Fashion Plate: Marie-Ann Billens

By Zoe Walker

Inspired by the founder of her company, Estee Lauder, Marie-Ann Billens says pursuing beauty is honourable.

Marie-Ann Billens feels privileged to work in the cosmetics industry. Photo / Babiche Martens
Marie-Ann Billens feels privileged to work in the cosmetics industry. Photo / Babiche Martens

As general manager of Estee Lauder New Zealand, Marie-Ann Billens has a strong connection to beauty and all that surrounds it. Billens has been with the cosmetics company for 21 years, having also worked in Australia and Asia. Her style is classic and elegant - mainly Max Mara suits and dresses for work, "always with a heel as I feel too casual in flats", and her favourite jeans brand, 7 For All Mankind with a T-shirt for more casual weekends.

As for her beauty icons? She counts Estee Lauder herself, and makeup artist Bobbi Brown as two who inspire.

"Mrs Estee Lauder, whom I have had the great privilege of meeting, believed that beauty is the best incentive to self-respect. You may have great inner resources but they don't show up as confidence when you don't feel pretty. The pursuit of beauty is honourable. She had remarkable style, grace and determination.

"I also greatly admire Bobbi Brown, an American makeup artist who believes that woman want to look like themselves, only prettier and more confident.

Two women with very similar philosophies that resonate strongly with women around the world."

What is your beauty routine?

Relatively extensive, given the industry I am privileged to work in. M.A.C. wipes for cleansing - so easy, or in the shower Bobbi Brown Balm Rinse, the ultimate in luxury cleansing. Followed by Clinique Clarifying Lotion 2; I love the feeling it leaves on my skin. I then use two serums depending on what our latest launches have been - my newest product is Illuminator from Estee Lauder. It makes your skin feel like velvet, I put that on over ANR. I use an eye cream religiously - La Mer Eye Balm Intense. I gave one to my sister and she said she could see it eating her wrinkles, so it must be good. And last but not least, a moisturiser, I move between La Mer Gel and the Estee Lauder Renutriv line.

What beauty product would you be lost without?

Advanced Night Repair, a serum from Estee Lauder. I have used it for over 20 years and would spend my last cent on this little brown bottle.

What's your fragrance?

To wear, Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia from Estee Lauder - I have to make myself wear other fragrances. And to scent my home, an Orange Blossom Luxury candle from Jo Malone.

What was the last item of clothing you bought?

A Helen Cherry black lace cocktail dress reminiscent of the 1960s - I didn't want to take it off.

What do you want to buy next?

New sunglasses - I am constantly losing them.

Who are your favourite designers?

Max Mara and Helen Cherry for work, stylish and always appropriate. Kate Spade and Marc Jacobs, who both make great use of colour and their clothes have a sense of fun. Pearl and Taylor for beautiful monochromatic pieces that are a little edgier.

Who does the best T-shirts?

Kristin Fordham, from KF on Jervois Rd. She is predominantly known for her fantastic children's clothes, but she also does a small range of women's T-shirts - four sleeve lengths and three different necklines in great quality fabric. If she doesn't have the style you want she can make it in a few days, great service.

You feel best wearing?

A big smile - you can't go far wrong.

Most cherished fashion item?

The evening dress I wore to my school "deb" ball 35 years ago. I was not a debutante so did not have to wear white. I spent $50 on a multi-coloured mid-calf dress - very daring as mid-calf had only just arrived on the fashion scene. I was the only woman not in a full-length gown and, at 16, felt very sophisticated.

Most stylish city?

New York.

How would you describe your style?

Classic with a twist.

Who are the best-dressed man and woman in New Zealand?

My brother-in-law Ross Hutton, who is always immaculately dressed, right down to the last detail - check the linings on his suits - whether it is beach, barbecue or ball. He won the NBR's best-dressed man a number of years ago. Best-dressed woman: Kirsty Cameron, founding editor of InStyle magazine in Australia and now editorial director at APN in Auckland. She looks effortlessly stylish and always manages to pick the perfect accessory.

What one item from your wardrobe do you put on and immediately feel great in?

My Donna Karan nightie - because I know it's time to curl up with a good book.

When it comes to style, what does New Zealand get right?

Beautifully cut and structured clothing as well as innovative art and craft design. I visit Essenze in Parnell Rd to be inspired. It is the perfect place to find a gift.

And what does it get wrong?

Too much black.

Your favourite stylish place?

Hotel Debrett on High St. Very distinctive decor and an eclectic mix of style with a wonderfully intimate feel. Try their restaurant, Kitchen.

- NZ Herald

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