When I started over 20 years ago, people would learn about beauty products, trends and techniques from magazines, whereas now you can find a huge amount of information with just a few clicks on your phone or laptop! It has made beauty so much more accessible and understandable, if you thought an eyeshadow pallet or a lip kit was too complicated in the past, now all you have to do is You Tube a tutorial and you’re the pro. This has led the beauty industry to boom. The internet has also made things move much faster!  Before you would have to prepare to launch your products months in advance, wait until the magazines went on shelf and then wait even longer to see sales or customer feedback come through. Now you can launch an entire collection yourself on social media and have immediate feedback and sales. Social media has totally shifted how people are influenced, especially when it comes to beauty. Before social media people were almost entirely influenced by celebrities and magazines but now the younger generations get their information from social media influencers – this can be from micro influencers with several thousand followers to big stars with millions of followers. Now people may not even be influenced by a famous actress or model if they don’t have a social media presence. Social media is also ever shifting and can be quite transient, someone who may have been incredibly influential one day, may not be six months later. As a brand owner you have to really keep your eye on the ball as the internet has meant everything moves faster and changes more quickly.”

What shades and techniques will be popular for Spring/Summer 2019?

This Spring/Summer, colour draws out gallant battles in the form of bold colour clashing, a play on the light vs dark monochrome rules and gold seems to be the new black. SS19 will evoke conflicts with technology and a forgotten future with feelings of nostalgia, creating memories and stripping back to nature. Contradiction is key which forces us to think outside the box and discover the ‘new classics’. Blue, taupe, grey, gold and earthy tones will rule the style stakes this year. Nail art is still a huge trend this S/S – there are so many variations you can choose from. From floral accents for those who want to keep it understated to disco embellishments for those who want full impact!”

You have gained a hugely loyal following over the years – does it help staying in touch with your customer base?

“Absolutely! Having a good understanding of your customer is so important. Many of my customers have been with me since the beginning and I’m lucky enough to have an ongoing dialogue with them thanks to social media. I really listen to my customers; I read their feedback and reviews and when they ask me questions on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram this can inspire a product. After all, I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. So I need to listen to their needs and create products that work for them.”

What can we expect next from Leighton Denny?

“I’m still a man on a mission! At the end of last year I launched a mini series of LD Boutique Beauty Boxes – exclusive, one-off, themed beauty boxes featuring iconic must-haves from my award-winning beauty collections; Leighton Denny Expert Nails, Sun Believable Tan, LIGHT & DARK fragrances and Lip Duals. Each box was a complete sell out so I’m hoping to launch another series in 2019.

I’m working on the follow up to my first autobiography ‘How I Nailed It’. So much has happened since the first book launched in 2014. I’ve also filmed for a Channel 5 documentary due to air this month…so watch this space!”

Great advice, as always, from the manicure maestro! Here at His & Hers, we’ve had the opportunity to choose our top picks. In terms of nail polish, Supermodel (£12) remains a best selling neutral classic. It’s simply chic and chip proof. Heading towards Spring, we’re loving Rebel (£12) as it’s a dark metallic that gives a contemporary contrast to pastel looks. In terms of treatment products, our stalwarts are always going to be the legendary Crystal File Duo (£27.20) and Slick Tips Nail and Cuticle OIl (£12) which is super nourishing. The newly launched Nail Elixir (£12) is all about rebuilding nails and making them appear more healthy. Last but not least, the Rejuvenate Hand Mask (£6.50) is the ultimate pampering treat. It’s our Friday night must-have after a busy week of typing!

Beauty is such a democracy now, and I never want to be a party pooper: it should be fun. But when younger beauty addicts come to me with tales of nail woes my advice is really clear: look after your natural nails, and you will never look back. As for Leighton himself, he’s a guy on a mission who never rests on his laurels, and is always about innovating and bringing something new to the market. In a world of fakery, he is, quite simply, the real deal. And it has been a pleasure getting to know him. As well as being a true gent, he’s also never served me with an injunction for stalking, which is a real bonus. I cannot wait to read the second instalment when he launches the next chapters of his life story. Joan Collins played a starring role in the last one, along with so many legendary names, so fingers crossed I may get an honourable mention this time. Do miracles happen? I think so. I never thought all those years ago when I was calling him in the QVC studio that I’d get to chat to him about his work. So fingers crossed for me, people. And make sure they are tipped by something fabulous. Supermodel, anyone?

All Leighton Denny products are available to buy from www.ld-boutique.com

Follow Leighton on social media @leighton_denny

About the author: Nancy Buckland Kirk is a writer with a keen interest in fashion and beauty and a career which has spanned modelling, teaching and spreading the word about leading beauty brands. She’ll be back soon with her next feature.

In the meantime, here’s her love letter to Karl Lagerfeld, looking back on the life of a true fashion legend. Plus, here are her reflections on a life of skincare highs and lows!

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