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The future of fashion

Internationally acclaimed make-up artist Ruby Hammer and beauty publicist Millie Kendall founded make-up brand Ruby & Millie in 1998. Now sold in more than 400 Boots stores, the duo are supporting the Courvoisier 500 online network at www.cvf500.com by judging the fashion section. The network aims to provide opportunities for 500 of the UK's top young achievers

Why do you think the Courvoisier 500 is so important to the fashion industry?

Millie: We get so many emails from people not able to get into the business, either because they don't have the finances or they just don't have the confidence to face the competition. Anything that gives young entrepreneurs a leg up is great.

I think it's harder in the UK too - in the US there is a lot of new money and entrepreneurs are celebrated, whereas there is still a resistance in the UK. A heritage brand such as Courvoisier backing young entrepreneurs gives the whole concept a lot more credibility.

Ruby: It is great that new talent will be given the opportunity to benefit from our experience - the Courvoisier 500 will highlight those truly talented people. Eventually they would succeed anyway, but this puts a concentrated effort into helping them.

We are assisting with the vetting process, then we spend time with each of the final 50 in the fashion and retail section and offer them any advice they need by drawing on our own experiences.

What difficulties did you encounter setting up your brand?

Ruby: There is always the fear of the unknown. You have to follow your gut instinct, stick to your guns and have a clear idea of what you want, but it can be tough not to doubt yourself. It definitely helped having two of us when we started out. If you're on your own, every problem is magnified, but together you can bounce ideas off someone whose opinion you trust. This inspires confidence and means not everything rests on your shoulders.

The support we received from Boots was fantastic, but the downside was that we didn't have total control over what we were doing. Today, any decisions made regarding Boots also affect us and we never know how things are going to pan out.

How did the Ruby & Millie tie-up with Boots come about?

Millie: Boots was trying to update its image, and the bosses approached me because they knew of my work publicising new brands. At the time (in the late 1990s), the company was seen as little more than a generic pharmacist, and it struggled to find make-up brands interested in being stocked by it - they preferred to be sold through department stores.

In the midst of the all the meetings discussing how to help Boots' profile, we came up with the idea of creating a whole new brand for Boots, based around Ruby's make-up skills and my promotional talents. This unusual collaboration of studio and shop was more consumer-friendly than simply another make-up artist launching a brand. Ruby & Millie started in 24 Boots stores, and now it's in more than 400.

What are the best and worst things about working in the fashion industry?

Millie: I love working the fashion shows - I love the buzz backstage and all the people involved. It's great when so many like-minded, creative people come together.

Ruby: The best thing for me is the creative element, but the negative aspect is that the industry is very competitive and a lot of the people you deal with have their own agenda. Also, you don't want to be a one-hit wonder - it can be tough to maintain your success while the industry might be blowing hot and cold.

THIS FASHION LIFE

What is your biggest fashion weakness?

Millie: Handbags - I have a real Fendi problem. And I also collect anything by Andre Courreges.

Ruby: Mine is shoes. I have 300 pairs.

What has been your best fashion moment?

Ruby: When we went to the palace to pick up our MBEs, I wore a Catherine Malandrino dress that had a fantastic shape. I felt really good in it.

And your worst?

Millie: When we flew to Thailand to launch Ruby & Millie. I got off the plane with frizzy hair, I'd eaten my weight in pork balls and was wearing a white Vivienne Westwood dress.

Who is your industry icon and why?

Millie: Diane von Furstenberg. I read her autobiography if I'm feeling insecure.

Ruby: Make-up artists Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury, and Elle Macpherson for her commercial-mindedness.

What would you be doing if not fashion?

Ruby: Working in the diplomatic service, maybe for the UN.

Who is the best retailer on the high street and why?

Millie: Selfridges is the best shop in the world.

Ruby: The newly revamped John Lewis is great.

What are you reading?

Millie: Your Baby's First Year Week By Week by Glade B Curtis and Judith Schuler.

Ruby: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Who is your style icon?

Ruby: Bianca Jagger. She dresses simply but looks striking.

And your pop idol?

Millie: Madonna - no one has ever come close.

Ruby: Beyonce is amazing. She's a true beauty.

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