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Absolutely Lush-ous

Here is an international range of cosmetics disguised as vegetables in a grocery store.

WHEN YOU do your monthly shopping for soaps and shampoos, you're most likely to be on the lookout for deals. Double packs find favour for that 20 per cent extra bonus, and soaps are preferred in threes instead of singles. It's all budget, pragmatic shopping. Of course the generous relative descended from the U.S.A. with some exotic looking and sounding Body Shop product is always appreciated, but paying for these products on an everyday basis? Unlikely!

Yet Lush, the international cosmetics brand has bravely ventured into Bangalore, sky-high prices and exotic smells intact. Unlike most expensive cosmetics stores, which seem programmed to make you feel like your shoes are too frayed and your clothes a size too big, Lush is a store that's hard to leave.

Its USP is an emphasis on all things natural, but its high point are its smells (oh, and it helps to know that Madonna and Halle Berry buy their products). When you walk into the store at the Forum Mall in Koramangala, you're enveloped in smells. They swamp you from every corner of the colourful store — smells made for different customers from whom Lush has received feedback over the years — of lavender, lime, coconut, mint, apple... and this one to-die-for smell called Karma, of whose ingredients I'm unsure, but it's a smell of nostalgia; some beautiful thing you did long ago and want to preserve forever.

Because Lush products (conditioners, soaps, fragrances, shower gels, massage bars, and lots of products for babies) are expensive, you can choose how much of them you want to buy. Right when you enter, on one side is a market-type display of soaps in chunks of differing sizes, like a vegetable market (though with a much wider spectrum of colour) and you can slice off the amount you want — anything above 100 gms.. Saves on wasteful packaging and allows you to determine just how extravagant you feel.

All of Lush's products stress on the fact that they are made naturally and not tested on animals. When you smell an exotic smell, it's probably the real thing and not some synthetic add-on to cheer you up. The products are named in the best Brit traditions of tongue-in-cheek humour, one on corner for instance the Bertie soap, with liquorice for revitalisation and detoxification. It's named of course, for Wodehouse's creation, Bertram Wooster, the perennial candidate for a pick-me-up the morning after wild nights of drunken revelry and boat races. Also the Tisty Tosty, a love potion concealed as bath salt, intended to win over the one you love — but unfortunately, with no results guaranteed. Each product has a name that is likely to make you smile (even if you don't actually buy it) or a function that sounds like real fun. They have a series of frozen shower gels to be refrigerated and you can pop out an ice-cold chunk to use on a hot summer day.

Being made from natural ingredients, most products do something. Contain calamine to soothe sore skin, for instance or include a natural balm for irritated skin in polluted climates, or deodorise without the risk of breast cancer by using bicarbonate soda to neutralise the bacteria. The products are all vegetarian and co-founder Rowena Bird points out that the founders "are all hippies basically" — and since flower children won't test on animals, there are no sun blocks or hair gels here, since the ingredients used in these products are still, apparently, being tested on animals. A quotable quote from Rowena: "The world doesn't need cosmetics, but we do need animals".

Wandering around Lush is a kid-in-a-candy-store feeling. High piles of delicious smelling soaps and lotions accost you at every step. You're told on the cover not just what fresh organic fruits and vegetables and essential oils go into each product, but also, unusually, who made it. For instance, a certain shower gel was made by Clare. The point Lush is making by telling you the name of the person who made the product, is that they care about their employees. Compliments on the product apparently go right back to Clare at the lab.

Of course, Lush will have you know they care equally about their customers. Rowena justifies high prices by saying people who like fresh rather than canned would be happy buying at Lush. If you don't care what you intake, she points out, why would you care what you put on? Lush has no strawberry face gels, since Rowena says real strawberries contain so much acid that if face gels actually used the real thing, they would leave your face red and puffy. Real strawberries need to be used to tone thighs; and Lush claims to use products for their natural benefits rather than to pump them with synthetics to get a fast-selling product. Hence Coalface soap, since coal apparently absorbs excess sebum while exfoliating.

To get down to the nitty gritties, Lush products would cost you a (beautifully toned) arm and leg. A 100 gm bar of soap costs Rs. 250 on an average — certainly not everyday use. But a Lush user will tell you that the soaps lather rather well (as do the hard shampoos they have, to be used just like soaps, since this saves on plastic bottle packaging) and you will emerge from your shower radiating, and smell strong enough to move the least discerning passer-by. If you're a sucker for self-indulgence, and aren't we all, you're likely to walk into Lush and buy something for "just this once". But the statutory warning is that Lush products could become addictive, so don't say we didn't warn you.

The products are available at The Forum Mall, Koramanagala.

HEMANGINI GUPTA

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